Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring Sourdough

Oh my goodness, Thank  you.  Thank you thank you to whomever is ultimately responsible for the color returning to my city.  We had little intimations that it was coming, slowly ambling on it's way, and now I do believe it has finally stopped knocking, walked in the door, set down its traveling bags full of worms and bugs, flowers, tank tops and sandals.  Spring, you're welcome to stay for as long as you wish.   

On my Sunday morning run through the little back streets of West Seattle, my face smiled at the sunshine.  The lawnmowers were buzzing in yards filled with tulips the color of cheap drugstore lipsticks.  The apple and cherry trees lining the sidewalks are now filled with fluffy pink and white flowers making each branch look like sticks of cotton candy.  The air now actually smells like spring too.  There is so much opening up right before me.  The green buds on trees, the tiny purple flowers that open and spread thick like carpets across flower beds. Everything is opening up and stretching toward the sunshine, and I think I'm opening up too.  That same excitement and energy that I felt weeks ago in San Francisco is sneaking back in.  A feeling of freedom spring gives you, so that all the things you left behind amidst the gloom and cold rain may slowly creep back in.  

Everything's sprouting around here - even things on countertops.  My alfalfa sprouts have made their warm weather comeback, sprouting green tops out of little brown seeds in glass jars.  I'm now looking longingly out at our new yard, edged with areas that could hold tomatoes or kale.  My energy is increasing with the daylight hours, and things which seemed a bit cumbersome before now look fresh and compelling.  With all of this growing going on, why don't I grow myself some sourdough bread starter?  This was something I hadn't done since moving to 35th Ave.  At the bamboo hut, the molds in the air there made it impossible to produce a nice yeasty starter (which I found out quickly after a couple of strange-smelling flatbread experiments).  What?  You don't know what a sourdough starter is?  Well, that doesn't surprise me.  Not many people do this sort of thing anymore.

You see, a long time ago (don't click away, I promise this will be interesting - albeit - food-geeky)  when you wanted to make bread, you didn't buy those little packets of yeast from the store.  No, a long time ago nothing came in little packages.  Your bread coming out tall and light and well-textured relied on your cultivating the yeast yourself.  Where does the yeast come from?  The air.  Bacteria and yeasts are floating through the air in your home, outside, in your car, in your bathroom (especially there), everywhere.  You just have to capture them somehow and use them for your own delicious ends.  To capture them you have to give them a place they want to go to eat and multiply.  You must make the perfect yeast trap.  Some flour and water will do the trick, along with open air and 60 seconds of your attention every day (yeasts eat a lot and must be fed regularly).  At the end of one week you will have a jar full of yeasty, bubbly flour bacteria soup.  Yum!  The starter you make will be unique to your location.  Different types of yeasts inhabit different cities, neighborhoods, houses... that's why San Francisco got so famous for it's sourdough bread.  Their yeast strains make a wonderfully sour and desirable loaf.  

As the sun came up this morning, over the mountaintops and streaming into our front room, I had my routine cup of strong black tea with soy milk.  Right beside, on a glass plate sat sourdough toast with butter and sea salt. Spring mornings are now bright at 6am, pushing me out the door and onto my bicycle to begin my day.  It's a bit easier now to peddle fast uphill and look forward to walks outside at lunchtime.  Maybe next week I'll try making my own yogurt, or go foraging for wild nettles!  

Anything's possible. 

Sourdough Starter

Ladies and gents, this is local food at it's finest.  The yeasts that come from your kitchen?  You can't get any closer to home.  When you get behind in your breadmaking, take a cup of your starter and give it to a friend - spread your bacteria all over the place!

1 cup white, wheat or rye flour
enough water to make it fairly soupy
leftover cooked grain (optional)

To make your starter, start with a large wide mouth jar or a medium glass bowl that you can cover easily with a cloth.  Add the flour and enough water to make it fairly soupy - the consistency of heavy cream.  If you have some leftover cooked grain, feel free to add a bit as well, just keep the starter soupy.  Cover the dish with a cloth and place in your kitchen out of the way.  Each day for about 7 days, add about a 1/4 cup of flour and enough water to maintain consistency.  You can add cooked grain each day too.  The liquid may also be water from cooked plain pasta or potatoes as this will have lots of good starch for the bacteria to feed on.  When the mixture finally turns bubbly and begins to rise out of the container, you're done!  Now before using it all in your loaf, reserve 1/4 cup of the starter and add some flour and water to begin the starter all over again.  If you take care of it and speak kind words, your starter will last you forever.  It's alive.  Kind of creepy, huh?    

There are many recipes out there for sourdough bread - but I just wing it and throw all kinds of unmeasured things together.  I would recommend doing some research yourself, or check out for some nice recipes.  

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