On sourdough

The last thing I need to do is have any bread around me. I like bread, but it’s the ghostly culprit that, cheap as it is, buoyed my now-erased weight gains in the years after college.

A few things on my mind, as I bake away this 4/20:

I began crafting a sourdough starter last week. The story begins with my good friend Beau Cadiyo asking if I’d have any advice for a young college grad moving to the Big City and landing his/her first apartment post-college. What tangible items should they have?

I named a few things, mostly stuff that Cadiyo himself had given to me when he skipped town last year and moved to London. I said: “Get acquainted with cast iron. Start a collection as a young lad or lass, and you’ll be forever at home in the kitchen.” That’s what I’d tell any self-respecting “young adult” in this economy. This decade is trying enough without good cooking gear.

Cadiyo texted me later that day asking how my own cast iron adventures had been going. I told him that they’ve been wonderful, and that I’ve been known to bake a fine pizza or roast a chicken now and then. Cast iron had made this whole thing wildly effortless. I told him that I’d been thinking about sourdough bread. From across the Atlantic, I could hear his eyebrows raise up as he replied thrice: “Fucking awesome.” “Getting starter?” “You’re inspiring me.”

And so we were off. By night’s end, we each had a starter holding court in our respective kitchens.

We swapped links via Twitter, and here we are: The starter process took a solid five days. The thing that I noticed in the international sourdough community is that people really push the virtue of “patience,” and many cite the long wait for results as a rationale for avoiding sourdough altogether. It’s nonsense! This thing literally took five seconds out of each day. I had to smoke copious amounts of high-grade marijuana to rid my kitchen of the increasingly sour smell, but that’s fine, and it’s got nothing to do with patience.

Today, I combined the starter with flour and water and a few pinches of salt and proofed the thing for like four hours. Into the oven (400 degrees for 42.0 minutes) and out again: Done. This first loaf cost me a back-breaking $2, but now I’ve got the starter. Successive loaves should clock in closer to $.45 or so, give or take whatever I spend on rosemary and stuff like that.

My first sourdough is pretty great. (One rookie move: forgetting to grease(?) the pan, which made slicing kind of weird, but I’ll amend that in short order.) I’m envisioning “Cleveland Sourdough” — a new take on the old world, one that will combine the inherent flavors of this fine city with the tried-and-true baking method known the world over. (This is not unlike Michael Symon’s “Cleveland barbecue” at the newly opened Mabel’s BBQ downtown.)

So here’s the nut now: I’m on the sourdough train, but I can’t be eating this stuff everyday. In May 2015, I clocked in on the scales at a horrifying 245 lbs. I’m now happy at 192 lbs. last I checked, and dropping and toning by the day. This was done very simply and with almost no effort: Make better decisions on the micro-level (eat this, not that, definitely don’t eat that) and by generally paying slightly more attention to nutrition labels. A little cardio. A lot of meditation. (In the background, many aspects of my life changed during this time, and I took it upon myself to live more actively, to do things that fell truly in line with the shifting sands of my story. That probably played a psychological role, too.) I took on a fairly half-assed “slow-carb” diet, where I altered my macronutrients to a ratio like so: 60-70 percent fat, 20 to 30 percent protein, 10 to 20 percent carbs. Reduce all sugars — avoid bread! — and, voila, my appearance fell in line with how I was beginning to feel.

And now I’m “the sourdough guy” as my friendly neighborhood barkeep called me the other day. A name like that has its merits, but this is a perilous reputation to pick up at this juncture in my story.

Still, there’s something important at work here. I’ve already outlasted much of the competition simply by building the starter. I’ll continue to tend to it and mold it into the Cleveland behemoth of taste that I know it can become. I’ll bake the shit out of this bread, and I’ll distribute loaves freely like a modern Christ. Using Michael Ruhlman’s expertise as a buoy, I’ll perfect the Cleveland Sourdough ratio and drop all needless out-of-the-oven tastes. I won’t get high on my own supply.

Expect to hear more — both on the sourdough front and the personal health front. All forward motion is progress, I always say, and I shan’t be deterred in either of these at-odds endeavors.

Beau Cadiyo later edited his outstanding piece on the tangible wares of life with this simple addition: “In my world, everyone knows how to knead their own bread, and they also know how to make their own starter.  The result: bread that tastes of the terroir of their neighbourhood, of the experience of their place, a story and a history in every bite.”


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