I make sourdough bread. I just took it up 9 months ago and if you told me in 2020 when the sourdough craze ramped up that I would be not only starting sourdough, but I would love the process, I would have questioned your sanity (and mine). To me, bread making meant math and fussiness and I am not one to like either of those, let alone combine them in one process. It wasn't until my mom was in her final months that I had a notion to try it. If you know me, if I try something, I dive in and worry about the wet hair later, so for me to consider this was a big deal.
The catalyst for me was I needed something to nurture, to see something come to life while I was watching my mom's life fade away. It took something really sad that was ending to make me consider letting this living wild thing into my kitchen and heart. The kitchen really is the heart of a home, isn't it? I found a starter on Esty, shipped from San Francisco and it was on April 4, 2023 that I began feeding it. Interestingly enough, this was Easter Sunday. It was also the 13th anniversary of my dad's passing, which ironically enough was also Easter Sunday. I was bringing something back to life from a dormant place - and not only on my dad's anniversary but also on a day where death is defied. The dead shall rise...
And for a number of weeks I fed and fed and fed and fed and fed the starter until I had a monster. It starts small and incrementally gets bigger and bigger, and this is something very important that may feel counterintuitive with the sourdough process. DISCARD. If you keep feeding into the starter (which is flour and water) and don't do anything but feed into it without letting go, you have to keep feeding it proportionally and I had a big problem on and in my hands - a very big jar with no more room. Something had to give. I had to let go in order for there to be room for something to even create. With sourdough feeds, there is a rule of thumb: 1:1:1 - one part starter, one part water, one part flour. So if you have 1 Cup of starter in a jar, you must feed it one Cup water and 1 Cup flour. That's 3 cups in a jar and that's a lot if your intention is to not let any of it go - you'll just have to keep that process going - and it is just wasteful in the long run. Lesson learned and realizing what I was ultimately afraid of - this entity that I had been feeding into - it was time to let go and begin again...or in my case - just begin.
Coincidentally (or another sign of life after death), my first bake was the same weekend after my mom passed. It felt right, not just from a logistical standpoint that I had no more room in the jar, but I was ready to let go and bring something I had been keeping alive to a bigger purpose. What is the point of being alive if you're just staying captive in one place and not fulfilling what you are meant to do?
This is what I mean by breaditation. As I walk through each cycle of breadmaking, there are lessons learned and they are as different as each week passes. There is so much grace in sourdough in particular. Timing is a big factor and yet there are ways to put things on "pause" that don't ruin the outcome. Timing, and also allowing places like the fridge to chill out and let it come back to temp for a better time. A pause button. Time out when it is needed. Grace.
Today I am making some sourdough and I am in the "stretch and fold" process of the day. To develop the gluten, you have to stretch the bread, and fold it in order for it to have a better structure. You do this over a couple of hours. The more you do, the structure becomes stronger and healthier. It's sort of like when you are stretched beyond what you think you can endure - it may feel like a very uncomfortable process but in the long run the stretching does something that helps you - that you not only survived, but it is going to make you stronger and more durable with time. It causes you to rise to the occasion, so to speak.
Before the stretching can occur, all the elements first come together that require time. The starter + water + flour must sit tight together while wild things are taking place and growth becomes evident. It take hours. In the beginning I didn't know if this was for me, I was a mother hen with all these living things and I was afraid I was going to mess it up. Week after week the grace of sourdough reminded me why it was worth it.
So, I make sourdough bread. And I really love it. There is an art to waiting, discerning the right timing, creating spaces and allowing the process to come to its beautiful end result.
Feed, let go, wait, grow...
Just like life.
Thank you, mama.