When I was in high school I had a pet fish that thrived on neglect. He lived in a glass fish bowl in my bathroom (I was fortunate to have my own ensuite from age 13 until I moved out of home and got married at 18. Yes, 18. That’s another story). That poor fishy was treated to a daily cocktail of hairspray, deodorant and cheap perfume. I had one of those ‘surf’s up!’ fringes which was uber fashionable in the early 90s and it required significant teasing and an even more significant amount of hairspray. I dread to think about the daily cocktail of chemicals that poor fish endured simply because his home was next to every teenage girl’s favourite place, the bathroom mirror.
I fed him occasionally when I remembered and when I wasn’t busy watching episodes of 90210. I didn’t clean his bowl very often, because I had done that once with a previous pet fish (one that I had won at the Ekka) and accidentally dropped him out of the bowl and into the sink when I was tipping the water out. I remember panicking and not knowing what to do because I had heard that human skin touching a fish would burn it. It lay there flipping from side to side in the sink, so in my panic I turned the tap on and washed him away. I figured from that point on it would be safer not to clean out the bowl anymore. So anyway, I got a replacement fish and he lived in his cloudy fish bowl with slimy walls for a long time. One day my mum announced that we were going away to visit my family up north, so I asked my good friend and neighbour to take care of my fishy in my absence.
My well-meaning pet-sitter was so thoughtful. She fed my fish every day. She also cleaned out his bowl and gave him fresh water. And he died. It may have been from shock, who knows. I was pretty sad, but decided my fish-keeping days were over. It was just too much responsibility for me and my fluoro leg warmers.
I told you that story because I’ve been having trouble keeping my sourdough starter alive, and I want you to understand why. You see, sourdough starter does not thrive on neglect. Sourdough starter needs love, attention and routine. It likes to be fed flour and water. Not only does it like to be fed, it likes to be fed at around the same time each day – sometimes twice a day. My sourdough starter has been quite forgiving in that it has not completely died off on me, but it has certainly gone flat a few times and I’ve had to work a little harder to revive it. I’ve only had it going for three or four months, and in that time I have been experimenting with different flours and waters and techniques. It seems to be most active and bubbly and ready for use at night, when I want to go to bed. So I leave it until the morning but by then it’s waning, and I have to discard most of it and feed it again. I would like it to be ready for use in the morning, but I’m still working on that. I get into a routine for two or three days, and then I forget or get busy and my poor little starter starts looking quite sad.
So I’m spending some time tonight revisiting discussion forums and website FAQs dedicated to sourdough baking. I’ve made some killer sourdough loaves recently – see pic for a case in point, and I’d like to thank my little starter for that. I’ve also had my fair share of sourdough failures and to be honest, this hit and miss business is frustrating. I need to show my sourdough starter a little more love and respect, and a little less of my goldfish keeping days neglect.