Congratulations, It's a Starter!
I looked through the glass, beaming proudly at this tiny being I would take home with me. I had no idea what I was doing. Why was I so intimidated?
We had chatted about the need for a feeding schedule, how to keep it alive and well, how to deal with extremes in temperatures or humidity and what to do if it needed to go dormant for a while due to my travel schedule and how with focused dedication it would only take a bit of dedicated care and attention, a regular feeding schedule with a promise to remain present in the moment and trust my intuition. This wasn’t too bad then. The starter, which initially seemed intimidating, slowly began to feel achievable.
"I feel like I need to name it..."
How about Spencer?" a small voice chimed in. Spencer the starter. It had a nice ring to it. I laughed at the feeling that by naming this new addition to my family gave me a sense of confidence and legitimacy as though I was now truly a bonafide baker.
I had spent the day working with Diana learning the intricacies of sourdough: starters, shaping, rising, fermentation, feeding, everything. I had declared 2018 to be "the year of bread" and in order to tackle this foreign and overwhelming entity, the how of creating and keeping a starter was my first tiny step.
Baking bread had taken up a long-term lease in my brain as being a seemingly insurmountable task. It was intimidating and yet something I yearned for. I spent hours, days, weeks, and even months taking in gorgeous images of that sweet bread life via social media, cookbooks and magazines. I stopped at local bakeries on a weekly basis, romantically meandering through the aisles, breathing it all in.
And yet, this wasn't enough. I needed more. I needed to do this myself. Taking small steps towards this lifestyle was critical regardless of how scary they felt. It was exactly how I found myself in this "stranger's" home, meeting up with an Instagram colleague as she offered to do some baker's handholding, talking me through all my fears, my questions and guiding me along the way.
As I packed up my stuff to head home Diana asked if I wanted to take some of her starter with me so that I could kickstart my own culture. My very own little yeast family. Swoon. Taking on the responsibility for keeping a growing culture alive was slightly terrifying, but equally motivating as I could imagine the sweet taste of success at the end.
I was speechless at this spontaneous act of generosity. Your starter becomes a part of you, your family, your history. Starters are passed down between generations like a family heirloom or they can be divided and sold for profit on the internet to those desperate to get started but who don't know where to start. To simply give part of yours away was akin to giving a piece of yourself to someone else. Out of respect to this act of kindness I made a silent promise to myself, committing to the act of continual bread baking regardless of how often I scorched the bottom, under baked it, or created something more reminiscent of what belongs at the bottom of the lake than on the centre of the family dinner table.
But what was at the centre of my own dinner table? Months of grownup chats with myself led me to realize I wanted to be in a family. I wanted the experience of traditions, the sharing of a meal, the giving and nurturing of a new culture as it grew.
Avoiding deep routed psychological needs like this doesn't mean they will disappear. Unlike the starter, who needed my constant attention and support to thrive, by ignoring this yearning I fed it. My act of ignorance and denial for 36 years served only to nourish and protect it while it began to multiply in power and strength like little ravenous psychological gremlins.
The detaching of the concepts of family, love and a traditional relationship was groundbreaking for me. It was as if I had finally cracked open the book and saw that there wasn't just one recipe but in fact an infinite combination of choices and processes that could be consumed to create a sense of fulfilment. The fruitfulness of possibilities and paths that lay before me led to a life I had never envisioned before: one in which I wasn't trapped, unable to move forward until I met some unknown person, a person who might not even exist, or maybe was so far away that it when we finally crossed paths the buzzer would have already rung.
And so, with trembling hands, I picked up my phone and made the appointment. My newly imagined future as a single mother by choice began to form in my mind, and was it sweet.
Some time later found myself ready to accept yet another donation from a stranger with the hope that I would use it to start my very own family. A familiar sense of excitement and fear, of trepidation and hope swept over me. My very own culture. Did I even know what the hell I was doing?
When I arrived home from my appointment in an effort to continue my quest into the world of homemade bread baking, I flipped through my new bread bible and stopped when the author mentioned how it is tradition to name your starter. Tradition, huh? I thought back to my earlier declaration that Spencer deserved a name. Something blurted out with spontaneity and without hesitation. Somehow I had managed to intuitively do what was appropriate in the given scenario with no prior knowledge or guidance. Maybe choice motherhood would be the same. Maybe there was some layer of intuition deep down, lying dormant like the sleeping starter until it was time to wake it up and all it needed was a bit of dedicated care and attention, a regular feeding pattern and a promise to remain present in the moment and trust my senses and intuition. Maybe one day a new type of bun would end up with a place at my family table after all.
So what became of that baby starter? Well, it has been fulfilling its destiny and helping me to create many loaves as I navigate the challenging world of bread baking at home. One of these delicious loaves deserves to be at your family table. Click the image below to be taken to a recipe for a sweet and savoury chocolate chip sourdough loaf.
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