Sourdough in the time of COVID-19

Because apparently, I missed having something be The Boss of Me

bread 3

Who knew that sourdough would be A Thing during Quarantine?

(Which you probably already know by now means “40.” You’re welcome. That’s all I remember about it, although it has something to do with Lent, WHICH IS OVER.)

(And yes, I got my half-price Robin’s Eggs and Cadbury’s chocolate eggs – but M&Ms were not on sale so I was cranky about that – at Walgreen’s the day after Easter, which was super easy because I was about the only person in the store.)

(And now I remember – I have remembered several times – that if I eat too much candy, it makes me feel sick to my stomach.)

Anyhow. I knew everyone was baking bread because suddenly, everyone has time and is bored.

Which means there is no flour and no yeast to be found.

And that means that people have turned to sourdough.

Which I was not going to do because – eh – I have yeast. I have flour.

And even if I didn’t, I live in Wisconsin, where everyone already bakes so the grocery stores already keep supplied for that.

And – I just checked. Plenty plenty plenty of flour and yeast in my local grocery stores.

But in places where people don’t usually bake, I guess it’s a problem?

I know the King Arthur Flour website is out of yeast. And my friend in Houston can’t find King Arthur flour in the store. (I don’t know about other brands.)

So what do you do when you can’t find yeast?

You make sourdough!

Hahahaha. I kid.

You find a friend who has sourdough and you get some from her.

If you want to make sourdough from scratch, it’s a dang nightmare.

It involves putting organic grapes in cheesecloth and immersing them in water and flour and singing to them every night at 11:00 p.m. and sacrificing the tongues of nightingales and hummingbirds and ripping out your liver and re-growing it by morning.

And not just that, but according to Nancy Silverton, I am supposed to feed my starter three times a day. And part of that feeding involves THROWING AWAY MOST OF THE EXISTING STARTER.

Nancy clearly is not from Wisconsin.

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So I was not going to make sourdough from air and fairy dust and unicorn breath. And then throw most of it away.

But then I saw that my bonus daughter, M, had some sourdough. And I was intrigued. She was telling me all about what she had been baking with it.

She dried some and mailed it to me, along with letters and cartoons that our Bonus Grandchildren had written and drawn for us – cats and tacos are Big with kids this year – and it sat in my cupboard for two weeks while I thought about Things.

Then I was ready.

I found the King Arthur Flour instructions on rehydrating sourdough and sort of followed them.

So there is this demanding schedule of feeding with weights of water and flour and the water is supposed to be at 78 degrees (Nancy, not King Arthur, cares about the water temperature, but they both WEIGH THE WATER AND THE FLOUR) and all I can think is, “Didn’t sourdough start by people scraping some of the flour from the chinks in the walls of their log cabins?”

Even regular sourdough – the kind you don’t start from the yeast in the air (which sounds like a great band name: The Yeast In The Air) – is a bit of a wasteful tyrant. King Arthur only wants me to feed once a day but they, too, have me throwing away a lot of starter, although at least they offer suggestions of what to do with the discard, like making sourdough chocolate cake.

(Which I did.)

(With a double recipe of cream cheese frosting.)

(Which Mr T thought was Too Much Frosting until he saw the cake and realized I WAS RIGHT.)

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So of course I had to google about the log cabins and how picky is sourdough REALLY and I discovered that I was close. Close enough.

This truly is not rocket science. I mean, I am sure that if I were running a commercial bakery, I would be all sciencey and would want everything on a schedule so I could scale and control. I would be All About Process.

But in my own house? With my own baking?



For now, the sourdough is in the fridge, which should cool its hunger. (Ha.)

And I have made some bread.

And will make more today.

But after that, sourdough is not my boss.


PS Those of you who can’t find flour and yeast? Try the Amish stores. The intersection between “People Who Have Just Started To Bake Bread” and “People Who Shop At Amish Stores” is probably zero. The Amish stores have flour and probably have yeast. Just saying.



Being useful in the time of COVID-19

We are not all on the front lines, but we can support those who are

Jenny Apr 19

When it seemed like the world was coming to an end and all was lost, it wasn’t the government that stepped up. It wasn’t the military. It wasn’t the church. It wasn’t industry.

It was the Makers.

It was the people who build flaming crossbows and Daleks* who said, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”

The Makers saw that our medical workers didn’t have the PPE they needed. They saw that the inventories weren’t there and that the supply chains weren’t ready. They saw that there was a problem and they put down their crossbows (after extinguishing the flames) and put down their laser cutters and said, “We need a fast, inexpensive way to protect our family and friends who are working on the front lines against covid 19.”

And within days, these artists and engineers and creators had a solution. They designed a simple face shield. They cut the HDPE frame on a simple CNC router and they attached a sheet of clear plastic to it.

That’s it. A simple face shield that can be cleaned and re-used. A simple face shield that costs less than a dollar per shield for materials. A simple shield that can be made in under an hour and delivered to a doctor, a nurse, an orderly, a janitor – to someone’s daughter, someone’s brother, someone’s mother, someone’s friend, someone’s loved one.

A simple face shield that can save a life. That can save many lives.

“People have said we can’t change the world with what we do in our space,” says Pete P, one of the Makers, “but maybe right now, we can.”

(And that, my friends, is what I have been doing with my time. I have been doing the back office work for the artists and engineers who came up with this solution.)


* I am still not quite sure what that is.



Gardening in the time of COVID-19

Why not plant tomatoes? she asked herself

Laverne out
Laverne loves my garden. I have to do this for her.

I read in the paper that there is a shortage of seeds!

Yes! There has been a run on vegetable seeds!

People are worried that they won’t be able to get food and think that they are going to have to grow their own.

I hadn’t even thought about buying my vegetable seeds yet. It’s still cold here. It snowed yesterday.

(I hate winter so much.)

But if I have to rely on growing my own food, I am screwed. We have a very short growing season here and a small back yard without much direct sun and the things that grow well here – lettuce, dill – are not the foods that sustain life, like potatoes.

I read the story on my phone as Mr T and I were driving back from the food bank, where we had worked a shift processing inbound inventory.

(Don’t think we are noble. We are not. We are both unemployed. We have time. We can either use it to help others or we can use it to be stuck in the house and fight with each other and possibly kill each other, our corpses not to be found until months from now, when the cats,, in desperation, will have eaten our cheeks and other fleshy parts.)

I read the story and jumped quickly to my favorite seed site, Seed Savers Exchange, which, even today, two weeks later, is not accepting new orders.


“We have to go to the hardware store!” I gasped.

Mr T, to his credit, did exactly as I asked. He pulled into the parking lot at our neighborhood Ace and waited in the car while I ran in.

Of course there were plenty of seeds.

In Wisconsin, everyone already gardens.

They already ordered inventory assuming everyone would be buying seeds.

I grabbed basil, parsley, dill, lettuce, zinnia, cosmos, and nasturtium seeds.

None of those are food items that will help.

But who grows tomato from seed in Wisconsin?


But – what if they don’t open the garden shops? What if I can’t get tomato seedlings in May?

I ran back to the seed racks and grabbed three packets of tomato seeds, praying that it wasn’t already too late. I know there are ways to start seeds indoors and to transplant them, but that’s for Serious Gardeners and I am not a Serious Gardener.

All I know is what I learned in Girl Scouts a long time ago.

(In Girl Scouts, I also learned how to make flour tortillas. The secret is lard. You’re welcome.)

I took the seeds home and did this:

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And this:

garden 3

So now, like the people in On the Beach, we wait.

Happy Passover. Happy Easter. May this be the renewal, rebirth, and release from bondage that we all need.

Abuelitas in the time of COVID-19

How do we make sure the grannies are OK?

My grandmother, canning something. She would actually be completely unfazed by all of this. She grew and preserved her own food and had her own well. There were some store-bought things in the house – salt, flour, coffee, but other than that, she and my grandfather were quite self sufficient.

Mr. T and I have been putting our unemployment to good use. One of the things I have been doing is calling people who are homebound. Yes, I know we are all homebound, but some are more homebound than others. I got a list from a local group that helps (in regular times) keep senior citizens in their homes and started calling and even though I hate talking on the phone, it has been fun.

The purpose of the calls is to make sure the people have enough meds and enough groceries and to just chat with them for a bit in case they are lonely.

What I am discovering is Milwaukee senior citizens are On It, thank you very much.

Here is how my conversation went (in Spanish) with señora Isabel:

Me: How is it that your Spanish is so good?

Señora Isabel: Because I am from Puerto Rico!

Me: I want to go there! I want to eat the food!

Señora Isabel: You come to my house. I make you arroz con gandules.



Me: Do you have your meds?

Señora Isabel: Yes, my daughter order for me from the Walmart and she is picking it up. She lives cercita.

Me: How many days of groceries do you have?

Señora Isabel: Pfffff. Enough. My daughter lives cercita. She shops for me.

Me: What are you doing to keep busy?

Señora Isabel: Oh you know. I talk to my friends on the zoom. My priest he does the Mass from his living room on Facebook live.

Me: (I am so clearly not needed here.)

Then I called Ms J.

Me: How are you keeping busy being stuck at home?

Ms J: ……..Oh, I have a lot of paperwork to do.

Me: Are you doing anything fun?

Ms J: ……….No……………. Just paperwork.

Me: Not even reading some good books? Watching some good TV shows?

Ms J: ………Well……………. I do have my soap opera………..That I am watching right now.

Me: I will call you later!

Then I called Ms M, who was also quite settled, and, as the other recipients had been, a bit confused about why anyone would call her to ask her such personal questions, as she KNOWS HOW TO RUN HER OWN LIFE.

So I told her about inadvertently interrupting Ms J’s soap.

Ms M: Oh! Was it General Hospital?

Me: I don’t think so. This was at about 1:15.

Ms M: Right! Isn’t General Hospital at 2:00?

Me: Or 3:00, even? I thought I watched it when I came home from school that summer. We didn’t have a TV but my friend did. We took a summer school class together and would watch it after.

Ms M: What’s on at 1:00? Days of Our Lives? All My Children?

Me: I think Days. I think that’s what my grandmother watched.

Ms M: General Hospital. I watched that.

Me: I still can’t believe that Luke raped Laura – who was underage! – and then they got married and that was supposed to be romantic!

Ms M: That was a different time for sure. The actress was underage. Was the character?

Me: I don’t know.

Ms M: I guess we’ll never know.

Me: Speak for yourself. I know what I will be spending my afternoon doing.