I’ve had a request (actually several) to share this essay, which is part of my collection from “The Diary of a Mad Foodie.” No, I haven’t published the collection yet, but if I get enough support, I may.
Please enjoy! And all feedback is welcome. Grab a few peanut butter oatmeal chippers and a glass of milk and settle in.
THE YEAST AND I
I have only one New Year’s Resolution that I have kept faithfully for more than 25 years: no more yeast starters. Some new beginnings bubble up over and over begging to be fed and nurtured. The sheer neediness grows until you sense a loss of control.
Before Facebook and whole grain cereal, a neighbor gave me a tasty cinnamon coffee cake. A simple enough gesture. However before the treat was handed over, a jar of gelatinous muck was thrust in my hands along with a recipe card for “Friendship Cake.” A curious name because the explicit instructions for the care and feeding of the yeast starter was not a friendly process.
Being a good Midwestern woman, I accepted the goop and the challenges implicit in it. Directions were specific:
1. Stir daily for three days.
2. Feed the bubbling blob sugar, milk and white flour.
3. Rest on day four.
4. Repeat steps 1-3 once more.
5. Bake and share day. This was not a suggestion. Failure to use the starter would cause it to explode all over the kitchen counters, ooze down the cabinets and onto the floor where it could be eaten by the dog and tracked all over the house. I learned the hard way that baking day was mandatory.
This was not all that was required, however. This friendly starter came with built-in guilt. On baking day I was to remove two cups of the glop and give it to two “friends” with my carefully typed up (pre-computer) directions and recipes. An additional cup of stuff was to be left behind on the counter to grow and the final blob was ready to create the “Friendship Cake.”
The first time I baked the cake, my family nodded in approval after tasting the moist sugar bomb. I felt vindicated after days of scorn over the growing mess in the Mason jar on my counter. I imagined myself as a 19th century woman nourishing my family by growing my own yeast starter and sharing the treasured secret with friends.
But I soon tired of the stress of the starter:
and baking on days I barely had time to throw tater tot casserole together.
Quickly I ran out of friends willing to accept a cake and a jar of demanding starter. My attempts to share this living treat were met with more latent hostility than friendship. My neighborhood was already saturated; every house on our block held a jar of white stuff percolating in the kitchen.
At work I tried to pass it along to an unsuspecting secretary, but apparently this was not her first starter opportunity. In case anyone else would consider accepting this hungry mixture, I left it in the break room. But without care and feeding, it exploded into a stringy mix reminiscent of grade school paste.
There was nowhere to turn; now it was just me and the yeast. Bake and Share Day turned into baking nightmare day. Instead of one treat, I had to bake three items from the limited recipes.
Soon cinnamon cakes were stacking up on the counters and filling the freezer. Even my sugar crazed kids met the treats with unnerving nonchalance, saying things like, “Again?” I resented the neediness of the sticky muck. It should have arrived with a warning or adoption papers. A puppy would have been less trouble. Why did I feel compelled to keep it alive? My house plants weren’t treated as well, yet somehow I felt responsible for the bubbly, gaseous substance.
One day after seeing the numbers on the bathroom scales rise to yet another high, I decide to get rid of this menace. Of course, I couldn’t throw it away – waste is not in my vocabulary. Then again, neither is “waist.” Instead of holding back the required cup to continue to grow the starter, I rebelled and made up the entire batch. And I was free… well -as soon as we could devour four more coffeecakes.
For a few weeks I avoided the neighbor who had “gifted” me with the living, bubbling muck. But then I realized that I hadn’t promised to be responsible for it forever, and besides I was not her first choice for sharing this culture. When I did encounter her, while trying to walk off my added girth, she asked how I was enjoying the yeast starter. I thrust my shoulders back and admitted that I had used it up. She arched her eyebrows in mocking shock, but I noticed a wry smile as she turned away.