Even though nobody in our family can be described as picky, it’s still hard to find a food everyone truly enjoys. We all eat pizza, but I am not nearly as big on it as my kids are, and we all eat Thai, but my kids are not nearly as big on it as my husband and I are. We all like Mexican, but each of us has a distinct preference as to both what we want in our burrito and how it’s rolled up.
But, there is one thing we all absolutely love – and that’s sourdough bread. In our house, heaven smells like toasted sourdough with butter on it. Our love affair with sourdough might have stemmed from my husband’s Northern California roots or from my Croatian aunt’s home-madepanja, and we just passed on this shared sourdough gene to our children. Call it nature or nurture, the fact remains that we can easily polish off an entire loaf in one sitting. Now, the grocery store price for a loaf of good sourdough runs approximately four times as much as regular white or even whole-wheat bread. This puts us in somewhat of a quandary and, no pun intended, feeds our passion for more.
So, several weeks ago when I stopped by our local library, it wasn’t a total surprise when with a corner of my eye I spotted Complete Idiot’s Guide to Artisian Breads, I heard it call my name.
Hey, you! You, YOU - I am talking to you - don’t act as if you can’t hear me!
I looked around to make sure nobody is disturbed and discreetly moved few steps away, towards the shelf with foreign movie DVDs.
Stop right there! Pick me! Pick ME!
Shhhh! Stop yelling! I growled. This is a public library!
Few people looked in my direction. I waited until everyone was back to whatever they were doing before I continued, this time making sure nobody is overhearing the conversation.
You are talking to the wrong person, buddy. I snarled under my breath. I am NOT a baker. I am a BURNER! I am the Killer of all yeast. I am the Destroyer of everything that crosses our oven’s door. It’s hopeless. I am sorry. Go home with somebody else.
No, no, no. You got it all wrong. You are EXACTLY my kind of a person. See, Complete IDIOT’S Guide…
I don’t appreciate being called an idiot in a public place, I whispered through my teeth.
Oh, stop being so sensitive and just take me with you… I’ll…
I grabbed a bunch of DVDs in front of me and dropped them into the basket. Then I stepped back to the shelf with the rowdy impostor, picked him up like a used Kleenex and dropped him under the pile.
Alright. Just stop barking. If you insist, I’ll bring you with me.
I used self-checkout as fast as I could and virtually ran out of the library, leaving both librarians and customers equally baffled behind. We drove home in silence. I unloaded the library cargo into our reading basket where the Guide sat squeezed between Pirates Past Noon and The Gollywhopper Games untouched for several days. One late afternoon I heard a murmur…
I-am-waiting… I-am-waiting…. I am waaaaiiiitiiiing….. I-am-WAITING!
I sat down and pulled the Guide up.
Well, thank you! He said politely. I almost got suffocated there, at the bottom of the basket.
I wasn’t going to apologize.
What do you want from me? I asked.
What do I want?!! What do you think? I didn’t come all the way from the library to sit at the bottom of your book basket and smell stinky Pirate’s feet! Let’s get the kitchen dirty! Let’s bake some bread!
We already went through this. I was tired. I am not a baker. End of story.
But all of you LOVE to eat, especially sourdough. C’mon, it’s really not that hard. Just try it.
As I opened the book and flipped through the pages in front of me a faint aroma of baked bread begun to tickle my nostrils. Sourdough dinner rolls, ciabattas, crusty sourdough boules, garlic-rosemary focaccias….
Fine! I’ll give it a try. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I know it’s not going to work, but I am willing to try. Where do I start?
Starter! You start with a starter. The Guide said with a huge grin. Clever, isn’t it?
I could tell that he was in his element.
Ha, ha. Very funny. I said grimly and turned to the Sourdough Starter page. The instructions seemed simple enough – three ingredients in all.
I think I can handle that, I said as I headed towards the pantry.
And so we begun. I fed my little ‘pet’ every day, like a brand-new parent, all worried whether I am doing it right, whether it’s too cold, or too warm, if I should feed it more often or less. We gathered around it and peeked under the lid, whispering to each other as if it’s a sleeping baby tucked under a cozy blanket.
The romance went on for about three or four days and then things turned south. At first, I noticed a slight discoloration. Then the smell. Which got worse. And worse.
This isn’t working. I told my husband. I think I should just pitch it.
Don’t pitch it! Use it. Responded my always cautious, methodical, polar-opposite mate.
Use it?!!! Are you crazy? Use it for what – rat poison? It’s bound to ruin the dough!
It’s SOUR dough, remember. It’s SUPPOSED to be sour.
I understand ‘sour’… but, this… this is… UGH!
It’s just flour and yeast and water – no big loss … it’s worth giving it a try. Whatever you make, babe, I will eat.
I looked at my taste-testing superhero suspiciously, for ordinarily I am the one in our family encouraging craziness. I savored the spot like ill-fitting shoes.
This is what it feels like to be the other person in my off-the-wall adventures. I pondered.
I got a mixing bowl out of the cupboard and looked up the Sourdough bread recipe. I mixed the flour, yeast, salt, butter and water, hesitating for a moment before I poured the gray, smelly goop in.
This is insanity! I am ruining a perfect batch... before I could finish the sentence I heard the familiar voice taking my train of thoughts into an altogether different direction.
...of plain, boring, white bread, high on air and low on substance by giving it depth and texture and character and personality you all love so much. Hon, the making of sourdough is just like the making of life. You stick with common ingredients, you get common results. But, if you take risks, embrace the bitter and the sour, mix it all well in, you might very well get an exceptional result. You make the choice.
Are you now presuming to be The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Life and Disappointments?
Oh, no. Not at all! A much more comprehensive edition of that volume has already been published long time ago. In fact, I’ve seen several copies on a bookshelf in your study – quite dusty, if I may add. And I am not referring to your housekeeping habits. Perhaps you can check it out some time… the same way you did with me…
With that, the Guide fell silent. I waited awhile, hoping with all my heart that he would say something more, challenge some other deeply rooted prejudice of mine with his grace and truth. But, he didn’t. It was as if with this his role in my life was fulfilled and adding anything else would betray his greater purpose.
I finally turned away and slowly walked towards the bookshelf.