Friday, February 18, 2011

Mother Issues

I was replenishing my sourdough starter the other day when I made a big “oops”. I wasn’t in a great mood but I knew I needed bread and my process from replenishing to sitting down and slathering butter takes at least three days and, well, I just wasn’t in the mood to start things rolling and one thing led to another and “oops”.

But first things first: the process. I keep my starter, aka mother starter, in the fridge. She’s been there for about six months and, as long as I feed her ever so often and give her a good “shake” now and then, she’s happy. (Did someone say “mother issues”?) Anyhow, she was getting kind of low, so I pulled her out, added some flour (kamut, this time, cause I am still experimenting with cutting rye out of my diet), about half as much water, and then gave her about a five minute kneed. I am not developing gluten so its just about bringing air into the mix — starter’s like a lot of air. I then sat her aside, room temperature, for about seven hours. Now, not all recipes recommend this but I find after the first seven she hasn’t really risen enough so what I do is repeat the process of kneading and sitting. After another six to eight hours and a final knead she’s ready to go or, at least, sit in the fridge again. From that stock I take what I need to make a loaf of bread until she’s low again and needs replenishing.

So, there I was, the end of the day, tired, kind of grumpy but more than anything not very mindful. I spray my counter with cleansing vinegar in preparation for mother’s final knead. As I spray the area I remember that I forgot to scrub my hands and nails — I’m adamant about cleanliness when I bake. After attending to the washing I come back and turn the nicely risen, pokey-soft (imagine the Pillsbury doughman) mother starter onto my counter. Immediately she starts frothing. I watch in horror as she spreads across the table top like Elmer’s glue. My brain takes a while to catch up with this bizarre sight but when it does my oops comes into focus, I forgot to wipe the vinegar off the counter. I softly curse as I contemplate the repercussions of my act: have I killed mom? Starters tend to be finicky at the best of times or at least in their youth. Mom was only six months old, could she handle the contamination?

I am glad to say I didn’t panic nor dump her in the garbage. Instead I gave a good sniff and thought, hmmm , sour, that cant be too bad and stuffed her back in the fridge after scooping her up from the counter in dripping spoonfuls.

Mistakes have always been my nemesis. Mistakes showed my flaws; laid me bare to critique and ridicule. From those words it would seem that I came from an overcritical family or was brow-beaten to assumed perfection. Not so. If anything, there was an absence of words, a vacuum that enhanced the feelings of not being good enough. In that arid container where nothing is sufficient, mistakes only compounded the feelings.

Perfectionism, of course, is one of the cornerstones of codependence. Depending on the speaker, to be perfect is to have no needs, no flaws and no weaknesses. So, even though as human we all have needs, flaws and weaknesses, our codependent parts will go through extremes to hide them. To be human is antithetical to their beliefs.

One of my goals in the last few years has been to transform the definition of mistake as a fatal flaw to a more compassionate idea that it is more of a learning experiment. I am quite pleased to say that when I stuffed said syrupy, foaming mother back in the fridge, a part of me was kind of excited as to what would happen.

So, I let mother rest a few days, watching with cautious surprise as she still continued to ferment in the cool darkness. When I brought her out to make bread she responded magically and produced a pleasantly plump round of dough that bounced back nicely when I molded her final shape. Seems mom likes a bit of vinegar. Hmmm, my “other” mom liked to nip a bit too. And there, you see, is the truth of the matter, vinegar is fermented ethanol, otherwise known as alcohol. Moreover, vinegar is the composite of both bacteria and yeast, just like the sourdough starter, with bacteria being the element that gives it its flavour. It is not a simple as I am making it sound as there are many strains of bacteria and yeast and the ratios have to be just so BUT it seems like my vinegar oops was the perfect amount. My kamut/buckwheat multi-seed sourdough not only rose delightfully but has a new distinctive flavor… no quite the San Franciscan flavor created by the Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis but Lactorbacillus jo-annensis will do just fine.

James Joyce said: "A man's errors are his portals of discovery". What do I say? One woman’s oops is another’s loaf of tasty bread.

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