“A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move ... And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” --Woody Allen's character, Alvy Singer, in Annie Hall, 1977.
Ha ha. Has Alvy's comment been quoted knowingly to you as many times as it has to me? Maybe I should worry. Actually no one has ever quoted the last sentence to me, just the first part. It was back when my friends and I were mostly single and someone was trying to break up with someone else for no specific reason other than boredom. I have spent many hours of my life, if you add up all the idle moments, wondering just what moving forward means. For Woody Allen perhaps it meant expanding the stepdaughter relationship in creepy ways. Maybe for him the shark metaphor is apt. As for me, I prefer a metaphor that doesn't involve flesh-eating predators.
So here's the new metaphor: sourdough. "A relationship, I think, is like sourdough starter, you know? It has to be fed constantly. And I think what we've got on our hands is a smelly blob of rotten flour and water."
OK, work with me here. My friend Julie--of Fertile Plots but also fellow basketball-soccer-baseball mom of two boys in my little town --gave me some sourdough starter last month and I'm amazed at this miraculous stinky-delicious, messy-wonderful, sour-forgiving viscous goo. Something primordially human lives in this stuff. My neighbor gave me some starter a couple of years ago but between my sister in law and me both making separate mistakes in proportions, the sourness diminished and then I put it in the back of the fridge and it died from neglect. But so far Julie's sourdough starter is still vital, because I have been faithfully feeding it. It didn't hurt that Julie gave me her simple recipe that she perfected after much trial and error. The recipe follows shortly. I rarely ever have to refrigerate it, because I make the bread almost every day. I keep it in my grandmother's blue and white striped Cornishware canister, already helpfully labeled FLOUR. If there is a backlog I just give a loaf away and whoever receives it is very surprised and grateful.
When I make bread, it is always Julie's and my bread. And if you live nearby I can give you some starter, and then it will be your bread, my bread, and Julie's bread. Sourdough. It lives, but only if it's fed. It multiplies. It takes time. I've often thought that love is like that, not a zero sum game, but bountiful and endless. We just need the starter, the patience to let it grow while we attend to other things, daily commitment, and a little generosity. And if we have some bread left over, we can cast it upon the waters. Do sharks eat bread?
Julie's Sourdough Bread (The "I" in the recipe is Julie.)
1 1/2 c starter*
1 c whole wheat flour
1 2/3 c white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. to 2/3 c. water
Put all ingredients in bread machine on the dough cycle. When the cycle is finished, shape the dough into a rough ball and place in bread rising basket. Allow to rise until about double in size (anywhere from an hour to five hours, depending on the weather). Preheat oven to 420 degrees, placing a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to create a steamy environment. Invert basket over a baking stone; slash top two or three times diagonally with a razor blade. Bake for 33-35 minutes on baking stone.
After removing the starter to make bread, feed the starter with 2/3 c. bread flour and 1/2 c. water. (I sometimes need to adjust the water – if the starter seems really soupy, use a little less water.) Cover and let sit on the counter for a day or so. Then feed again and put in refrigerator until ready to use again. I’ve read that you should allow your starter to come to room temperature before using it, and also that you should use room-temperature water that has been sitting for an hour or more to let various things evaporate out of it. I try to do both these things, but if I’m in a hurry, I’ve skipped these steps and the bread and starter have been fine.
*Julie bought her starter from King Arthur Flour. There are recipes for starter out there. Or I will be glad to give you some if you live near me.