By Kyle Taborski
Even before this pandemic, I worked from home with most of my co-workers in an office hundreds of miles away. It takes away a community of people I would be able to see every day, but it gives me the ability to mill flour, feed sourdough starter, and bake bread. The process I follow for making sourdough bread is a couple of minutes here and there spread over two days. I share this hobby via Instagram, always learning, and improving. I read articles and follow other bakers, recognizing there’s a lot I don’t know.
But with Covid-19, I’ve suddenly become an expert in the eyes of my friends and community.
I’m an amateur: I know this, but do they? I’ve been doing this for a few years, since reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked. It was the first book of his I read and something about fermenting spoke to me. I’ve fermented veggies, kombucha, cider, and milk (cheese). It’s a hobby that’s resulted in all kinds of supplies and tools, even though the cupboard in the kitchen that smells of vinegar drives my wife crazy.
Someone asked me about making a sourdough starter from scratch. I did that once and didn’t like how it turned out so ended up getting a sourdough starter from someone else. But here I was being asked for advice on making a sourdough starter. They likely know as much about this as me, but I bake a lot so I’m considered the “expert.” I know how to keep a starter alive, I understand the idea of making a sourdough starter and I’ve made other starters like a ginger bug, yogurt, wild fermented cider, and mead. For the most part, you expose something to air, and stir and feed it. There are yeast and bacteria everywhere that are happy to eat your flour and water in a covered bowl on a counter. What do I say? “Make sure it is warm, stir it, and feed it.” Which is how you take care of a starter. Breadmaking might seem intimidating, like surviving this pandemic, but if you break it down to the smallest parts: it’s doable. Wake up, keep kid(s) alive, eat, exercise, and sleep.
I talked with another parent at my daughter's school who wanted help with her starter. She wasn’t sure if it was alive and wanted to take care of it correctly. It was alive, but it needed some TLC. I walked her through the process and told her to be patient. But she was frustrated and needed a quick fix, so I gave her some starter. Sometimes we just need a hand when things don’t work out. We don’t have to be perfect; we can ask for help.
One of my wife’s cousins asked for advice about her bread baking. I said she was doing great and offered her some things to work on based on what she described as her issue. I shared that I still struggle with the same issues. There is a technique in shaping bread, including the flour used, time, temperature, patience, and practice. Sometimes all you need is someone to tell you you’re doing just fine.
A friend shared an Instagram story series where she documented every step with pictures and notes. I shared it with one of my wife's coworker’s and she loved that series of annotated photos. Something about those pictures helped her more than words. I don’t need to be an expert; I can help by connecting people and nurturing a community.
I can’t do anything about the rising unemployment, the fact that this disease is disproportionately affecting African American and Native American communities, or that homeless kids are finding it even harder to eat. But I can help others in this seemingly insignificant way. We can try to make the best of things, we can nurture our communities, and we can ask for help.
As with a sourdough starter, we have to be patient with this worldwide crisis. Instead of building a place for yeast and bacteria to thrive, we are building a place for this virus to die. This too shall pass, and we will be better because we know we have each other’s back.