Life and Sourdough Bread

Playground Earth | Food

After three decades of being a graphic designer, I discovered the transformative art of sourdough bread baking through a hands-on class in 2013. Since then, I’ve been passionate about baking and learning every aspect of naturally leavened bread (aka sourdough bread). This sensory and poetic practice has changed my life in so many positive ways.

This initial class was enough to immerse me further into a path of non-stop hands-on learning that included online courses, workshops, books, documentaries and demos. The Los Angeles Bread Bakers Meetups offered endless resources of information, not to mention a wonderful community of bakers, some of whom were world-renowned, while others were novices like myself. We all communed around the same passion and excitement of making and sharing this wonderful, foundational loaf of bread made with three simple ingredients…flour, salt, and water.

Anything with the words “naturally leavened” or “sourdough” provided me with the spark to stop what I was doing and begin the process of baking. The practice became a therapeutic ritual of feeding my starter, making the leaven (preferment), and then baking the final dough. The entire process takes 2 1/2 days (not all active time, however) which allowed me downtime for further learning. As time passed I continued to experiment by making innovative additions and modifications such as herb and olive sourdough, dried apricot, and hazelnuts as well as other combinations.

This initial class was enough to immerse me further into a path of non-stop hands-on learning...

Learning about using ancient and heritage grains was also a huge turning point in making bread. I began purchasing and home milling whole grains such as Khorasan, Einkorn, and Spelt to be mixed into my final dough formulas. Combined with a starter (a fermented mixture of flour and water), freshly milled grains impart an amazing flavor and provide health benefits that simply can’t be achieved with commercially yeasted bread.

I continually baked, shared and happily gave away countless loaves to family, friends, neighbors and even our priest. I would frequently get asked why I didn’t think about starting a bakery (I guess they really liked the bread!) but decided that, at the time, opening up a bakery was not a viable option.

Instead I opened an Instagram account to share my photographs and experiences. Then I began teaching an introductory course on “Sourdough Bread Baking” to a maximum of five students in my small kitchen in Glendale, California. After every class the students and I would gather around the breakfast table and enjoy freshly baked bread, along with other accompaniments such as homemade soup, hummus, fresh cheese, olives, crudité, marmalade and butter.

After years of discussion, we decided to uproot, sell our house of 17 years and move to an avocado grove in Bonsall, California (a beautiful, rural area of North County San Diego). The property came with 215 established Hass avocado trees, but unfortunately did not come with a house! We’ve been living in a 40’ trailer while constructing our house hopefully due to be completed in August 2020.

I discovered that bread baking was a natural extension of who I was. Growing up in a Middle Eastern family, food was a central gathering point for family and hospitality was bountiful.

In the process of designing our house, we decided to add a workshop to be located on the first floor, specifically for teaching bread baking. This dedicated space would allow me to invite other instructors to share their culinary expertise with our new community. I have always enjoyed taking a hands-on, bread-baking, or cooking class and have come to realize that many people feel the same. It’s a multi-sensory experience that you can’t completely grasp when taking an online class. In addition, there is the added pleasure and joy of gathering around a table and “breaking bread” together in a beautiful setting.

Since moving to Bonsall in August 2019, my husband and I have also learned much about becoming avocado growers. We’ve decided to convert the grove to an organic farm which takes about three years. In late 2019 we oversaw the organic fertilization and pruning process of over 200 trees, and in March had our first harvest of Hass avocados which amounted to approximately 40,000 lbs. (20 tons)! We’ve also planted 100 additional Hass trees and a variety of fruit trees such as pomegranate, fig, tangerine, grapefruit, lime, mulberry, fuyu persimmon, peach, plum, nectarine and a couple of grape vines . This fall we plan to build a few raised beds for vegetables and herbs. Since I also love to cook, I’m extremely excited about incorporating homegrown, freshly picked veggies and herbs into our meals.

Bread baking became a natural extension of who I was. Growing up in a Middle Eastern family, food was a central gathering point for family and hospitality was bountiful.

Nothing gives me more satisfaction than baking multiple loaves of naturally-leavened bread and sharing them with friends and family. When opportunity allows, I search local bakeries and try to decipher the differences in baking style and flavor. In 2018 I traveled to Egypt, the birthplace of naturally leavened bread, and was captivated with the beautiful style of baking “aysh” (literally meaning life.)

This life-changing journey of bread baking reminds me of the special people for whom I bake and has taught me to slow down, savor the process, and enjoy every bite of freshly baked sourdough.