Do you know one of the best things you can do when your mind is racing like a rat on a wheel, or worse still, grinding down slowly to a halt, like treacle sliding off a spoon?
Have a go at making Sourdough Bread.
Am I saying it cheer you up?
In a twisted kind of way, it works for me.
Because your average sourdough culture is at best, a contrary little miss, and at worst, a right surly old bastard.
And just to be entirely clear, your sourdough doesn’t give a dog’s bollock whether you’re depressed or not.
It doesn’t give a toss that nothing is going right for you.
It’s indifferent to your loneliness.
It cares not a jot that you are going downhill fast and on a bobsleigh with no brakes.
On the plus side, it won’t patronise you, look at you like you’re about to run riot with a knife, tiptoe around you like you’re an unexploded bomb or ask you tentatively if you remembered to take your meds today.
Regardless of your woes, it will do what the fuck it wants, so at least you know the way things are before you reach into the fridge, and you don’t kid yourself it’s going to be an easy ride.
But that’s half the fun.
Taking a deep breath, I retrieve the Kraken from it’s lair, remove the lid and regard the contents.
Urk. It all looks rather grey and grim and to add insult to injury, it has about half a centimetre of grubby dark liquid floating on top of it. To stir or not to stir? Some say pour it off, others say mix it in.
‘Looks filthy, don’t it?’ hisses the little git in it’s best Albert Steptoe whine, ‘I wouldn’t be too quick to eat that if I were you….’
Good point. But as I head for the sink it then cries ‘That stuff is part of me! You can’t do that, I’ll dehydrate!’
Also a good point. Everything is down to the exact gram when it comes to this stuff. If you add 100g of flour, you must also add 100g of water. Not 99, not 101. So if I chuck that dirty water away, what will that do to the dough?
In the end, I stir it in, along with enough floor and water to make enough culture for my baking needs tomorrow and leave it in the warmest part of the flat.
“Lovely!’ leers the stuff as I stir, making me feel more than a little queasy.
The next morning I go to fetch it, expecting a big, blown up, airy mass of bubbles.
Instead, it doesn’t seem to have grown anything like as much as it should have.
‘I don’t feel very well!’ it gasps weakly, ‘You should never have left that stuff in!’
Cursing under my breath, I add 20g more of flour and water to give the bacteria something more to eat, and put on the windowsill in a patch of sunlight.
An hour later, it’s perked up a bit, and managed to fart out a few bubbles, so I decide to go for it. I add the flour, water, salt to the culture, mix it all up with a scraper then upend the lot onto the worktop.
My extremely well scrubbed, scrupulously clean worktop.
Your worktop needs to be immaculate, because if it isn’t, it soon will be after you’ve been kneading this bad boy for 20 minutes or so, because at this stage the dough is very, very wet and sticky (you can’t add any more flour), and it will suck up and assimilate anything that happens to be hanging around, such as the odd bit of porridge, a stray patch of toast crumbs or even your car keys if you give it half a chance.
Like I say.
It’s very therapeutic though; you can pound it, stretch it, you can even yank it up by the fistful and stretch it out, and it still fights you every inch of the way.
You will concede, you little fucker I think, getting more energised with every thump.
‘Knead until smooth and plaint‘.
That’s what the instructions say, but 20 minutes later, my arms are pumped like Arnie’s, sweat is beading on my brow, and whilst it’s not as gloopy as it was, it’s still pretty sticky.
A further 10 minutes later? Pretty much the same.
To keep kneading or not to keep kneading? That, my friends, is the question.
‘Well there’s no use asking me’, sniffs the dough, ‘I though you were meant to be the baker?’
Shut up, you.
I gather it up the loose, undulating mass as best I can and plonk it in the bowl to prove.
An hour later, nothing. Merely a centimetre of growth. I heat up the oven on the lowest setting for a minute, then put it in there in the hope that it will kick start the process.
‘Aieee!’ yells the beast, ‘I’m burning! You’re killing my bacteria! I’ll never rise now!’
I pause momentarily, then think ‘Shit’, pull it back out again, stick it back on the windowsill and hope.
You get the picture, yes?
Anything can happen when you dance with the Sourdough in the pale sunlight.
You can end up with a leaden lump of floury paste, you can end up with something you have to prise out of the tin with a knife, you can end up with something that won’t rise all day, but when you get it in the oven, it decides to surprise you and come to life.
Don’t ever, ever think it’s making allowances for you though. You’ve got as much chance as it asking you how you’re feeling today and offering you a Werthers Original.
But if and when it works?
The results are glorious.
Salty, chewy, tangy, carbo bliss. Especially fresh out of the oven slathered with butter.
So, how might today’s efforts turn out?
I’ve honestly no idea.
But I’m hoping that the outcome is a nice big, crusty one.
And when I bite into the first slice, I’ll say to it with great reverence ‘Nobody loves me, it’s true, not like you do.’
Oh those sour times…. 🙂