all that effort and a sourdough starter

SONY DSC Ah, effort. How many times have I tried and failed, strained and struggled only to realize I haven’t made any progress, despite the energy expended in the process.

This has been my lesson lately. All kinds of striving has been happening on my part since the beginning of the year: I’ve been trying to make new friends and keep the old, trying to make something of a career and fit self-worth in there somehow, trying to make a home in a temporary place.

Maybe the lesson here is to stop trying so hard?

Sometimes, when everything is working in concert, what seems like spinning wheels all of a sudden results in something amazing. The jumbled mess aligns in a moment to reveal one single, beautiful path. Clarity often comes after a storm, when the torrent has washed away all remaining options.

And then, sometimes, things fall apart. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. The sourdough starter wastes my time. And other such metaphors.


But you know this disappointment. The instance when you put an incredible amount of effort into achieving something great and in the final hours it crumbles before you. When friendships disintegrate. When efforts to save another human from themselves, from others, ends in nothing short of tragedy.

Not one of us can anticipate what tomorrow holds. We can neither make plans actually happen, nor can we put stake in the future with much certainty. Few things are certain: the pull of the tides to the lullaby of the moon, the inevitability of death. We are under the illusion that we have our little worlds under control.

Yet the one thing we can control is what happens in the aftermath. How we pick up the fragments of well-laid plans determines how do the next time around.


I made a from-scratch sourdough starter with freshly ground rye flour. I fed and watered it for seven days, watching as it bubbled, gently frothed, subsided and began to ripen.

I ground eight cups of flour from spelt berries and kneaded it all into my starter mixture by hand, relishing the push and pull of the sticky dough in the bowl. I shaped a mound and let it rise in a warm place overnight, and the next morning I baked with immense anticipation.

The result was hard, flat, dense, but flavorful. With a tart sourness and a nutty aroma, my bread did not yield easily to the pressure of a knife, but still managed to slice into passable tokens, vehicles for butter for a day until it became too hard to eat.

Despite the effort, the energy, the kneading and striving and the failure, it was at the very least a little bit good.

And in spite of it all I will probably try (and fail, and try and fail and try) again.

Sourdough Starter from Nourishing Traditions

8 c. freshly ground rye flour

8+ c. cold filtered water

2 large glass bowls


wooden spoon

Combine 1 c. flour and 1 c. water in a large glass bowl, adding more water if necessary to make the mixture soupy. Stir with a wooden bowl. Cover with cheesecloth and set aside.

“Feed” the starter every day for seven days, adding 1 c. flour and enough water to moisten it all, always transferring the starter to a new, clean bowl. In a few days the mixture will bubble and start to smell ripe. Continue to feed for seven days, until volume has increased to three quarts.

From this soupy gloop — alive, reactive — you can make bread. If you eat bread, all the better to cut out the middleman and sustain yourself. If you don’t eat bread, like me (mostly), make this for the one you love, especially if the one you love talks about sourdough incessantly. Or take a warm loaf to a neighbor, wrapped in a cotton towel, or use a crusty round as a centerpiece for a rustic dinner. Nothing can make you feel like both a peasant and a king with such simple pleasure.


5 thoughts on “all that effort and a sourdough starter

  1. I love this. Thank you – I needed to read this today. It also reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s instruction to his actors: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

  2. making real sourdough bread –

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