Baking Bread at the End of the World

Behold my glorious mess in the making!

When the world is on fire, I bake bread. That’s what I decided this week. The Great Sourdough Experiment has begun!

As I mentioned before, I’ve been wanting to make my own sourdough starter for a bit. Given that the grocery stores here are now completely out of bread (and eggs, and milk, and of course toilet paper), I figured now’s as good a time as any to give it a shot.

Getting a starter going is supposed to take about a week or so. Today was Day 1. I spent approximately five hours double-checking websites and cookbooks and back alleys before finally settling on the idea of just doing the thing. It took about five minutes.

I should note here that I’ve already gone off book. Pretty much all the recipes I saw called for around a cup of whole wheat flour. I ended up using 1/4 cup. Call it personal choice. Really, I just didn’t want to waste a bunch of flour on an experiment that may fail hard. I don’t know when I might be able to find flour on the grocery store shelves again.

So my ultimate recipe was: 40g whole wheat flour (King Arthur stone-ground White Wheat Flour) and 40g water. It dawns on me now as I write this that whole wheat flour and white wheat flour may not be the same thing. Hmm… Isn’t this fun?

I measured and added the contents into a small jar and mixed thoroughly, all while explaining to my son what we were doing. I use “we” quite loosely here, much in the same but inverted way that “we” were watching his iPad the entire time. But I digress.

We got the job done. And now a New Thing sits on our kitchen counter. The next few days should be entertaining as we feed and care for our new pet and watch it grow. And it dawns on me now that I should probably start figuring out the next steps of how to actually bake bread, and what kind of things I can bake with this thing.

Schools are cancelled for at least the next couple weeks here, so this is how I’m going to be teaching my son. I don’t know new math. I don’t know any of the classroom songs. And I don’t know how to make my own bread. This week, I’m going to remedy one of those things.

Sourdough

I think I want to bake my own bread. I’ve been curious about the concept of baking bread for quite a while now. Years, possibly. I think it started when the wife picked up a bread maker machine. She’s used it many times, and every time she makes delicious breads. But most of the time it just sits on the kitchen counter taking up space, waiting. I would look at it from time to time, knowing that there was a potential for awesomeness just sitting there, neglected.

But then this week happened, and my web searches and online shopping carts have now taken on the distinct flavor of one who wishes to bake. Two specific experiences this week triggered this rising urge. Pun fully intended. You’re welcome.

First, I read a post on Medium extolling the virtues of maintaining and using your own sourdough starter. This struck me as an extremely California thing to write about. Not that I’m anti-Left Coast, I’m just not from there. And I’ve never lived there. And let’s be honest, some Californians do weird things in the name of happy and/or healthy living. So I read the post, found it interesting, but just shy of interesting enough to trigger me to look into it any further.

But then my mind started working the idea over. I recalled a book that came out a couple years ago that had been sitting on my To Read list, Sourdough, by Robin Sloan. I loved his first book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and his novella, Annabel Scheme. I was interested in his second novel, but the topic never seemed to catch with me. How interesting could a book about baking bread be, after all?

How wrong I was. The Medium post put Sourdough back in the forefront of my mind, and I sat down Wednesday night to start reading it. I’d say I read the whole thing in one sitting, but it’s not quite true. I read in bed that night until I fell asleep with the book still in my hand, betrayed by my own eyes. When I woke, I rushed to get my son to school simply so I could come home, brew some coffee, and sit back down to finish. I didn’t even wait for sitting. I was carrying the book around in one hand as I got the coffee started with the other.

I consumed this book. As a side note, I was in the midst of a 36-hour fast (I don’t shun all health/fitness trends, as it turns out), so I read this entire book with no food in my belly. I was sustained on Sloan’s words alone. And man, was I happily full by the turn of the last page. Sourdough was a warm breeze blowing around me, filled with the scent of baking bread, and maybe a slight tinge of bananas.

I find myself latching onto one book every year that sets itself apart from all the others. I know the year is still youngish, but I already feel confident that Sourdough will be this year’s book for me.

It’s a book about baking bread, and about the San Francisco Bay Area, and neither of those things resonated with me when I started the book. I finished and immediately started researching how I could make my own sourdough starter. I don’t know if the bread will have smiling faces, but I know I do thanks to Robin’s wonderfully relaxed style of writing.

So what’s next? I think I’m going to give this sourdough starter thing a try. Maybe I’ll make a few posts about it. From what I can tell, it takes about a week to grow your own sourdough starter. So that’s where I’ll start. And I’ll let you all know how it goes. Stay tuned!

USE IT OR LOSE IT: A Plan for 2020

my year has 15 months

Hello again! Congrats to all on making it through the first full week of 2020. Hope the new year is treating you all well. This update will be fairly short and sweet, just to give a taste of what’s to come this year. I’ve made a few resolutions for the year, and they all centralize around the theme of using the things I have, and getting rid of the things I don’t use.

I’m a big fan of paring down whenever possible. Not only does it help reduce the constant buildup of clutter and general disorganization, but it also helps me think more clearly. It’s almost as if getting rid of the excess junk in my physical space allows for a cleaner mental space. Or maybe I just like to distract myself with cleaning. Either way, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of de-cluttering in the past, so I plan to continue the habit this year. This isn’t really a resolution to start a new thing. Instead, it’s a resolution to continue a thing that works for me. And I think these types of resolutions are just as important. When I find something that works for me, sometimes I need to renew my interest in it just to keep it going. Crazy, I know, but habits have never been an easy thing for me, and this works, so I’m just going with it.

I’m also trying something new with using the things I have. Specifically, I’m talking about in-app subscriptions here. Three in particular. For quite some time now, I’ve subscribed to the meditation app Headspace, the workout app Seven, and most recently, the far more varied workout app Peloton. And I barely used any of them in 2019. So this year, I’ve decided to commit to all three of them and see what I get out of it. In the past I’ve paid for subscriptions with the mindset that, someday, I’d like to use the features that the subscriptions provide. Well, that day has come! Since January 1st, I’ve been using each app at least once a day. My goal is to continue daily usage of all three apps for the entire year, and decide at the end of the year if the subscriptions are worth keeping. I’ll be writing up my experiences with all three apps here in the near future, so if you’re interested in any of these, stay tuned!

Another interesting project for the year has recently landed on my plate, though I can’t reveal much detail about it just yet. I’ll be referring to it as PROJECT ALTHEA here in the meantime. I’m really excited about this one, and hope to provide more if/when I can.

And that’s all for now. The weather here has been nothing but wind and rain these last few days and there’s a leak in my roof, but the dripping sound is rather soothing. I’m all about the silver linings. My best to you all. Until next time.

  • Ryan