Everything I Own Is Covered In Flour
I may as well as face it at this point. Every single thing I own is, or soon will be, covered in flour.
I’ve never been the neatest when it comes to the kitchen. If I were a contestant on Great British Bake Off, I’d be the famously messy Laura.
When I bake, the kitchen becomes a crime scene, my fiancé the investigator, tracking down the traces of mess I’ve missed in my quick excuse for cleaning.
It’s no surprise, then, that my yearlong obsession with sourdough bread baking has resulted in a slow spread of flour and dough bits throughout our entire house.
I won’t lie to you, I’ve even found some on the dog.
Like so many people, I came to sourdough in the spring of 2020 when I suddenly found myself working from home, with enough spare time to finally cultivate my very own starter.
Ever since I took a food writing class where I read a phenomenal essay about bread by sourdough champion Tara Jensen, I’ve dreamed of running off to a cabin in the woods to spend my days surrounded by starters, baking bread.
2020 was the closest I’ve come to realizing that dream, becoming a quasi-hermit in my house with only my fiancé and sometimes-scarce flour to keep me company.
Alone with my thoughts and my desire to create something tangible and physical, I watched endless Instagram story tutorials on how to begin a sourdough starter. And then, I did.
There are two schools of thought around naming a sourdough starter — you do, or you don’t. My car, all of my plants, and my laptop have names, so you can guess where I fall on this issue.
My sourdough starter’s name is Mindy, after Mindy Kaling, one of my personal writing heroes. Her memoir Why Not Me? introduced me to one of my favorite mantras. When tasked with self-doubt in the face of a new task or project, she encourages us to ask the universe, “Why not me?”
Someone has to bake the bread we eat in this house, I thought. Why the hell not me?
Mindy (the sourdough starter) has been transformed over the past year into a variety of baked goods — waffles, brownies, pie crusts, naan, pizza dough, and of course, countless loaves of rustic, sourdough bread.
She’s also left bits and traces on our oven handle, the microwave, my fleece jacket, the bookshelf, our olive oil bottle, several pens, and once, as noted above, our dog.
In spite of my inability to contain the mess, the sourdough habit has brought a great deal of structure and consistency to my life in a time when I sorely needed it. I have a set time of day where I (usually remember to) feed the starter, and a set time each week when I add it together with flour and water to create the dough.
There’s a rhythm to sourdough that makes it meditative in nature. I’m not the first person to realize this, of course, but it feels like a revelation in my sphere of a life regardless.
For the first several hours while the dough rises, I set a timer to ensure I work it through a series of folds every hour, on the hour. In these moments, hands in dough, I am fully present in my body, yoga in the form of bread.
I love working my hands in the dough, pulling and stretching it to build the gluten, watching the loaf build in elasticity and slowly begin to show signs of rise. I’m always a little sad when I tuck the loaf away for her final prove overnight because it means the kneading is over, until next time.
One weekend, I solved this problem by making a monster of a recipe, so large it required two bowls to pull off. More loaves meant more time kneading, and I hoped to get my fill.
And yet, when Monday came around, I mourned the at-home hours needed to get a loaf started. I’d bake one a day, if I could.
My exploration of all things bread mean that the flour’s grip on our household isn’t limited to the traces I leave behind while baking. I never imagined I’d be someone with a flour shelf, and yet my lineup of all purpose, whole wheat, spelt, bread, and self-rising have claimed a fair share of cabinet space.
I’ve taken to daydreaming about shifting from grocery store acquisitions of King Arthur to driving out to a local mill, fantasizing about matching containers with neat little labels explaining the properties of various types of flour.
When I began all this baking, it was with the intention of filling time. Learning a new skill, a hobby that would produce edible, shareable results.
Yet it’s led me to that old fantasy, the idea of quitting my day job and turning my hobby into a hustle. Selling loaves of sourdough at the farmer’s market, doing yoga, and writing, as if the things that sustain my soul might also pad my wallet.
I miss the days when I could let hobbies be hobbies, interests be interests. The reign of the “side hustle” means no matter what I take up, I find myself wondering whether there might be money in it, somehow.
I resist this impulse in the mornings when I wake to check how much the loaf has risen overnight. I coax it onto the counter and shape it for the final prove while drinking my coffee (and, let’s be honest, checking how much the other not-quite-side-hustle of writing has earned me overnight).
The bread is not a career. It doesn’t have to be.
It’s lifegiving in its own way, and does in fact provide us with sustenance. It gives me a focal point for every week, a shape to every Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. The sense of satisfaction as flour, water, starter, and salt become bread in my slightly more capable hands.
Sometimes, we have to let the joy of doing a thing be enough.
Sometimes, as I pull out yet another crisp, golden browned loaf and listen for the crackle as it cools, it is.
Thanks so much for reading! If you enjoyed this, you might also like this reflective piece about enjoying small moments of travel.