November 19, 2021

It’s chilly here today: mid 40s or so. But sunny and dry. The leaves, a lively yellow dipping into dusty brown sprinkled with red, scratch, scratch against the pavement. Mr3yo threw his matchbox car (which fit so neatly inside his hand!) into those one of those piles. Which one? Certain losses must just be accepted.

I’m hibernation ready: sourdough starter at a gradual bubble in a mason jar crowded in between empty egg cartons and bread baskets full of not-bread on top of the fridge. I’m a sourdough newb. A few weeks ago, I was all: “I’m supposed to feed this now? What does sourdough starter eat? How often?” Now I’ve grown accustomed to knowing the hunger signs and comforted by the easy ritual of weighing out water and flour. The rhythm of the baking is what still eludes me. How do I slow down my brain to thinking in terms of days and overnights to double in size while, on the highway outside of my bedroom window, the cars are zero to sixty in seconds? I know it will come but for the time being, I page through books and websites, flipping and scrolling back and forth, watching the clock. I’d like to have bread on Sunday. But before you know it, it’s Saturday and I should have started the process two days ago. (Not really. But you get the point. I hope.)

The yogurt is coming easier, as long as I have whole milk stocked somewhere in the fridge. I know the easy rhythm of scorching and cooling, sterilizing and incubating. I guess I’m more of a bacteria girl than a yeast one although I’m not sure that’s something I should admit.

I’ve heard tell of people who have kept yeasts or other cultures for years or even generations. My husband studied yeast in a laboratory his first job out of college. He’s dubious about how long these sourdough strains or yogurt cultures have been around. But maybe a home isn’t a lab or a lab isn’t a home. Maybe yeasts need a less sterile environment and a lot of love?

When I lived in Thailand, along the Thai-Burma border, I visited a house where the family distilled rice whiskey. The distillery was an elaborate series of bamboo poles and pots and fire. The woman who was running it showed me the cake of yeast that she used to create the alcohol: a small meringue-like lump, hard and light. The outer shell yielded to reveal a mushy inside inside. I don’t know how long she’d had that strain, but I know that she had carried it from her home village in Karenni State to where we met in the distillery in the refugee camp she was calling home, at least temporarily, in Thailand. And here I am, trying to keep mine alive through the winter on top of my fridge.

There’s something to all this: the meringue, the mousse-like consistency of my starter, the sweet smell of a well fed yeast, the things we choose to carry and the things we lose in a pile of leaves. But I’m quickly losing daylight and my mind is heavy. I’ll make sense of it all. Another day.

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