Life lessons my sourdough starter is teaching me (or at least reminding me of)

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sourdough starter

Just over a week ago I mixed together some flour and water and left it on my counter to ferment. Guys, this was HUGE for me.

I’ve wanted to enter into the world of sourdough for quite some time but the whole thing seemed daunting. There was such a steep learning curve, so much that could go wrong and I had a hard enough time keeping up with my kefir and kombucha I wasn’t sure I could handle one more living organism (in addition to my two children, of course).

But I wasn’t able to bring my SCOBY for kombucha and though I dehydrated and brought my kefir grains I can’t make it because all the milk is shelf-stable. My time, brain and counter now all have space for sourdough.

I watched videos, read blogs and did as much research as I was able to with the preschooler on my lap while the toddler slept. Finally, I was ready to dive in. For five days I diligently added flour and water to the fermenting and increasingly bubbly glob. On the morning of Day 6 I mixed up a basic bread dough, kneaded for 45 minutes (yes, 45 minutes!) and waited for it to rise. That part didn’t seem to be over successful but I stuck it in the oven anyway, figuring it would turn out fine.

I successfully baked the worst loaf of bread in history.

I looked at what was left of my starter and felt betrayed. I had nurtured and cared for it and I spent 45 precious minutes of my Saturday morning getting sore muscles. What I got was a in inedible brick.

While I discovered I haven’t learned very much about baking sourdough bread (it’s a whole different ballgame than yeasted-breads) I am being reminded of some important lessons that not only apply to learning a new skill but to all of life.

worst bread

These are nothing new and I’m not sharing any great insight or wisdom, but hopefully this can be a gentle reminder of what you already know but seems to be easy to forget (or am I the only one who needs to be constantly reminded of the basic lessons she’s already learned?).

Things seemed hardest before you start

Like I mentioned, I’ve wanted to start sourdough for some time but the idea of making my own starter intimidated me and kept me from taking the plunge. Turns out the making a starter is easy, like really easy.

Sometimes what holds us back from going on an adventure, taking a risk or just simply doing something new might not be as big of a deal as we think it is. That doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it might not be as intimidating once we’re in it. We just need to take that first step and find out.

Grace, grace and more grace for yourself

The morning after I baked my brick of a loaf of bread I attempted to slice a piece. Crumbs were flying, my knife was bending under the pressure of my arm and I kept complaining to Ryan about how terrible it was. Eleanor, bless her heart, came into the kitchen and said, ‘Mommy! It looks good!’ She was entirely wrong but it was sweet of her.

For lunch I attempted to make PB&J sandwiches from a few pieces of the very middle of the bread that were somewhat salvageable. I really should have just gone to the bakery for a real loaf of bread. When I served the ‘sandwiches’ to the kids, Eleanor again kept telling me how good it was, that she really liked it. Any time I said something negative about the bread, she would counter me. In the end I gave them leftover Canadian Thanksgiving pumpkin pie for lunch.

More often than not, we are more critical of ourselves than others are. We are ready to extend grace to those around us but withhold it from ourselves. We set unrealistically high expectations and feel like failures when our lives don’t match them. But those closest to us don’t expect as much from us as we do. We need to let go of our lofty ideals, do our best and be content with that. Everyone else is.

rising dough

It’s better when you have someone to walk alongside you

While I did research sourdough baking methods, it would have been much more helpful to have someone who has already mastered the skill standing with me in the kitchen, walking me through each step. She could have told me if my starter was really ready, how much flour to add, when the dough was kneaded enough and when it was done rising and ready to go in the oven. I’m just guessing, learning as I go and making a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided with some expert insight.

While it’s helpful to have someone to guide us as we learn a new skill, it’s even better to have someone walk alongside us as we learn how to live life well. I’ve never had an official ‘mentor’ but there have been people in my life who have helped me navigate new seasons or sometimes just get through. When we enter into a new phase or start an adventure the wisdom another person who has been there can be invaluable and can give us a proper perspective. And it just might save us from making a few mistakes.

Life is in seasons

If you’ll notice, my bread is 100% white flour. That does not make me happy. Part of the reason I got into sourdough is because the fermentation that takes places helps make the bread easier to digest so it does negate some of the harm of the white flour. Even still, my ideal would be fresh, organic whole wheat spelt flour I ground myself. But right here, right now all I can afford is white flour and I doubt I could find spelt berries in this country. One day I’ll have better flour but that day isn’t today and I’m coming to terms with that.

Our lives ebb and flow, moving from one season to the next. Some seasons are really enjoyable and we don’t want them to end, others can’t end soon enough. When we live in recognition of this, we are better able to be content in our present circumstances, not be overwhelmed by difficulties and savor the good times even more.

decent bread

Time, it takes time

I expected to bake a beautiful artisan loaf of bread on my first attempt. It didn’t happen. My second loaf was better (not pretty but edible and it tasted yummy!) and I am anxious for a third attempt. I’m doing more research, learning and getting opportunities to practice. These take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. There’s a reason there’s a difference between a professional baker and me!

It can be hard to just wait while circumstances, opportunities or relationships come to fruition. While there are times to act and get things going, some things only happen with the passing time and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just need to be patient and let time do its good work.

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One thought on “Life lessons my sourdough starter is teaching me (or at least reminding me of)

  1. I just found you through Red & Honey, you have lovely blog. And a beautiful post! Sourdough is a whole ‘nother beast. But in a really delicious, good way.

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