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Bread Envy #TheSourdoughChronicles

I decided to treat my shelter in place as an invitation to study something new. Oh yes, I read every article on making the “BEST USE” of each day, and after the first paragraph I’d fall asleep. That became my first nap of the day.  In my quest for just the right project to make […]

Sourdough starter and my best loaf of sourdough bread.
Sourdough starter and my best loaf of sourdough bread.

I decided to treat my shelter in place as an invitation to study something new. Oh yes, I read every article on making the “BEST USE” of each day, and after the first paragraph I’d fall asleep. That became my first nap of the day. 

In my quest for just the right project to make use of all this valuable extra time, I told myself to be realistic. I’m not going to be able to learn another language. My old brain can’t remember words I’ve been speaking for 65 years. I barely make sense now. Forgetting complicated words in English and Italian?  I decided my dual language boat has sailed. Ciao, ciao.   

It was easy for me to watch friends posting on social media when the baking epidemic started. It was with banana bread. 4,000 of my Facebook friends made banana bread in March. I did, too. My trick is using ripe bananas I have in the freezer. Three bananas in each loaf. After freezing in their skins, you thaw and squeeze the pulp into a bowl. The pulp is sticky sweet, like banana puree, and makes a wonderful, moist quick bread. I learned that baking trick when I was 20. 

I found no new learning thrill there. 

Friends and former chef associates started posting about their sourdough starters. Some starters were old as my marriage. They would share an ounce. Meaning, I would not have to use my all-purpose flour of questionable age in the back of my cupboard. Overnight, flour disappeared off grocery store shelves. Yeast? It was nowhere to be found. Instagram pictures taunted me with beautiful loaves of bread. I was impressed. My family has been in San Francisco for 120 years. Generations have owned grocery stores, I know sourdough. Why would I bake sourdough bread? We owned the stores that sold those famous breads. For a decade, we even owned the building of the biggest bakery in town. Obviously, I am part of San Francisco’s bread hierarchy.    

I was haughty – the universe often punishes me when I am haughty.

And yet…I felt envy looking at those bread photos. And the proud bakers feeding, stirring, caring for their starters. And their consuming commitment. Because I have found out sourdough bread is a commitment. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking for another commitment; I’ve been married twice. But I was being lured by my envy.      

I don’t take envy lightly. I’m not used to it. I can fix this ugly envy, I thought. I took the bait. 

A few bread making tools ordered from Amazon…okay, a lot of bread making tools from Amazon and an ounce of dehydrated starter from a pro friend. I named my starter Sally. After I started feeding her, and she was blonde and bubbly, I knew her name fit. In a big Mason jar with a loose lid, Sally flourished. 

The first loaves were good. Not great but good. My husband and my neighbors said, 

“The most delicious bread ever!” It was warm and served with Irish Butter. How bad could it be?  

But my sourdough bread is not beautiful. Not artfully swirled, or carved or slashed perfectly with my lame. Sometimes, my loaves seem small to me. Did I not proof them enough? Were they not kneaded enough? Is Sally sluggish? Does she need to be feed again?  Is Sally pissed off about something? What? What? What is it, Sally? 

My husband says I talk smack to Sally and she doesn’t like that. He could be right. 

I have posted a few pictures of my bread. I get up real close with my camera, so they don’t look puny. I’m uncomfortable with my own bread inadequacies. I’m glad I know a few camera tricks.  

Every loaf is a learning experience mixed with humility. I am changed. My biggest takeaway from Sally, my sourdough starter? Every day is a new day. And we have nowhere to go but up. 

Let’s try to rise to the occasion. 

Denise Vivaldo is the host of the podcast Women Beyond A Certain Age. Please visit our website and Facebook group of the same name. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Podbean

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