On the left is the gift that keeps on giving. (On the right is a freeloader)
I started this blog almost two years ago simply as a place to post the flash fiction and occasional poetry written in response to prompts at other sites. ShiftnShake is a place of literary art. I write, but not my thoughts or feelings or what I had for lunch. I don’t post cat pictures. So what’s this?
No, that’s not a cat picture. It’s a picture of my sourdough starter that’s next to a cat. That sourdough starter is the other organism that lives in my household now, one that last weekend competed for my time and attention with the characters in my head who wanted me to write; it won. Or maybe it wasn’t a competition, but complementary parallel play. Maybe, like some of my insistent and chatty characters, that glob of dough had something to say.
There’s plenty to be said about the history of sourdough. The Egyptians used sourdough as early as 1500 BCE for both bread and beer. More recently, in this country, it was associated with both the California gold rush, and the later gold rush in the Klondike, where old timers were known as Sourdoughs. It has been claimed that there are still strains of sourdough in Alaska dating back to that time.
My starter is from a friend whose current strain she’s had for over two years now. The initial little glob of starter and I bonded through feedings; I dutifully fed it flour and water in equal proportions and it gratefully doubled in size. I repeated this until I had enough for a batch of bread, made after putting a bit of the gooey mix back into the fridge to grow another time. After those first feedings and that first batch of bread this starter is now wholly mine, the adoption complete.
The bread disappeared fast, but I have been feeding the starter all week just to watch it grow. I have been engrossed by that sourdough starter, and as I said, working with it preempted writing. But this was creativity of a different realm, one I hadn’t played in for a while. The fact that that bubbly starter dough managed to draw me into the kitchen was a newsworthy event around the household. I hadn’t made bread in a very long time and had never made sourdough bread. After I began assembling the bread dough I soon realized there were some discrepancies with the recipe I was working with, so ended up having to figure it out as I went along. I found that the dough was very forgiving and adaptable; the bread turned out great and I was encouraged to pursue further culinary adventures with sourdough.
Even as those first loaves baked the remaining starter dough was exhorting me to feed it some more, wondering what else I might be willing to try. I was distracted from writing, which itself usually distracts me from work that I “should” be doing. But as I fed the starter and the resultant bread fed me, creativity also was fed and nourished. It was a wonder-full experience working with my hands in the kitchen discovering an old process that was new to me. I was practicing patience and mindfulness. If the starter dough had something to say, it was to speak about nurturing and growing creativity, a reminder to seek balance through one’s activities.
My sourdough starter is similar to characters that demand to be written, but is also a wise totem of potency and possibility. It stands vigil, ready to give form to an inspired idea. Just now it is well fed and bubbling contentedly on the counter, eager for the morning transmutation into pancakes as well as more bread.
If you were considering a pet, or any long-term relationship, don’t discount sourdough starter in lieu of other life forms. It does require a degree of care but it is minimal and it gives back way more than it demands. Your starter just might provide inspiration in exchange for the time spent with it. It’s never to late to start something new.