I feel like a shelter-in-place impostor. Not because I’m flexing the definition of “social distancing” to include anyone I feel like grabbing coffee with at any given time (I’m certainly not, and you shouldn’t be, either), but because there’s something that seemingly every other person in America currently under quarantine is doing as I blithely pursue other interests: they’re making sourdough. Every last one of you is making sourdough with your tenderly nurtured little bits of sourdough starter, and I’m over here making Trader Joe’s cookie mixes with half a stick of butter because I don’t want to use up my flour. The cookies are great and all, but I’m just not as much a part of something, you know? Instagram is overflowing with luxurious portraits of starter oozing and bubbling up out of its mason jar confines. Where’s the Twitter cohort of “slightly afraid to bake because I don’t want to do unnecessary grocery shopping” enthusiasts?
For the curious, Chowhound has a handy guide to making your own sourdough starter. And for those like me who are curious but perhaps in a less actionable way, there is Sourdough: A Novel by Robin Sloan. It’s a fun story about Lois Clary, a Silicon Valley programmer who is unexpectedly saddled with a demanding—and possibly sentient?—sourdough starter. Taking care of her starter forces Lois to see the whole world differently, which might resonate with anyone out there currently curious about sourdough precisely because we’re staring out the window at a rather different world.
Let me be clear: I delight in seeing the beautiful portraits of your homemade boules and baguettes. If we all come out of this with a greater appreciation for the art of bread baking, well, that would be a beautiful byproduct of a baffling time. But for my part, I’m going to hold off on buying more flour for a little while longer. Because when you bake something and your heart’s not in it, it’s alarmingly obvious in the end results—even if you’re using a Trader Joe’s cookie mix that just needs a bit of butter and egg white to come together. It’s like throwing ceramics on a pottery wheel, or applying liquid eyeliner: you can spot the moment you lost your verve.
But I look forward to getting that baking groove back. I know I will, and when I do, there will be buttercream-frosted everything for days. And maybe hearing where you all stand on the matter of the Bread Brigade will help coax me back into the kitchen. Who has welcomed a beautiful baby sourdough starter into their lives, and who has blazed a different trail?