Love Your Sourdough Starter? In Stockholm, You Can Hire A Sitter For It

Sidsel Overgaard wrote . . . . . . . .

Ah, Stockholm: the only city in the world (we think) with such a meticulous dedication to artisanal bread that it’s possible to hire a baby sitter for your sourdough starter.

Sourdough starter — a fermented mix of flour, water and procreating microorganisms — is the crucial ingredient in bread made the old-fashioned way, without the help of commercial yeast. A batch of starter can live indefinitely, getting passed on or shared as it grows and expands. But it also requires a certain amount of care and feeding, which apparently can pose a problem for Swedes and their five weeks of annual vacation.

Enter the friendly folks at RC Chocolat. For about three years, this bakery has been quietly offering travelers the peace of mind that comes with leaving a precious possession in the hands of qualified professionals. For $3 a day, a flour-covered aficionado can drop off her sourdough at the bakery’s Stockholm Arlanda Airport location, fly off to exotic places, and return home to reclaim a happy and well-fed bucket of glop.

Joakim Blomquist, one of the company’s owners, says a wide range of people take advantage of the service, though he says tech-savvy city dwellers between the ages of 30 and 50 make up a large proportion.

“But then you have older people who have been doing it for ages,” he explains. “I think we had one [starter] that was 20 years old. You can’t tell, but sometimes you ask just for fun. You can see sometimes that the jar is really old.”

During this Easter holiday (not a long break by Swedish standards), Blomquist and his crew are baby-sitting just two starters. One is bubbling away in a dainty little glass jar, while the other is housed in a plastic guacamole container — not exactly reflective of the level of obsession you’d expect in this situation.

On a longer holiday, the bakery might be responsible for five or six starters at a time, Blomquist says. But he admits this was never intended as a moneymaking initiative.

“We don’t do any advertising. It’s just spread word-of-mouth,” he says.

Sweden has a long tradition of baking with sourdough, but the practice has experienced a major resurgence in the past five to 10 years with the rise of the local food and DIY movements.

The Swedish media hype surrounding this trend appears to have peaked about five years ago, when Stockholm’s first “Sourdough Hotel” made an appearance. Started by the uber-hip Urban Deli restaurant/shop as a sort of “student art project meets marketing campaign,” the concept fizzled after about two years, according to Urban Deli baker Sanny Beuchel.

“I think it stopped because … well, no one really actually turned them in,” she says, laughing. “Not that many actually wanted to pay that much money to do it.”

Beuchel says she thinks Swedes’ interest in sourdough is just as strong today as ever (take, as evidence, the existence of this sourdough map), but the associated hysteria has gradually started to wane. (In America, our starter love is still rising, according to The New York Times.)

Part of that may come from a realization on the part of newly risen home bakers that sourdough is not actually as precious as they once thought.

“I mean, you’re culturing organisms that live on oak bark, that exist in the soil, that transfer from rodent intestines to grain. These are, like, incredibly resilient microorganisms!” says Samuel Fromartz, journalist, pragmatist and author of In Search of the Perfect Loaf.

Fromartz says he has successfully revived starters that have been sitting in the fridge for a month or longer. Other bakers he has talked to recommend freezing or drying out bits of starter for future rejuvenation. He shares this tip:

“If you’ve left your sourdough starter for a couple of weeks or a month, use rye flour to feed it. I find rye is really high-octane fuel for sourdough.”

And if even a rye diet can’t bring your abandoned sourdough back to life? A new batch is not that hard to come by. If you don’t want the minor bother of starting from scratch, many commercial bakers can be sweet-talked into parting with a bit of sourdough starter. And, in Sweden, it’s even now possible to find starter on the shelves of some major supermarkets, tucked in neatly beside the regular yeast.

Given all this, it becomes somewhat incredible that RC Chocolat’s bakers have any starters to baby-sit at all. And yet, why do we hold on to anything?

As Blomquist explains, “I think it’s a collector’s need. People like to have their own. You get a little obsessed.”

Source: npr


Poached Eggs with Goat Cheese on Quinoa and Sauteed Spinach


4 eggs
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp Butter
pinch of garlic powder
2 cups fresh spinach
2 Tbsp crumbled goat cheese
1 cup dried, tri-color quinoa
1 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes to garnish
home-made Hollandaise sauce to serve


  1. Add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of quinoa in a pot. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cover for 15 minutes. When ready, toss with a fork, set aside and keep covered.
  2. Heat butter in sauté pan and add a pinch of garlic for a flavor boost.
  3. Add spinach and toss until completely wilted and glossy. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
  4. Heat a pot or deep skillet with 1 to 2 inches of water (just enough to float the eggs), add vinegar by swirling the water. Bring to a boil.
  5. Crack eggs into water one at a time.
  6. Set timer for 3 minutes (white will be cooked, yellow will be runny). Periodically spoon water over the top of eggs.
  7. While the eggs are cooking, plate up the quinoa, top with sautéed spinach.
  8. Put the finished egg on top of spinach and dress with goat cheese and hollandaise then a few sun-dried tomatoes.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Canadian magazine

New Sweet: Adult Champagne Melon Cream Soda

Half of a Yamagata Prefecture Andes melon is hollowed out and filled with melon pulp and vanilla gelato.

The server will pour the champagne into the melon in front of the customer.

The sweet will be available for a limited time period at Le Bar a Vin Wine Bar in Tokyo, Japan. The price is 1,280 yen plus tax.

The champane is imported from France and can be ordered separately for 980 yen a glass or 4,980 yen a bottle.

America’s Cheese Stockpile Just Hit an All-time High

The United States has amassed its largest stockpile of cheese in the 100 years since regulators began keeping tabs, the result of booming domestic production of milk and consumers’ waning interest in the dairy beverage.

The 1.39 billion-pound stockpile, tallied by the Agriculture Department last week, represents a 6 percent increase over this time last year and a 16 percent increase since an earlier surplus prompted a federal cheese buy-up in 2016.

Analysts say commercial warehouse stocks have swelled because processors have too much milk on their hands, and milk is more easily stored as cheese. Demand has also fallen as school cafeterias close for the summer and restaurants wind down the cheesy specials they offer in the winter and early spring.

Some have grown concerned that stockpiles will build further yet if trade tensions with China and Mexico cut into cheese exports. Cheese prices have fallen sharply, they say, eroding dairy farmers’ already thin margins.

“Milk production continues to trend up, and that milk has to find a home,” said Lucas Fuess, director of market intelligence at HighGround Dairy, a consulting firm. “The issue this year is that, with so much supply, it’s going to be tough for a lot of farmers to be profitable.”

Cheese surpluses do tend to grow at this time every year. Cows are at their most productive in the spring, when the days are longer and the feed better. At the same time, Americans typically eat less cheese now than they do during the holidays, the school year and the winter sports season.

But the summer surpluses are growing larger. Better genetics mean that cows produce more milk, and consolidation means farms keep more cows. Unable to sell that milk in pints or gallons — which Americans are abandoning, also in record numbers — processors plow it into cheese, butter and milk powder.

“I anticipate that we’ll continue to set these records,” said John Newton, director of market intelligence at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We’re producing more milk. It’s inevitable. That milk needs to get turned into something storable.”

But the sheer amount of cheese in storage may be causing problems. Cheese prices have fallen in recent weeks, Fuess said, a response both to the surplus and to growing trade concerns.

That fall is problematic, said Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, because the price of cheese is a major factor in the equation that USDA uses to set the price that dairy farmers receive for their milk. The current price — $15.36 per 100 pounds — is about a dollar below the average for 2017 and well below the price that many farmers say they need to break even.

“When inventories get too large, that pushes the prices down,” he said. “And yes, that trickles down to dairy farmers.”

Dairy groups aren’t yet asking USDA to buy the surplus, however — a common practice that Newton calls “quantitative cheesing.” In 2016, dairy farmers requested that the agency buy more than 90 million pounds of cheese to cut the country’s “mountain” of excess dairy.

Michael Dykes, president of the International Dairy Foods Association, said that although stocks are sky-high, he is confident Americans will eat through them. That’s because stock-to-use ratios, a measure of the amount of cheese taken out of storage, have remained constant even at these higher levels.

On top of that, cheesy foods remain a hallmark of the U.S. diet. This current record was driven by a buildup of non-American, non-Swiss cheeses — largely mozzarella, experts suspect — that could get drawn down by strong summer pizza sales.

There’s one wrinkle in his calculus, Dykes admits: mounting trade tensions. Last year, the United States exported more than 341,000 metric tons of cheese to countries such as Mexico and China. If those countries turn to Europe for their cheese instead, the U.S. stockpile could grow to crisis levels. Already, USDA has begun documenting those concerns among major cheesemakers.

“One milking day a week goes to the export market,” Dykes said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty now. I don’t think we really know what will happen yet.”

Source: The Washington Post

The Latest Blood Pressure Guidelines: What They Mean for You

John Warner wrote . . . . . . .

Updated blood pressure guidelines from the American Heart Association mean that many more Americans, notably older people, are now diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension. This may sound like bad news, but the new guidelines highlight some important lessons we cardiologists and heart health researchers have learned from the latest blood pressure studies. Specifically, we have learned that damage from high blood pressure starts at much lower blood pressures than previously thought and that it is more important than ever to start paying attention to your blood pressure before it starts causing problems.

High blood pressure accounts for more heart disease and stroke deaths than all other preventable causes, except smoking.

As president of the AHA and a cardiologist, I completely support the latest guidelines. I know they will save lives, especially when blood pressure is accurately checked and when people make therapeutic lifestyle choices to lower their blood pressure.

How high blood pressure damages

High blood pressure, which occurs when the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls is too high, is similar to turning up the water in a garden hose – pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. The added pressure causes the heart to work too hard and blood vessels to function less effectively. Over time, the stress damages the tissues within blood vessels, which can further damage the heart and circulatory system.

The AHA, the American College of Cardiology and nine other health professional organizations reviewed more than 900 studies as part of a rigorous review and approval process to develop this first update since 2003 to comprehensive U.S. high blood pressure guidelines.

Here’s what’s new:

  1. High blood pressure, previously defined as 140/90 mm Hg or higher, is now defined as 130/80 mm Hg or higher. This change reflects the latest research that shows health problems can occur at those lower levels. Risk for heart attack, stroke and other consequences begins anywhere above 120 mm Hg (for systolic blood pressure, the top number in a reading), and risk doubles at 130 mm Hg compared to levels below 120.
  2. Blood pressure in adults will be categorized as normal, elevated, stage 1 hypertension or stage 2 hypertension. The category “prehypertension” is no longer used; it previously referred to blood pressures with a top number (systolic) between 120-139 mm Hg or a bottom number (diastolic) between 80-89 mm Hg. People with those readings are now categorized as having either Elevated or Stage I hypertension.
  3. Determination of eligibility for blood pressure-lowering medication treatment is no longer based solely on blood pressure level. It now also considers a patient’s risk of heart disease or stroke over the next 10 years, based on a risk calculator. For people with blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg, medication is recommended regardless of risk level.

Putting the guidelines to work

Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because often there are no obvious symptoms. The only way to know whether you have it is by having your blood pressure measured. Accurate blood pressure measurement is critical to a correct diagnosis.

The guidelines emphasize use of proper technique to measure blood pressure, whether taken by a health care professional in the clinic or by the patient using a home blood pressure monitoring device. Blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two to three readings on at least two different occasions.

A number of common errors can inflate a reading. These include having a full bladder, slouching with unsupported back or feet, sitting with crossed legs, or talking while being measured; using a cuff that is too small or wrapping the cuff over clothing; and not supporting the arm being measured on a chair or counter to keep it level with the heart.

An accurate reading is critical to a correct diagnosis, faster treatment and the most appropriate care.

The lower threshold for a diagnosis of high blood pressure increases the percentage of U.S. adults (ages 20 and older) who have the condition, from approximately 1 in 3 to nearly half (46 percent).

Even with the new threshold, the percentage of U.S. adults for whom medication is recommended (along with lifestyle management) will increase only slightly. Most of the people who are newly diagnosed with high blood pressure will be advised to make lifestyle changes to shift their blood pressure into a healthy zone.

The promise of healthy lifestyle changes

Damage to blood vessels begins soon after blood pressure is elevated. Early intervention can help prevent problems, slow damage that has already started and lower the risk for a heart disease or stroke. Lifestyle changes should be on the front lines of efforts to tackle the high blood pressure epidemic.

Here are some of the best proven nondrug approaches to prevent and treat high blood pressure:

  • Lose weight. For each kilogram lost, systolic blood pressure is expected to fall by about 1 mm Hg.
  • Eat better. Choose a dietary pattern rich in fruits vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, reduced in saturated and total fat, lower in salt (aim to cut current intake by 1,000 mg/day sodium), and rich in potassium (aim for 3,500-5,000 mg/day, focusing on potassium-rich foods such as bananas, potatoes, avocados and dark leafy vegetables).
  • Move more. Get 90-150 minutes per week of both aerobic physical activity and resistance training.
  • Moderate alcohol intake. Limit to one drink or fewer per day for women and two drinks or fewer per day for men.

Personal responsibility for one’s health behaviors is important, but a number of other complex, interrelated aspects of the physical, social and policy environments influence these behaviors.

Public health practices and policies leading to changes in systems and environments support individuals’ efforts to make healthy lifestyle choices. For example, well-maintained sidewalks, bike lanes and parks support physically active lifestyles, and healthier food options in corner stores, vending machines and other public places promotes better eating habits. Community-based efforts can shift social norms and help transform the environments where behaviors occur to make healthier choices easier – more accessible, affordable, and attractive – for everyone.

Source: The Conversation

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