We all search for new interests and distractions while dealing with this coronavirus, and personally, I have attempted several “pandemic pastimes” the last seven or eight months.
Working outside in our yard this last spring and summer gave us a respite from the boredom of staying home. We treated our lawn with every product Scotts sells and then some.
Then we got hooked on bird watching, my second CVH (coronavirus hobby). Suddenly, my field bird guide became as essential as my cellphone! I now know how to distinguish a finch from a sparrow. (Those with dimorphic features are probably finches. If there is a slight curve of the culmen, it’s a sparrow.)
Naturally, bird watching required new bird feeders, and we soon realized we should buy stock in a black oil sunflower seed company.
Like so many others, we didn’t stop there. As some of you may remember, in May, we brought home a new puppy, Charlie. At 8 months now, he is still 100 percent puppy, and if the AKC had a division for best chewer, then Charlie would be bringing home ribbons.
Seriously, he’s very cute and lovable. But seriously, he chews everything. But seriously, he is so funny and keeps us laughing. But seriously, he just chewed up my couch pillows.
So now the weather invites us inside, and I’m on to my next CVH, sourdough bread.
I bake pies. I bake quick breads. I know my way around a kitchen, so how hard could sourdough bread baking be? A friend had caught the “sourdough bug,” and such baking was also going on at our son’s house.
They all seemed to be having such fun with this thing called a starter. Same parts flour and water are mixed together daily for about a week, and voila, you create a fermented potion to act as the yeast agent in your sourdough bread recipe.
I learned early on that serious bread bakers name their starter for good luck. Since this would be an ongoing relationship for as long as I kept adding flour and water, why wouldn’t I want to call my starter by name? So Moira and I began what I thought would be a simple journey.
It reminded me of the time a Vermont friend scoffed and said I could easily climb to the top of Camel’s Hump mountain and be back in time for lunch. Either he forgot that I was a flatlander, or I forgot I was talking to a true mountain climber. (That’s a story for another day, but the relevance here is that when you are a true novice at something, there is no such word as “easy.”)
My starter, Moira, looked bubbly and smelled yucky, both good signs that she was doing her thing. While my starter developed, I had time to Google information about sourdough baking. If you’ve never gone there, I dare you to dip your batard into the world of “Sourdough Bread.”
I read dozens of posts and blogs that recommended “must have bread-baking tools.” Most of these gadgets I had never heard of, and I started to lose confidence. I needed a Weck Jar for my starter. I should use Banneton baskets for bread rising to give that perfect symmetrical round shape.
A Bench knife and a bread lame were must haves. (Of course, if you really wanted to have the best lame, pronounced lahm, you were to use a Wiremonkey lame!)
I searched for a sourdough recipe and printed out three pages of instructions. I planned to bake my first loaf on a Tuesday, and without any of the fancy-named tools on hand, Moria and I decided to give it a shot. As I read the directions, I realized there were so many steps to the process that I would need to be in the kitchen all day to accomplish this task.
I couldn’t do it. I apologized to Moira, and texted my son and my friend. They were encouraging.
“It’s just flour, water and salt,” one of them reminded me. “Don’t make it harder than it really is.”
They suggested I look for a different recipe and assured me that this was all possible without any of the so-called fancy kitchen tools. I took a deep breath and thought about it overnight. The next day, with a simple one-page beginner’s recipe in hand, Moira and I got busy.
I mixed, stirred, waited, folded, waited again, kneaded, scored and then baked. That evening, I was rewarded with my first loaf of sourdough bread that pretty much looked like pictures I had seen and tasted like, well, sourdough bread.
Bread baking might just be my new favorite cold-weather pastime, although I did recently mask up and go out to buy paints, brushes and several small canvases to try my hand at oil painting. How hard could it be?