There are a few universal truths in this world. Water is wet, the Earth is round, and there will always be things your siblings do better than you. In my case, my older sister Christine Elderkin-Campos bakes delicious homemade sourdough. As if that weren’t enough, she’s also taken to stenciling her creations with nerdy art. As they say in the Biz: If you can’t beat them, interview them.
I recently had a phone chat with my older sister, who I’m going to call Christine from here on out because constantly referring to her as “Elderkin-Campos” is going to melt my brain. There’s three of us in total, including our younger sister Faith Moore. Christine lives with her husband, Dave Campos, and the greatest 4-year-old in the world, Mateo (at least until my baby comes along, suck it). We usually chat a couple times a week, but this was the first time I’d properly interviewed her — or anyone in my family, for that matter — outside of a community college class assignment. It’s surreal, to say the least.
I asked Christine to fill me in on what it takes to make some of her nerdy bread, as seen on her Instagram, which she decorates using rice flour and plastic stencils she carves by hand (although she’s looking into getting a 3D printer because holy shit carving plastic sounds hard). We also geeked out on how nerd culture has changed — as well as how we’ve changed alongside it. Below is an edited, condensed version of our interview.
Beth Elderkin, Gizmodo: How’s it going?
Christine: It’s going great.
Gizmodo: How does it feel to be interviewed by your younger sister?
Christine: It feels…fine? You actually sound different than when I normally talk to you?
Gizmodo: Oh really? Well, I do want to chat about your bread. Mostly because it’s really cool but also because, and this is what I tell everyone, I’m really jealous that I’ll never be able to do it myself —
Christine: — that’s not true, it’s not as hard as you think.
Gizmodo: You know me. You know me and baking.
Christine: Yeah, you’ve just gotta try.
Gizmodo: I’m also jealous because I don’t get to eat it.
Christine: I have seen people mail it across the country and I’m just, like, it’s only good the first day. I don’t see how that would work. But you’ll be here some time, you’ll be here someday.
Gizmodo: Someday. I mean, after this whole apocalypse is over, if that happens. So when did you first get into baking and how did that come about?
Christine: So, I’ve been baking for years. It really started probably 15 or so years ago when I was gluten-free and I really had to make my own bread. Because at that time, there were no options out there, there was just nothing on the market. I pretty much made my own bread regularly every week, and I continued to do that even after I wasn’t gluten-free anymore. It’s been about four years, I stopped after Mateo was born.
But the sourdough thing, it’s always something I wanted to do. I even remember going to visit Faith when they lived in Reno last time, so that was probably 10 years ago. She gave me some of the starter she was using, I was interested in it, and I was completely intimidated by it and I didn’t know what to do with it. It just kind of went bad and I didn’t revisit it ever.
With the pandemic — having the time at home, it really gave me the opportunity to begin making a sourdough starter, and to really observe it and learn about it. It was really mostly during shutdown that I was like, “Hey, I can really dig my teeth in and see how it goes.”
Gizmodo: A sourdough starter, is it basically a living organism? Because I’ve seen it and frankly it kind of grosses me out.
Christine: It is, it is gross-looking. And it is a living organism. It’s really funny, when I was first looking into it, and I happen to be looking at the recipe and the recipe says: Using wild yeast is so much better than commercial yeast. I began to think to myself, “Where does one buy wild yeast? Do you have to go to Whole Foods or the internet?” As it turns out, wild yeast is just in our air. It’s in our environment. It’s just all around us all the time.
It’s made of is flour and water. That’s it. I feed it flour and water every day, and what happens is the yeast organisms will eat it, and they’re digesting it and creating carbon dioxide, and that’s when you see it starts to raise. It doubles or triples in size from the amount it started at, and then it will sink back down.
It is something that’s constantly living — and that’s why most people give their starter a name.
Christine: Because, it’s kind of like your little pet thing [laughs]…A colleague of mine — or Dave’s colleague, I guess — she said her aunt always had a starter when she was a little girl, and his name was Herman. I was like, “I like that name, I think it’s kind of quirky and fun, so I’ll name it Herman.” And then Mateo decided that he was Herman Cheerio, so his name is Herman Cheerio — and on very special occasions, it’s Herman Cheerio Ice Cream.
Gizmodo: Through the pandemic, we did get some memes, the toilet paper and all that, and one of them was making sourdough bread —
Christine: — yeah, it’s very cliché.
Gizmodo: Did you hop on the bandwagon, or would you say you beat it to the punch?
Christine: Umm, I would say it’s probably a little bit of both. It’s not like I was new to baking in general — a lot of people all of a sudden were like, “I’m gonna try baking,” and I don’t feel like it was that for me. I already have a bread machine, I make bread regularly every week. We don’t buy sandwich bread. It kind of was something where I finally had the time to do something I’d always wanted to do. You have to be able to tend to it and observe, and with a normal work schedule that’s really hard to do.
Gizmodo: So you started out just making some breads and making me very hungry from across the country, and then eventually you started trying stencils. What made that come about?
Christine: You know, there’s a lot of art that goes into bread making, and when that’s how you shape it or how the ingredients you use to do colour, or the way you score it — and scoring is the cutting of the dough…and a lot of people are making these really beautiful designs that have flowers and wheat and all these little things with the cutting, the scoring. And when I first tried to do that, I was terrible at it!
I wanted to find a way to have an artistic outlet and make something beautiful without having to really hone the skills of the scoring. I’m getting better at it, but it’s really hard. And so with the stenciling, I find if I make a stencil or buy a stencil, and I’m able to put art on the bread, that’s just kind of an additional outlet — I don’t want to say it’s easier, because it’s its own set of skills, but it really started because I was having trouble doing really intricate scoring.
Gizmodo: What made you decide to focus more on nerdy shit?
Christine: I just really wanted to combine it with things that I love. We’re generally a pretty nerdy family here — we’re very into Disney and nerd culture and Star Wars and Game of Thrones. We’re very into nerd culture. I felt that if I was able to make that kind of art on the bread, that it would be able to not only gain exposure with new audiences but also introduce people to what kind of art can be on bread.
It was a way for me to have even more fun with it, to see things that I wanted to see. Then to be able to engage with entirely new audiences. Because there’s definitely sourdough groups. There’s definitely people that — this is their passion and what they follow, and it’s kind of an enclosed niche.
Gizmodo: Tell me about some of the nerdy stencils you’ve done on sourdough bread so far.
Christine: So my favourite ones would probably be The Mandalorian one I did. The one that’s really out there right now and I’m having a lot of fun with is I did Hocus Pocus with a silhouette of the Sanderson sisters for Halloween. And I’ve done a lot of Disney ones, like a silhouette of Sleeping Beauty’s castle with Mickey’s head inside.
I’m trying to think of a Game of Thrones one that I could do because there are some that are pretty difficult. If I think about the Stark wolf, it’s like super intricate. I just don’t know how I would make that on a stencil.
Gizmodo: Have you had any requests?
Christine: No, no I don’t think so.
Gizmodo: Can I make one? Well not right now, I don’t have one right now. But can I make one eventually?
Christine: You could try.
Gizmodo: Did you take inspiration from other niche groups that have embraced more nerd culture? I know embroidery is a big one.
Christine: It’s interesting that you say that because ever since I’ve been doing these breads with this art, it’s actually exposed me to some of those other types of art forms. A lot of accounts out there follow me because they see a Star Wars bread that I made, and I’ll check out their account and see their embroidery or fan art. There’s so many really cool things out there that I hadn’t really been exposed to.
Gizmodo: You know, one thing I’ve kind of found interesting is you and I actually have more nerdy interests in common now as adults than we did when we were kids. We first started talking nerd shit with Game of Thrones and it’s kind of gone from there. I mean, do you personally feel that your interests have changed over the years?
Christine: Hmm. I don’t know if they’ve changed, but they’ve intensified with the select things that I continue to be passionate about. So, you know, things like Disney and Star Wars, and Game of Thrones especially. It’s like I’ve kind of put more of myself into that. But I don’t think they changed. I think with what you do for a living, it really gave us an opportunity to really have a lot of raw sessions about stuff, and it was always really fun to hear what your take was versus mine. I would say that that’s probably what it would be for me is that once you started doing this type of journalism, it really gave us a chance to kind of talk about this stuff together. But it’s not like I didn’t like it before.
Gizmodo: Yeah, that makes sense. I’m still waiting for another show that can actually do that for us because Game of Thrones didn’t exactly end on the greatest note where we could have these in-depth conversations. [Note: We later got psyched about The Mandalorian season two, although I had to break some unfortunate news about Gina Carano.]
Christine: Yeah, well, I mean, we did it on other things, too. There was like Westworld and there were other shows — Handmaid’s Tale is another example — that we would have those kind of conversations about. But I think until, you know, we’re on the other side of covid, I just don’t think we’re going to have those kinds of opportunities because there’s just not any filming.
Gizmodo: I’ve shown your bread to a few people, and one question I always get is, “What happens to the bread?” Because you’re making so much bread. Do you eat all of it?
Christine: Yes and no. I do give some away and I do freeze a lot. So usually at any given time, there’s two or three loaves in my freezer…I mean there’s so many things you can do with it. But yeah, we eat a lot. We eat a lot of this bread.
Gizmodo: I have to ask — why do bread makers use the hashtag #crumbshot?
Christine: OK, so it’s funny, for one — io9: — is it?
Christine: Yeah it’s funny. But the inside of the bread, it’s called the crumb. So when you’re looking at the texture of the interior of the bread, that’s the word that it is. When you take a photo, it’s the “crumbshot.” Then there’s also the, you know, the parallel…
Gizmodo: Are there any stencils or bread challenges you’re thinking of tackling in the future?
Christine: I want to work on colouring my bread. There’s a lot of really cool ones that I see on Instagram where they use charcoal or special pea flowers, where you can get blues and pinks and, you know, things that can change the look of the bread without changing the flavour, but that’s not a food colouring. So that’s something that I want to try.
Gizmodo: Do you have any advice for folks who are seeing sourdough continue to be a quarantine hobby and are maybe thinking of trying it for themselves?
Christine: I guess the thing that I would do is see if anybody you know already had a starter that they could give you some of. Making a starter from scratch is possible, but if you’re not super experienced with baking or science, it’s a little bit of a challenge. Really, just get out there and join a lot of the social media groups [Note: she also mentioned Homemade Food Junkie for recipes and starting advice]. There’s so many out there that, for the most part, are super supportive and always willing to answer questions. That’s kind of where I got my start, was seeing what other people were doing.
And to not give up after the pandemic and quarantine are over. The best thing about homemade food is that it’s real food, and that’s why I’ve been making my own sandwich bread for years…Making your own food, it just requires time and being able to dedicate that time in your life is important for you and your family. That’s kind of the way I look at it.