One lovely, if sometimes tricky, aspect of life in Gillams is the lack of schedule. No racing out the door (mostly), few deadlines, and plenty of time to take on the things that are easy to push to the side when the day is filled with activities requiring hour-long subway rides and packed lunches.
One of the things that I lost along the way in the fall was my bread baking. I could squeeze in the occasional focaccia but my sourdough starter was a non-starter. It was rare that we enjoyed the delicious, unbeatable taste of homemade sourdough bread.
No so in Gilliams. One of my first tasks was getting a new starter going. Making a sourdough starter from scratch is quite simple but the number of ways it can go astray appear to be limitless, as I have learned through experience again and again. So it is always with a little bit of wonder that I mix that first 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water together.
What will happen?
One thing I have learned is that, even if it gets side tracked for a time, it will work out eventually. Bread will happen, even if it is a good deal later than I had hoped or imagined.
Are you reading the metaphors for sitting zazen yet?
It is hard not to get metaphorical when dealing with sourdough. Or zazen for that matter.
I am thinking metaphorically along these lines is because two of my friends and I are starting a sitting meditation group this summer and we have been discussing how to do it. It turns out that my practice is the most "traditional" in that I am specifically attached to a Zen Center and following a specific tradition while my friends follow the teachings of a well-known Zen master but in a much more informal way.
It also turns out that some might regard my practice as somewhat strict, although since I consider myself to be such a beginner it is hard not to laugh at applying this description to what I am up to. I can appreciate, however, that what I am up to isn't for everyone and could even scare some people off. So we are working out a sitting program that will be welcoming to all who might be curious without making them feel like they have entered something so foreign to their experience as to be completely off-putting.
And it is so exciting to have a group to sit with, in whatever manner. There is something so wonderful and powerful and mysterious in it.
We will just sit and let things ferment for a while. Yum.
And here is a simple sourdough recipe, for those of a less metaphorical bent:
Begin by mixing 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water together in a non-metal bowl large enough to hold at least four cups. Let sit for 24 hours coved in plastic wrap (a damp cloth will work too but it has to be kept damp). The next day, give the mixture a stir and add another 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water and mix well. Cover and let sit for 24 hours. Repeat for another two days - you should notice bubbling and a fermenting smell that is not unpleasant. If you start to get an unpleasant smell, dump out most of the starter and begin again using only about 2 TB of your original starter.
Once your starter is nice and bubbly and appears to be rising and falling with your additions of flour/water, you are ready to use it. The night before you plan to bake, add 1 cup of flour to your starter. It will lose its watery quality and become thicker - like a thick pancake batter. Cover and let sit overnight (at least 8 hours). In the morning, you should notice that it has risen and fallen and be very bubbly. Stir it down and put all but about 2-3TB in a large mixing bowl.
To the remaining starter, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, mix well and cover. If you don't plan on using it again within 48 hours, put it in the fridge where it will keep for a good long time. You can re-activate it as above by adding flour/water the night before you plan to bake.
To the starter in the bowl, add 2 cups warm water. Stir well. Slowly begin to add flour, stirring it in completely as you add about 1/2 cup at a time. After 1 1/2 cups have been added, add a TB of salt and stir well. Continue to add flour until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl. Now, spread some flour on your counter top or kneading board and dump the dough out. Knead while adding flour, but not too much - it should still be a little sticky. When the dough is soft and resisiliant (like a baby's bottom!), then clean your mixing bowl, butter it up and put the dough in it. Cover with a damp cloth and let sit for 2 hours. It should double in size, approximately.
After two hours are up, dump it out onto your counter again, knead and divide in two. Let sit for 1/2 hour. Then put into your bread pans (or floured bread baskets) and let rise for another two hours. Pre-heat oven to 425F in the last 20 minutes or so of rising time. After two hours, put the bread in the oven and let back for approx. 30 minutes. May take longer or less time, depending on whether the bread is baking in a pan or freeform, etc.. Some people like to spritz the oven with water 3X during the first 9 minutes of baking, others like to put a pan of water on the bottom of the oven. Both are intended to give a crispier crust.
Try it out and see what you like. Bread will happen, even if it isn't what you expected.