Mind Charity Event – The charity Feast!

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This time last year, I was preparing to cycle through Cambridge on a fairly ancient pushbike dressed as Princess Leia, with a papier mache R2D2 strapped to the back of my bike. This is not just because I am a far-too-geeky exhibitionist (although it’s a contributing factor…) but my cycling escapade in the Great British Summer (read: pouring rain) raised £800 for a charity that is very important to me, Mind.

Just over a year ago a good friend of mine killed himself. This was a long time coming, in as far as he had some very serious mental health problems that were not being properly addressed with constructive healthcare. As a friend, it was maddening to hear him get a little worse every time I spoke to him. We suffered from two crucial problems – he felt as though his depression was embarrassing and shameful, and had to be hidden away from as many people as possible. Because he was not alone in that mindset, I had very little experience of dealing with someone with (frequently suicidal) depression, and had no idea what to say or do.

When he reached the point that he seemed dangerously suicidal, I googled ‘mental health helpline’ and started calling any charity that looked like it could offer me some kind of advice on what to do for my friend. Many, like the Samaritans, offer an outstanding listening service (that I know for a fact saved my friend from himself more than once) but they are not in a position to offer advice.

I eventually struck on Mind’s mental health helpline. When I said I was ‘calling about a friend’ they did not immediately assume that this was a lie, and listened carefully to what I had to say. When I explained that I wanted help knowing how to talk to my friend about his depression, what things are dangerous to say to a suicidal person, what things are known to be constructive, they were well-prepared to help. They sent me all sorts of information tailored towards helping someone who is supporting a suicidal friend/relative, and provided me a list of their services in my friend’s area that he may find helpful. Most of these were free or heavily subsidised. After my friend died, again, their website and helpline provided me with outstanding support and comfort.

I found no other mental health charity to offer such impressive services, but more to the point, Mind is one of the key voices in helping to break down the stigma of mental illness, and have it treated as just that: an illness.

This year, I am once again raising money for this charity. I am combining my love of food with a fundraising event, by inviting eight unsuspecting victims guests to my house for a meal. After the meal, they will then donate to charity what they feel that the meal was worth. The guest list is now pretty much confirmed, but as with last year, the Justgiving page I’m using to collect donations is open access. If you would like to make a donation to this charity, you can do so either through the Mind website, or on my Justgiving page (links below).

Make a one-off donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/donate

Make a regular donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/get_involved/donate/make_a_regular_donation

Donate via my Justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton1

If you are also in a situation where you either want to seek help for mental illness, or are supporting someone else, you may find the following links helpful.

Mind website: www.mind.org.uk

– Full of useful information (I’ve picked out some links below) and also has a very useful helpline.

Mental health A-Z (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z

Coping with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8053_suicidal_feelings

Supporting someone with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8065_suicide-supporting_someone_else

The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/

– The Samaritans offer a listening service, although not advice. They are open 24/7.

You can also go to one of their branches, to talk to someone face-to-face, or contact them over email. Details below:

http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

If you’re outside the UK, Befrienders worldwide partner with the Samaritans and offer a worldwide service: http://www.befrienders.org/

If you live in the UK, your first port of call should really be your GP. Some areas are limited in funding for mental healthcare, so it is important to know what other avenues you have for support. Nonetheless, none of the services above can replace a trained mental health practitioner.

 

Thanks for reading – I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the delicious meal I come up with after the event 🙂

 

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Asperger’s Part 4 – Getting assessed

I got assessed today. I’ve managed to get from first GP appointment to full assessment in just over 6 months, which by all accounts seems to be pretty good going.

I have fretted about the assessment A LOT. The letter said the assessment would take around 3 hours, but I had no idea what form the assessment would take – interviews, tests, with my mum in the room, without my mum in the room – no idea. This is a bad thing for me: I like to know what’s coming and I had never had a psychiatric assessment before, which was pretty unsettling in itself.

On top of that, I was worried that I would get told at the end of it either:
a.) You don’t have Asperger’s. You’re just a weirdo, and moreover, you’re making a fuss out of nothing. Get a grip. (Note: this would never happen. Just my own personal worry!)

b.) You don’t have Asperger’s. You probably have something else. You know this stressful assessment process? You’re going to have to go through it all again for a condition you’re not even familiar with. Enjoy.

Now in asking around, what I have learned is that no two assessment centres are the same. Every place has a different way of approaching the assessment. So if you’re hoping to get the definitive answer on what your own assessment will be like – THIS ISN’T IT. This is just what my assessment was like, at the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service. It might be different for you even if you get assessed at the same place. If you are worried, call or write to the centre. If you get fobbed off by a receptionist, don’t stand for it, insist on having one of the clinicians write back to you. I brought this up at my assessment and this is what the psychiatrist recommended. You will not be considered rude for doing so.

The assessment was actually a three hour interview with me and my mum. That sounds really intimidating doesn’t it? It wasn’t. The lady was friendly, direct and approachable. She respected my need to take time to answer questions. I got a bit stressed and upset partway through – she just gave me breathing time to stop before carrying on.

The interview essentially went through the DSM criteria (You can see a full list of them on my earlier post here). She asked questions about my behaviour now, and as a child in relation to those main criteria. Look at the criteria, consider ways in which they relate to you.  If you’re worried you don’t know – don’t worry, your clinician will question you in ways that allow them to find out what they need to know. The onus is on them, not you – this advice is only if you wish to feel a little more prepared for what you may be asked. The only thing that I do recommend you consider (and to be honest, *should* have done if you’re putting yourself forward for this) – you will get asked what has brought you there to be assessed as an adult. You’ll probably have thought about this a lot and you’ll want to consider what your answer will be. Knowing a good answer to the first question made me a lot more relaxed about the rest of it.

I don’t know if other centres do it differently, but mine gave me a diagnosis verbally at the end. She gave a description of what brought her to the conclusion, and some advice in the short term for things that might help with meltdowns and panic attacks. I’ll get a written report in a couple of weeks and so will my GP.

The conclusion of all this?

I am that unusual beast, the woman with Asperger’s. I am variously described as representing less than 1 in 4 of diagnosed Aspies, or as close to a 1:1.5 ratio. What does seem fairly certain is that the medical community is getting better and better at recognising the differences between males and females with Asperger’s, and are getting better at spotting it in women. Our symptoms present a little differently, and we may hide our social difficulties more easily, and may be better behaved as children than our male counterparts, but we exist.

Next steps

This point might be the end of the line for some people, but I see the assessment as a means to an end. In my case, the diagnostic centre does not offer ongoing care, only a diagnosis. So to get help with panic, anxiety and meltdowns I need to go back to my GP (yes, the one who said I couldn’t have Asperger’s because I looked ‘pretty normal’… may try and swap GP). From there I should be connected up to any relevant services to help me. As and when there is anything to report on what those services might be and what they are like, I’ll write it up on here. I really have no idea yet.

One more thing

An assessment will not change who I am. It does not excuse bad behaviour. It does not give me free licence to act like a jerk and say it’s because I am autistic. It is a tool. It is a means to politely ask for help and resources when you might not otherwise be able to get them. It is a means to ask for assistance and understanding when you are acting in a way that other people think of as weird or irrational. It is a way to explain and understand yourself. It is a way to get help. It is not a quick fix, or a magic wand either – from here, this is going to require some hard work and re-conditioning and that all has to come from me. If help is what you want – don’t expect it to be easy.

Then again, if you met me, you probably wouldn’t pick me out as terribly different (my friends might disagree). I am geeky, over-talkative, sometimes a little insensitive, but I am also caring, and perfectly capable of living independently. Asperger’s does not pick me out as too much weirder than your average nerd. Most of what happens with Asperger’s is on the inside – it’s how *I* feel, and how *I* understand the world, not how I present to the rest of it (although that’s part of it). It is a spectrum, and lots of people are much further along it than me. They may be more noticeably ‘different’. The only point I wish to make here is that not everyone you meet with Asperger’s is like Rain Man. Most of us are just geeks, and most of us just want life to be a little easier.

So that’s it – Asperger’s assessment from start to finish. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I’m happy to (try to) answer anything I can help with.

Part 1: On Asperger’s Syndrome and Getting a Diagnosis

Part 2: Getting a GP Appointment

Part 3: Waiting… lots of waiting

Chocolate maple cake

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This afternoon, Brunton number one declared that he had a hankering for something sweet. His immediate reaction was to grab some Angel Delight from the cupboard – if you didn’t grow up on this stuff, it is a sweet, powdered custard that you whip up with milk and leave to set. Although it may have been my favourite thing when I was about six, I’m less of a fan now (although top tip – if you have guests over for dinner and have forgotten to make pudding, mix the chocolate one up with double cream and melted dark chocolate, it’s remarkably good). Instead, I decided to whip up a chocolate cake.

Rather than do a plain chocolate sponge which I have always found to turn out a little dry, I decided to mix it up with a little maple syrup. So here it is – chocolate maple cake!

Chocolate Maple Cake

Ingredients:

– 175g self raising flour
– 50g cocoa powder
– 225g butter
– 225g caster sugar
– 4 medium eggs
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp maple syrup

For the icing:

– 3 tbsp maple syrup
– 200g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp butter
– 50ml milk

Method:

– Grease a 22cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°.

– Cream together the butter and sugar – beat until it is pale and fluffy.

– Beat in the egg until smooth, then slowly fold in the flour and cocoa, incorporating lots of air.

– Melt together the chocolate and maple syrup, and slowly fold into the cake mixture.

– Pour into the tin and bake for 40 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.

For the icing:

– melt together the butter, chocolate, and two tbsp of the maple syrup.

– Beat this mixture into the icing sugar and mix in the milk. Leave to cool.

– When the cake is cool, slice it in half through the middle. Beat the last tbsp of maple syrup into the icing and spread half over the middle of the cake. Sandwich the two pieces together and then spread the remaining icing over the top.

Top tip: While spreading the icing, it will lift easily off the cake, picking up crumbs. To stop this, try and spoon it evenly on the cake, and then wet the knife you use to spread the icing to stop it sticking.

The brand new Hot Pink Apron and why the feminist in me loves the internet

Those of you who have been following the blog will hopefully have seen that the all-singing all-dancing rebrand of the Hot Pink Apron website is all up and running, and the first few articles of this month’s issue are already online. It’s something I’m really proud to be part of and has already been amazing fun just in getting the first issue live. I’ve read all about Dana’s efforts in the kitchen and the trials and tribulations of being a mum of two small kids for the last couple of years with a certain envy – everything she cooks looks so damn tasty. If anyone knows how to make child-induced sleep deprivation look good, then it is definitely Dana.

That’s not the only reason I’m proud to be taking part in this project. As a kid, my mum was always keen for me and my siblings to learn to bake cake. If you can’t train your children to make and feed you delicious baked goodies as your own little kitchen slaves from an early age, then you are definitely doing it wrong. Whether out of some notions of gender equality or a three-cakes-are-better-than-two mentality, my little brother soon learned to be a baking pro alongside me and his twin sister. Whenever he had a yen for cake, my little bro always produced the lightest, fluffiest sponges, with far more patience than either of his sisters, and a natural talent for baking. Where my brother was a pro at victoria sponge, I excelled at muffins, and my sister surpassed us both with her skill at cookies and cake decorating. Needless to say, mum and dad were kept well stocked in cake through our childhood.

Presenting our baked goods to our parents one day, not for the first time dad praised little bro’s exceptionally light hand at cake and proudly told him, ‘All the best chefs are men’. Naturally argumentative and pedantic, and with the beginnings of feminism in mind, I objected to this. Granted, male athletes will usually run faster, jump higher and swim faster than their female counterparts. This is biological inevitability. But baking? I incredulously pointed out to dad that when asked what their favourite food is, most people will reply ‘so-and-so-meal, just how mum/nan does it’. Both my parents carefully explained that home cooking was good and all, but there really weren’t that many famous/celebrated female chefs. When things got competitive, men were just better at it. Ever impressionable, I swallowed this perceived truth (almost) whole, and for years believed it to be true that all the best chefs were men and my brother probably just had some natural advantage at sponge cake. Who knew?

As I got older I started to recognise something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about these statements.  The ‘fact’ that all the best chefs are men is not driven by a meritocracy, where the women just fail to cut the mustard – we often just aren’t expected to try. If a woman does try to make her way in a “man’s” field, she can expect to be met with a whole lot more resistance. It’s worth pointing out that my parents are pretty liberal minded and told their daughters and sons alike that we could do anything we worked hard enough to achieve. Some gender stereotyping is so ingrained it doesn’t even feel like prejudice – just fact.

While rebranding Hot Pink Apron, a huge amount of time was piled into how to market ourselves as writers, and as a magazine as a whole. We are keen to use the magazine to connect together foodies from every walk of life, irrespective of gender. But nonetheless I’m very proud of the voice Hot Pink Apron gives us as ladies. We represent everything feminism wanted for its daughters – some of us are stay at home mums on a career break to raise kids, some are doing both. Some of us have full time jobs and no intention to have kids. We are marketing specialists, academics, musicians and mothers, and from behind a computer can tell the world that being women doesn’t stop us doing any of these things. We are all talented with food and nobody is shouting us down with cries of ‘don’t you ladies know the best chefs are men?!’.hot pink apron

The world of feminism has been revolutionised by the internet, where anyone (for better or worse) can carve a niche for themselves, and it is hard to censor them out. We are free to define ourselves the way we want ourselves to be seen, and we are free not to give a hoot whether we are doing what women are ‘supposed’ to be good at. My great-grandmother could never have imagined a great-granddaughter who went to university, got a job AND got married, and wrote for an online magazine, yet I am conspicuously doing all those things and so far, no one is showing any signs of stopping me. Feminism and the internet make an awesome, Hot Pink combination.

The other side of suicide – An inquest

I missed the call a few weeks ago while I was running an event at work, and found an answerphone message that went something along the lines of ‘it’s the coroner’s office, call us back’. When I called back, no one knew who I was or why I had been called. I had an anxious wait while they asked around the office, and by the time I got through to someone, I was just relieved to know that the cause of the phone call was to ask me to give evidence for an inquest for someone I already knew was dead. My friend had committed suicide almost a year before and I had given a statement at the time, and now I was being asked to be interviewed in the coroner’s court and give further evidence.

Prior to the inquest, it would have been nice to deal with someone with some sense of tact, or with adequate training, who could provide useful information. This didn’t happen. Instead, I dealt with someone who told me the wrong date for the inquest (‘oh that’s funny, I gave you the wrong date!’ Hilarious.) who was unable to email me details of the date, time and location of the inquest. To top it all off, he called to tell me that my friend’s father had informed him he would be travelling to the inquest alone, and did I not think he should be travelling with someone? As it was, I didn’t. I was pretty upset and stressed about the whole thing, and in regular contact with my friend’s dad. If he needed someone to go with him, that was his own decision. I wasn’t even travelling from the same part of the country but this apparently passed the coroner’s office by. I’m sure the man at the coroner’s office thought he was being caring and helpful, but in reality, the emotional blackmail was inappropriate and stressful. We had no idea where to get food or if anything would be provided, or how long it would take. Apparently asking for an events co-ordinator capable of using a calendar, providing useful information, and speaking to the bereaved with tact was out of the question.

Thankfully, on the day they took slightly better care of us. The coroner herself was very kind and approachable and tried to put everyone at their ease. The inquest is never used to apportion blame – the only purpose is to establish who the person was, how they died, when they died and where they died. We heard evidence from the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, the cognitive behavioural therapist, the hospital psychiatrist, the police officer who conducted the investigation, the housemate who found the body, and me, as a character witness.

Leading up to his death, my friend frequently told me that the health’care’ he was receiving was insufficient. That he was routinely dismissed, downgraded from urgent care, talked down to and passed from one doctor to another. That he found the therapy sessions to be distressing and draining and that he would go from one person to another, asked uncomfortable and personal questions about his mental distress and suicidal urges, only to be told he just needed to try harder to engage with the therapies and not to kill himself. He would go back home, try harder, give up, try to kill himself, give himself over to therapy again, get told to try harder, get sent home. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are only so many times that a vulnerable and sick person can go through this process before they begin to believe it isn’t worth trying any more, and stop asking for ‘help’.

I was expecting (hoping) to find some poor psychiatrist that knew he was in need of urgent care, maybe even inpatient care, who just didn’t have the resources to treat him. Other mental health professionals I know have this problem all the time – that someone is sick and clearly needs more care, but that there just aren’t the resources to give it. To some extent we saw this with his therapist, who identified that he was far too complex a case for the level of care she was trained and able to offer, and when he came to her saying that he had planned a method and date to kill himself, and just needed to get hold of the pills, she rang all the alarm bells at the hospital she could to try and get him more appropriate help.

What I did not expect was that this was an utterly pointless dead end. The hospital had three levels of care:

Routine: regular three-month checkups

Urgent: a worsening in condition that merited being seen in the next ten working days

Critical: the patient needs to be seen in the next four hours. The patient will do harm to themselves, or someone else without intervention.

Despite outlining suicide plans to a therapist and trying other methods in between (it presumably took a while to get hold of the pills he needed to die) my friend was never considered critical. We were given no answers as to what he would have had to do to be taken that seriously, to have someone believe that he meant himself serious and immediate harm. The psychiatrist simply stated that he had seemed articulate, intelligent and ‘with it’ and was therefore not a high risk patient. My friend was a well-spoken, intelligent, English graduate. Even on the day he died, none of his closest friends guessed at his intentions. Because those who are mentally ill and unstable are not all raving, gibbering maniacs incapable of stringing a sentence together. I know this – the psychiatrist on the other hand seemed flabbergasted.

All I heard all day was ‘we followed protocol’, or ‘it’s ‘XXXX’s responsibility really’ or ‘it didn’t seem like he was going to do it right away’, even when he told his therapist he expected to be dead within the month. My friend told his therapist he wouldn’t give her all the details of his plans as then someone would try to stop him. So when after a hospital appointment where the psychiatrist sent him home after another ‘try harder at your therapy’ consultation with nothing more constructive than a self help book, my friend discharged himself from care, and they simply wrote up the discharge letter the next day. No one saw the appalling lack of support as an issue. No one saw him telling the therapist that he ‘wouldn’t need anyone’s help anymore’ as a sign for concern. And then a few days later, he was dead.

But apparently, this is fine, because protocol was followed. Apparently this is fine, because he wasn’t a ‘critical’ case. Apparently, unless you are a raving lunatic, frothing at the mouth, you never will be. And nothing more will come of this injustice and that practitioner will just go back to following routine. I have never been more angry. I left the room, and called the man a bastard, a shite, a fuckwit, an uncaring cunt, a shit-for-brains and briefly felt better until I realised that I didn’t have the words to express my contempt for this man or the system he represented.

I don’t think that even with proper care my friend could necessarily be saved. He wanted to die. But I do think he deserved better – a better chance at getting well, more compassion, more dignity. And this inquest, distressing as it was, will do nothing to change the system that failed him so badly. And so I ask for three things from you today.

1.) Take mental health seriously. Attention-seeking isn’t a cause for contempt, it is a crude acknowledgement that help is needed. It is not a cause for shame or blame any more than cancer, diabetes, flu, or any other illness is.

2.) Mental healthcare isn’t always up to standard. If your friend tells you they aren’t getting help, take them seriously. Believe that some therapists are unhelpful and condescending or that care isn’t always available. Help them build a network of support so that they don’t have to rely on whatever the doctor offers.

3.) Talk about it. Change it. Don’t keep this issue hidden. Donate to Mind. Fundraise. Raise awareness. Don’t suffer in silence.

Hot Pink Apron – A new chapter

We just got a little nuttier

It all started with pine nut biscuits.

Well, sort of.

A couple of weeks ago I had a hankering after biscuits – pine nut biscuits to be precise. My father in law had just served up a delicious risotto scattered with them, and sure enough the next day I wanted them in biscuit form. A bit of googling revealed that the Italians were already on the case, and the resulting biscuit was a ‘pignoli’. The only hold up – it needed almond paste, which I had no idea where to buy. Undeterred, I decided to make my own.

The biscuits were something of a mixed success (taste: gorgeous. Texture: not unlike cinder toffee. Needs work!) and lamenting my misfortune to hunger after such a complicated recipe on facebook (where else) an interesting email pinged its way to my inbox.

proposal

I was excited. Dana is one of my husband’s Canadian cousins, and her blog, Hot Pink Apron, is one of the reasons I started blogging. Whatever this proposition was, I had already decided that I wanted in. I waited by my email, hitting refresh like a madwoman, but it was hella worth it.

Hot Pink Apron up to this point has been Dana’s baby. Having let the career take a back seat while she raises two gorgeous girls, Hot Pink Apron has been an amazing creative outlet for a lady with some serious talent with food. It’s garnered a bigger and bigger following, and has started producing all kinds of opportunities to review food, restaurants and kitchen products. It’s as much about being a parent, a misfit (in the best possible way) and being a unique and interesting person as it is about food, and it’s easy to see why the blog has so many dedicated followers these days.

The proposal Dana sent me was to turn an already-popular one-woman blog into an even-better collaborative magazine. My (slightly wobbly) attempts at pignoli were apparently attention-grabbing enough to grab me on board, and I’m so glad to be here. Sit tight for the next Bruntonian adventure, because Hot Pink Apron is about love of life, good food, local produce, and laughing often. I’ve already been introduced to some fabulous people as part of this project, and I can’t wait to get started on making it every bit as awesome as it looks.

Launch date is 4th April and will involve a new shiny website, and a bucket load of new content from the lovely ladies behind Hot Pink Apron. Come on over – trust me, you’ll love it here.

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Baking your own bread – Sourdough

Last summer, as part of my ongoing experimentation with making different kinds of bread, I decided to make sourdough. This is more than likely one of the earliest forms of bread, as it simply capitalises on naturally found yeast. Unlike with regular bread, you don’t add yeast – you grow it yourself in what is known as a ‘starter’. The flavour (as the name suggests) is a little sour and the texture is firmer than normal bread (I’ve heard it described as almost ‘chewy’). It is also much slower to make than regular bread – the natural yeasts aren’t cultivated for speed, so it will need several hours at a time for proving. I find this to be something of an advantage, particularly for making bread over the weekend – once you have got the dough ready, you simply leave it somewhere warm for the day, and come back to beautifully risen dough. Still, the technique is very different, largely due to having to cultivate your ‘starter’.

This rich, dense bread really lends itself to being made with walnuts, poppy seeds, or sunflower seeds and is categorically the most delicious bread for jam and toast. The slightly sour tang of the bread really enhances the sweetness of the jam (recipe for jam here. Not as hard as you might think).

Yay, science!

The starter relies on two symbiotic micro-organisms, yeast, and lactobacilli. The lactobacilli are a type of bacteria that produce lactic acid, and create the slightly sour tang to the bread. They also break down the maltose sugar into straight-up glucose. The yeast does what yeast always does – chows down on sugar (made by the handy lactobacilli) and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The alcohol, as in all bread, evaporates in the oven, but the carbon dioxide is what makes your bread rise.

Your starter will be full of living organisms, and as such they’ll need to be fed. You have to ‘refresh’ the starter every so often and ‘feed’ it with more flour and water. The strains of yeast and bacteria will vary from bakery to bakery, kitchen to kitchen, so you often find people getting rather possessive about their preferred starter – it becomes something like a kitchen pet.

Convinced you to give it a try yet?

Sourdough

The starter

The natural yeast you will be using needs time to get going. Your starter will need to be at least a week old before you use it.

To get it going, whisk together 100g wholemeal bread flour with enough warm water to make something like the texture of runny pancake batter – fairly sloppy is fine. Beat plenty of air into it and wander round the kitchen as you do – you want plenty of chance for it to meet up with some natural yeast. Cover it with cling film and leave 24 hours.

After 24 hours, you should see some signs that it is fermenting – it should start to bubble, and over time it will start to smell a bit vinegary/fermented. It won’t smell terribly delicious at this stage, but that’s normal. Provided it’s starting to bubble a little, tip out half and then ‘feed’ it with 100g more wholemeal flour and enough water to bring it back to that runny consistency. Do this daily for a week. Getting it going is quite expensive in flour, but once you’ve got your starter fermenting, it won’t need feeding anything like as often.

The bread

After your week is up, you should start to notice a difference in the smell and texture of the starter. It will still be a sour smell, but should have started to smell less acrid, almost a little beery. If it is mouldy, or still smells revolting, then throw it out and start over.

I tend to make it very slowly to give it the best rise, so you start the dough off the day before.

The night before mix together:
– 100 ml of your starter
– 250g strong bread flour
– 275ml water

Pop this in a bowl with clingfilm and leave at room temperature overnight. It will bubble up nicely provided your starter was a success.

The next morning knead in:
– 10g salt (essential and not just for taste – it holds back the yeast a bit)
– 200g strong bread flour
– 1 tbsp olive oil (rapeseed oil is even better if you have it, this is optional but makes a nice texture)
Give it a good knead for 10 minutes – it will be really sticky, don’t be tempted to dry it out too much by adding more flour – you’ll get a better rise this way. Be firm with kneading it – if after about 7 minutes of kneading it feels a little dry, wet the dough. How much water to add depends on how wet your starter is/how active your yeast is/how warm it is etc so experiment a bit. You do start to get a feel for it after a couple of attempts. The worst that happens is that your bread is a little dense.

Leave this to prove somewhere warm until it has doubled in size. It will take longer than regular bread (usually at least 3 hours) but can be left all day really.

Later that afternoon/evening knock back your dough, and leave it to prove either on a baking tray, or in a loaf tin if you prefer. Again, leave it somewhere warm to prove – usually around 3 hours.

Recently, I have taken to putting it in a large round cake tin, covering it with another bowl so that it doesn’t dry out, and leaving it overnight to bake in the morning. This ensure the slow, even rise that sourdough likes.

Bake once it looks good to go – either late that night or early the next morning. As with any bread, you’re waiting for it to have doubled in size – give it 15 mins at 220* and then another 15-20 at around 190*. To get the best oven spring out of it, get a spray bottle of water and occasionally give the hot oven a judicious squirt – bread loves a steamy oven.

It’s a fairly long process, but the amount of time you spend on each bit is no more than 10 mins at a go really.

How to take care of your starter

Top your starter up as follows:

– If you’re baking really regularly, do the flour and water feed daily. Keep your starter at room temperature.

– This takes A LOT of flour, so alternatively, keep it in the fridge and it will go a whole week quite happily. Just bring it up to room temperature when you want to use it.

– Even more extreme – overfeed it. Give it enough flour to get a sticky dough and it will go about four days at room temperature.

– More extreme still – overfeed and put in the fridge. We’re talking like ten days + here before it’s going to want your attention.

– If you really only want this occasionally, chuck it in the freezer. It will get going again upon being (gently) defrosted, and brought back to its runny consistency for a day.

If you forget to feed it – panic not. Yeast and bacteria tend to just go dormant until food is available, so unless it has gone mouldy, just feed it and stir it well.

It will also live very happily in a jar, so you can seal it up in there once it’s had that first week of sucking up all the yeast in the air.

Enjoy your new found love of sourdough, it’s addictive stuff 🙂