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The evenings have become cooler in Minneapolis, and I thought I would make some Black Bread.  There’s a really great recipe for this most famous of rye breads in ‘Beard on Bread’, by James Beard, which is a pretty amazing cookbook devoted strictly to breadmaking.  It’s always been one of my favorite breads, but I don’t have it very often, and I usually only make it 2 or 3 times a year.

Yesterday, however, when I mixed the bread dough … my liquid must have been a couple of degrees too hot.  I murdered the yeast.  I shaped the bread into loaves anyway, and left it overnight- thinking that maybe the leaven might just have enough energy to rise as a sourdough (which would almost be TWICE as good as my original plans!)  When I got up this morning -nothing.  Yeast is a sensitive plant, and I don’t usually kill it- mainly because I’ve been baking bread for probably 35 years.  But I still manage to kill the yeast every few years or so.

After a brief examination, I turned on the oven, got out the pastry cloth, rolling pin and docker (it pokes little holes or indentations in pastry and other doughs, and sometimes to tenderize meat -as for veal or chicken picatta).  I thought of that Miles Davis quote and started making flatbread.  It took 10 minutes, it baked in 15, and it will remain good in a storage container  for many weeks.  Actually it will remain good almost indefinitely.  We always heard about some of my mom’s ancestors arriving in North America by big boat.  The matriarch, great grandmother Giesler, baked flatbread for weeks before departing Europe, enough to fill one of those big wooden steamer trunks.  As it turned out, the ship ran out of food midway across the Atlantic, but there was enough flatbread to keep body and soul together  for more than one whole family.  That always impressed us.

I made flatbread for the first time when I was in high school after I read a bunch of recipes in The Mother Earth News in the mid-1970s.  I thought it was exciting, and that was when mom told the story of the ocean trip flatbread.   Blackbread is good, but flat blackbread is really good too!

The other way that famous Miles Davis aphorism is sometimes quoted:  ‘Fear no mistakes.  There are none.’

It was time to make yogurt- I hid my yogurt machine on myself in the hallway storage shelf a few months ago by accident, and a good friend of mine helped me discover it two weeks ago when I was preparing for a trip out of town.

The first time I tried making yogurt, I was 16, maybe around 1977, I had been reading The Mother Earth News, wanted to build a yurt.  Our family lived deep in the rural upper midwest, so people had big, amazing family farm-gardens.  My first yogurt experiment was not successful or impressive.  It was runny sour milk.  I had no idea what I was doing (I made tofu from scratch around the same time, and was very interested in all things self sufficient, and subsistence of course.)  I haven’t been a huge consumer of dairy products over the years, but I do use more dairy now than I did 10 or 20 years ago.  If you have low tolerance for cow’s milk, sometimes it’s easier to digest in the form of yogurt (or kefir).  A lot of Native people have lactose intolerance.  It’s what happens when you don’t have cows occurring naturally in your environment for 10,000 years or so.  But it can be good for you, and it has beneficial flora (bacteria) that makes your digestive environment happy.  Or is bacteria a fauna?  Anyway, it’s one of the things they now call ‘active-culture foods’, or pro-biotics.

Other pro-biotic benefits include- reducing the risk of colon cancer, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, immune boosting, and other good things.  Other pro-biotics you know, or have eaten, or may have heard about:  kim chi, tempeh, miso, kombucha tea, amazake.  And they all taste good and almost have too many good qualities to list here.

To make good yogurt, now I use a yogurt maker, which is easier, more reliable, less work- intensive,  with a better product.  I found one for- I think- about $30 years ago.  Not a bad investment.

-commercial yogurt, a quart, is anywhere from $3-5 a quart now (especially organic yogurts, whether cow’s milk, sheep or goat milk, or non-dairy soy)

-2 quarts of milk is $2-4 (at least rbgh-free- that’s commonly known as bovine growth hormone- more and more commercial diaries are now loudly and proudly steering away from it.  I think Europe may have banned bgh comestibles initially, although I’m not sure about that any longer.  There’s always detective work to do if you want to eat foods that nourish you and do not harm you.)  So that’s maybe a dollar or 2 for a quart of milk, a few cents of electricity, and maybe 25-50 cents of commercial culture.  The closer food is produced to home, the fresher it is, the better it tastes (in most cases), the better is is for you – and the COST is amazingly lower than what you will pay at the store.  And yes it may take time and practice, but it’s all good.

-therefore, you can make your own yogurt for 1/2 the price- maybe for 1/3.

I use a commercial culture- it’s called Yogourmet (this is not an endorsement) and it’s easy to use.  The live culture is portioned in little envelopes, like gelatin always used to be packaged.  You mix some into a cup of milk at the right temperature, stir it into the 1 quart of milk (that’s the capacity for my machine) and after a few hours you have very fresh yogurt.