A few years ago my wife began describing the food we ate in terms of being ‘dead’ (which was bad) or ‘alive’ (which was, apparently, wildly preferable to ‘dead’). I think I have the Nourishing Traditions book to blame for this, but I can’t remember (see previous post on Nourishing Traditions).
At first this new fixation on the ‘liveliness’ of our food was a bit concerning to me, but then it amounted to nothing more than a daily ritual blend of yogurt and this yogurt-like substance called Kefir, both of which have ‘live bacterial cultures’ in them.
I remember when someone first drew my attention to that fact at the grocery store, gleefully pointing to the packaging on the yogurt cup: This product contains LIVE bacterial cultures.
This ran contrary to everything that I had been taught up to that point in my life about food. My whole system for gagging the edibility of any given food was whether or not it had anything alive growing on it. My motto was, “If something else has already started eating it, don’t get involved.”
It was with that frame of mind that I read the line on the yogurt cup as an admission of guilt, something that the government made them do.
Yet it wasn’t printed in a small, hard to read font, it was in bright red letters on a yellow starburst. You usually don’t put things you don’t want people to notice on a starburst.
I was left to suppose that this was some kind of magical ‘good’ bacteria…and so when my wife’s fixation with the ‘alive’ stuff just turned out to be “Yogurt for breakfast every, every day!” it wasn’t a big deal. But it didn’t stop there, did it? No of course not.
PHASE TWO of this new hobby involved the adoption of a yeast culture for the purpose of making sourdough bread. Now I like sourdough bread, so again, not a big deal. Did I know that yeast was technically ‘alive’? Probably.
Unlike with the bacteria in the yogurt, I saw the yeast more like the bread delivery man. He’s not in the bread, eating the bread, at least not by the time it becomes a part of my NEW! NEW! yogurt and (sourdough) toast breakfast.
Also I think the baking process kills the yeast, so while the yeast is alive for a time, my bread is technically dead. Yeast is my bread-bringing friend, yogurt bacteria is more like my digestion companion. The relationship is more complicated.
But here’s the thing though: You can’t just MAKE yeast, you have to adopt it, like a baby.
I can’t remember where my wife found our yeast baby, all I know is it was like we had a newborn in the house all over again. It had to be kept warm. It had to be fed. You have to change its ‘diaper’ regularly. And most importantly, it can’t be left alone, at least not in the first few weeks. First it needs to ‘mature’ to the point where it can be left to look after itself for extended periods of time.
My wife was really intense about the feedings and warmings and changings and cuddlings of the yeast culture…and then, just a week before it was ‘mature’ and all grown up and ready to go to bread college and start making us some bread, we went on vacation. And HANDS DOWN no way was the yeast culture coming with us. It was too fragile. This may have been partly due to my turning on the oven to preheat it for a Costco pizza when the yeast culture was already in there having one of it’s ‘special warming times.’
I have never seen my wife so upset about a jar of goop. I STILL compulsively check the oven to confirm it’s empty before I turn it on.
So, unable to bring it with us, and still too young and oven-damaged to look after itself, we leave the yeast culture with a neighbor to feed and care for while we’re away.
It was like a cop movie cliché, gunned down only two days away from retirement…upon our return our neighbor confessed to having dropped our yeast baby and killed it upon her kitchen floor. She may have tried to scrape together what she could, broken shards of glass and all, but like we’re going to make bread with that.
“What lovely bread! What’s that I taste? Dirt and shards? Just lovely!”
I can only imagine the abject horror our neighbor felt as she watched the glass jar shatter in slow motion upon her linoleum, little yeast gore spattering everywhere. Baby yeast gore.
Someday someone will have a death metal band named Baby Yeast Gore, and it will be epic.
After an appropriate period of mourning we adopted a NEW baby yeast culture, and no more vacations! We were staying put until this little guy grew up and started paying his way with some bread.
And he did.
…But you know how when you have a baby, and after the little tyke is up and tottering around, eating solids, looking less cute…your wife gets that look her eye…you know the look…she wants another one.
“He NEEDS a little BROTHER!” she says.
And this is where things started to get weird.
NEXT WEEK, ON THE CRUNCHY DUNGEON: