This photo has been waiting for a week without a plan, and such a week has arrived! I have had a cold. For, like, TWO WEEKS. I don’t have time for this. Bah! And yet, time has been made. I’ve made an effort to get to bed earlier and drink my fluids. I’ve exhausted my stock of bone broth in its entirety. My lemon tea is nearly gone. I have already restocked my monstrous jar of honey from my favorite local beekeeper, Mark Fiegl of Lindenview Meadow Farm (you can pick up your own jar of this fabulousness at the Original Candy Kitchen in Williamson, NY!)…and I probably need to buy more whiskey since I’ve ended each day with my sweet grandma’s special hot toddy blend. Sometimes I’ve had a second toddy in the wee hours when coughing woke me up. The past few days I feel like I’m getting better then feel icky again. I am hopeful that this trend means the germs are making an exit. Anyway, there has been NO camera love. I’m very grateful that I had stashed this photo a few weeks ago when I had other posts I wanted to get up instead.
I’m wondering how many of you will know what this is just from the photo. I think there is kind of a big population of people the world round who have one of these bad boys, but it’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone in my physical circles of people talk about. My “monster” peeps are all virtual contacts.
Monster? Hang on–I’m getting there.
I think I have mentioned before that we started a food journey several years ago…basically working to eliminate as much processed stuff from our cooking and eating as possible. It’s a constant learning and adjusting process. Well, as part of this journey, I have moved to making lots more of what we eat from scratch. This eventually made its way to bread. And that lead to much recipe chatter about a sourdough starter. I kept reading, and I was intrigued. I finally stumbled across some instructions for creating a sourdough starter of my own, so I made one. I think most people acquire these from friends. You can even order a starter that has been maintained for 170 years! Wait–food that is over 170 years old?? Yep. And it’s not gross or rotten or moldy. My starter (a.k.a. my monster) is over two years old, and it’s fresh and happy as a…sourdough starter, I guess. Mostly happy. It did live in the fridge for about seven months being duly neglected. Actually, even when I’m keeping it active, I can get neglectful. My monster is very forgiving, but my breads are probably messed up on levels a connoisseur would notice because of my lack of diligence with the monster. WHATEVS, I say.
So what is it? A sourdough starter is a blend of yeasty beasties and flour and water. The beasties digest the flour and make lovely bubbles, and then you can use this doughy goodness to bake a bajillion different things. I have made bread, but honestly not well because I’m not patient enough for the really good stuff. I tend to go for the faster recipes rather than the recipes that take days and days to build and prep. I have a good stash of recipes, and I bake with my monster in fits and bursts. I’m in a burst at the moment, and the poor thing has been relegated to the fridge for the past week. I’m supposed to feed it today. I’d better go get it out so it can warm up before its feeding. And then I’ll probably pop it back in the fridge. Still being in cold-recovery mode, everything extra has been eliminated from the schedule, most assuredly including pretty much all cooking and baking.
But when I’m in my groove, I have found a slew of useful (and quick) ways to bake with the monster. Oh my gosh–we made the most amazing banana bread a couple of weeks ago–ahhhhh the carbs. My mom-in-law always says the carbs are where the love is! Why is it necessary to have a slew of useful recipes for this thing, you may wonder? Well, the monster needs to be fed twice a day. It has taken me a really long time to understand the science behind how this thing works. And by “understand” I mean “not understand at all but have a good system going anyway.” With that clarified, I will not go into any discussion of particulars of how a sourdough starter works, but basically I have to remove some of the starter at each feeding and either cook with it (yay!) or throw it away (boo!) then feed the portion of monster that remains. It is fed a mix of flour and warm water. It bubbles up after awhile and eats happily away until the next feeding, when I repeat the entire process. I get excited about the monster until my schedule gets zany. At that point, the monster becomes tedious because I don’t remember to feed it consistently and definitely don’t have time to bake, rendering the time to feed it wasteful. ESPECIALLY if I’m also wasting the “discard” (as the part that is removed before feeding is often called)! Plus, I kind of feel like I’m killing a bunch of little pets when I dump the discard down the garbage disposal. It just feels blasphemous. I’m not sure why I don’t feel that way when I mix the discard portion into a recipe and bake it, as I’m most definitely killing my little beasties when I do that. But that feels like a repurposing that we could all get on board with. Going in the garbage is just such a waste for these little guys!
So, I sometimes bake with this little monster of mine and am usually entertained by it. It has become something of a pet project, if not something of an actual pet. My whole family refers to it as “the monster,” and they sporadically ask me if I’ve remembered to feed it. It’s a science project and a provider and a satisfier all in one. Even though sometimes I forget about it and sometimes I resent it because it’s just one more thing to do amongst an endless sea of to-dos. Regardless, it’s something I play with somewhat regularly, and on the morning when I snapped the photo, it was sitting on my counter very bubbly and happy and capturing light kind of magically. One project collides with another!
If you ever find yourself in need of some sourdough starter for a recipe and you’re local, I may be able to help you out. Give me a day or so of notice, though, in case mine is in the fridge so I can scoop some out and get it bubbling and happy before I pass it on for your baking needs. Do any of you out there have a sourdough starter of your own? I’m totally intrigued as to how many homes sport a monster. Maybe we monster-cultivators are a more isolated breed, though. That will be okay. It brings me joy, and I like things that do that. And I admittedly have had visions of cooking with these beasties in the little bed and breakfast my momma once imagined opening. It’s a happy, Suzy-homemaker-y thought, and those are good thoughts to have now and then.
Disclaimer: I totally swiped calling my starter “the monster” from some other clever sourdough-starter breeder whose blog I tripped through in my research path. I, regretfully, do not have any idea to whom I owe credit for this bit of brilliancy.