For the starter:
First, make the starter: Add yeast to ¼ cup hot water, and stir with a fork to dissolve. Let proof 10 minutes. Then add ⅔ cup hot water and enough flour to make a loose dough. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let rise at room temperature at least 4 hours, up to overnight.
For the dough:
When starter is ready, make the dough: In the large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, proof yeast in ¼ cup hot water for 10 minutes. Then add starter, salt, remaining 2 cups hot water, and chopped herbs. Mix. Add whole-wheat flour and mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically. Then add all-purpose flour in 1-cup increments until dough forms a rough ball. Switch to your mixer's dough hook, or move to a wooden dough board, and knead until smooth and springy. Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Put dough into the bowl and let rise until doubled, 1-½ to 2 hours. Then form dough into two loaves and let rise 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven, preferably with a baking stone, to 450°. Sprinkle the baking stone or a heavy cookie sheet with a little cornmeal or flour. Place loaves on stone or sheet, and make 2 shallow slashes on top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Bake 10 minutes; then reduce heat to 400°. Continue baking 40 minutes more, until loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom and are browned on top.
This bread is wonderful with good butter, cheese, and cured meats. Using a starter means that loaves will stay fresh for 3 to 5 days. You'll need to plan ahead, though, mixing the starter 4 to 12 hours before making the dough. Think of it as a Sunday bread you can start in the morning and serve at dinner, with little fuss in between.