You know when you are hooked. The way your partner looks warily at the mad gleam in your eye when you are about to embark on an ode to the wild yeast or to the microbial allies in general. Your relentless attempts at conversations on the beauty of fermented foods. The rather brusque telling offs that you will be subjected to. While more playful souls assault you with shock tactics like an unmitigated bout of tickling to get the damn microbes out of your head. All this will happen. But you know there is no going back. That’s sourdough baking for you – at once addictive, magical, romantic, earthy, and not to forget, downright nerdy.
You don the mad scientist’s hat the day you mix two unassumingly simple ingredients and thus set about to make your great sourdough starter. A concoction of flour (whole grain flours have more wild yeasts in them) and water, at times kick-started with unsweetened pineapple juice (the method I followed). From here on it it is all about ambient temperature, the right pH levels in your jar, regular feeding, the vigorous stirring to provide oxygen for the wild yeast you are trying to bring alive, the telltale signs of lactobacilli, and the sheer joy of observing the bubbles. By the fifth day you will have a healthy sourdough starter rising to perfection and possibly a drink in your hand to celebrate the success of the first step. That is if all goes well with the fermentation process. (You may want to read up on the humble idli’s fermentation process. Suffice to say they are related). To get started or to simply enjoy the science behind sourdough here are a few links.
Some say that you never start off with sourdough bread. That it is the holy grail of baking breads etc. etc. There is a lot of daunting stuff that has been written about it, and perhaps rightly so, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find people who have jumped right in. There is a lot of scope of improvisation when it comes to the right equipment required etc., at least to get you started. And it is all about just getting started – that’s my lesson from this. Everything else you can figure out in due time.
Here’s what I feel is a good recipe for beginners.
For my first loaf of sourdough bread I used a clay pot as a Dutch oven and didn’t bother with the proofing basket. My dough turned out to be too watery (water requirements differ from flour to flour) and I ended up skipping the longer proofing and simply poured the batter into the pot after the first rise. The baked bread’s texture was absolutely lovely with a lot of holes and was characteristically chewy and beautiful. Although I could do with a lot less tang – a direct result of the temperature here in Bangalore most likely. The plan is to try with a much reduced bread proofing time. Or maybe there is more. Meanwhile here is a table I found that looks insane, but may help in the understanding of how to control your proofing time based on the ambient temperature.
And now, the longest I’ve written in a while. It’s about my compost pile. My compost pile had moved to a place closer to the back of my mind a long time ago. There are two flights of stairs now between the compost pots and our balcony. Getting lazy just happened. Not to be read as “I stopped composting”. Oh, I kept on with it, just that I slowly went about disregarding the ground-rules one by one. I still remember the first time I began composting. The excitement; the careful balancing of Carbon and Nitrogen, C and N always in caps, seeing them everywhere I looked, like newfound words. The hoard of dried leaves I collected. Checking if the moisture content is as it should be – like a squeezed-out sponge. Worrying if the pile does not heat up right. Turning the pile every few days. And waiting for the smell of the woods when it is done. Mmmm…
That went to “It’s happening anyway”. Much like the attention one would devote to a train that arrives exactly at the time it is supposed to arrive. No gushing over its arrival, no mulling over, relishing or lingeringly beautiful lines written about it. Just an eight syllable thought alloted and dismissed.
I remember looking at all the dried leaf piles that I could collect from earlier this February, mentally registering them wherever I went. The nearby parks, in a nearby street under an old abandoned car, the police park near Bowring Club, in Cubbon park and even at the workplace. So convenient. Now, why didn’t i notice that earlier. And yet I did nothing about it. It was continuing to compost. It wasn’t smelling. It was all going pretty fine. Maybe they laid the ground rules too strict, I said to myself. I stopped sieving out the compost and just tell it be the carbon for the fresh kitchen waste I kept stirring in every week or so. So logical.
Nothings wrong. It worked. Just that I find myself with too many tiny bugs. They apparently are the ones that work in a cold compost pile. The pile is still fine, I don’t have any unsavory creatures. Some roaches that I need to get rid of. And two more pots to clean and start fresh all over again. That would amount to a few more hours, squatting by its side and sieving out the compost and getting back to the ground rules. Or in the words of my activity tracker some 1400 steps to be taken and a kilometre or so to be walked. I’d put it on while sieving pot I of the pile earlier this morning just to keep track of time.
Moral of the story. The universe never tires of conspiring to bundle up new lessons for you to learn. Even it’s from a cold compost pile. Also, never conveniently avoid anything fundamental to a process. Especially if the process is a miniature adaption of what generally happens in the universe, simulated in three terracotta pots rather comically placed one on top of the other, in your backyard, balcony or wherever you can keep it safe from the rain. So long.
It was a day that reeked of high ceilinged rooms and whirring old fans, and not a buzz from even a fly to escape it. Maybe why fragmented thoughts of a perfect world, out of seemingly nowhere, thronged in my head. A rabble of sorts. A blissfully senseless concoction of voices, colors, cultures, languages, opinions, beliefs, faiths and every other sound that is familiar and is of this universe.
The perfect world as a phantasmagoric quilt. A burst of human existence. Replete with tongue-in-cheek remarks, jibes, praise, love, hatred, anger and everything else we know of. Yet somehow in harmony.
Okay, said the universe. But I was here a long time ago. And my perfect world exists irrespective of you.
So a speeding car
the corner of the eye
and heads straight
like a ‘Just do it’ stroke
In searing acidic tones
the breath out of me.
We don’t speak
the mind and I
for the next few minutes.
but the gut’s
to being a gut.