28 April 2013

And spring.

And spring. Even here in this rented Vermont house with clod-covered nails, gravel and clay out the backdoor, I scratched today on the earth and dropped seeds into it, chard, kale, cilantro, romaine, with the hope and certainty of sunlight, warmth, and rain.

This burst of warmth brings so many woodland flowers into bloom, and on a sweet hike today we saw trout lilies and bloodroot, and many others whose names I don’t know but whose color brightens the damp forest floor in these early days of sunlight.

Last week I saw the excellent documentary Chasing Ice by James Balog, who’s tracked glacial retreat using time lapsed photography to show the staggering loss of some of Earth’s most significant glaciers in mere years, photographic certainty of massive climate change. I left the film feeling really cynical because even among the people who recognize the central importance of climate change, few of us are doing anything about it. Sure, we might buy our lettuce at the co-op, or carry canvas bags, but every morning in this small town of 6500, I’m in a crush of traffic as all of us who know that climate change may fundamentally alter life on Earth drive our kids to school, pick them up, drive them to tennis or swimming or soccer practice, ad nauseum. We want fuel-efficient cars so we can continue to drive as wantonly as we do, with no impediment to our routines. “If only those climate-change deniers recognized that they’re wrong!” we think, as we wait for the red light to change. We’re hoping for a big policy that will make the difference for us, but it’s not going to happen. Reversing climate change is not like banning DDT.

The Clean Water Act did a good job of curtailing point source pollution (the kind that comes, for the most part, from a single point, like a factory), but we’ve learned in the intervening decades that non-point source pollution (the kind that comes from everywhere – your lawn, your neighbor’s cows, the runoff from a parking lot) is just as malign, and its ubiquity makes it even harder to regulate or reduce. So, while Lake Erie’s water quality improved when some of the biggest polluters were forced to clean up their discharges into the lake, many of our nation’s other rivers and lakes have continued to deteriorate. And you and I are the non-point sources of increased carbon dioxide emissions, and it’s not until you and I and many, many others change our own habits that complement and strengthen any hoped-for policies that we should expect to see atmospheric C02 decrease.

So here I am with my sourdough bread, glad that I’ve nurtured wild yeasts in my starter. I wrote in my last post, after thinking about what a sour ferment is, that if food is alive, we have to pay attention to what it’s doing, not what a recipe is telling us to do. Working with a live culture necessitates that we pay closer attention to the thing we’re making. For me, this doesn’t mean I have to drop everything when I’m making a loaf of bread, but the usual four cups (or whatever) of flour a recipe calls for may not reflect how the starter is absorbing the new ingredients.

I’ve used a Zojirushi bread machine for three years and didn’t utilize its versatility until I started making sourdough. Lately, I’ve sometimes stretched rising times to twelve hours or more, incubating those wild yeasts in a warm, stable environment. Other times I’ll knead the bread for thirty or forty minutes and in that time the bread turns into a sponge-like batter and I have to add another two cups of flour to the mash. I continue to experiment with times and ratios, and my kids have complained a lot more this year as their peanut butter sandwiches are sometimes made on bread sour enough to be traded for an Atomic Warhead. Other times a loaf comes crashing down after rising to zeppelin heights, or remains gummy no matter how long it’s worked. Bread is alchemical, and making it without commercial yeast lets me appreciate the long history of nurturing food cultures that shared knowledge and starters and cultures when there were no stores to provide for us.


  1. It is nice to be seeing your blogs again. They are thoughtful and enjoyable.

  2. Thank you! I am happy to be writing again.