Sourdough starter sets an example

I like simple things.

I like to harvest mussels off the beach at a low tide and cook them for friends. I like to slather homemade bread with butter, moments after it has been pulled out of the oven. I like to snuggle underneath an afghan, especially when my dog curls up under it with me.

I like to read through my collection of quotes while sipping freshly brewed coffee. I like to grow herbs and run outside at a moment’s notice, to harvest their fresh goodness. I like to raise my hand to the heavens when I feel God’s presence and walk in the early morning so I can listen to the birds welcome the day.

And I like to stir my pot of sourdough starter.

My family understands my love of kitchen chemistry, but I’m quite aware that my regular attention to the sourdough starter as it proofs is a bit of a mystery to them. They see a creamy yellow, bubbly concoction with a distinctive smell. I see pancakes and bread, muffins and cookies, and heavenly life lessons.

Least you think I am terribly odd, I am not the Lone Ranger when it comes to feeding my sourdough starter and cooking with it. A Google search of the word sourdough produces over 3 million sites in 64 hundredths of a second. A whole lot of us have more than a passing interest in sourdough.

From accounts dating back 5,000 years, it seems ancient Egyptians were the first to notice that flour and water left outside ferments, forming a bubbly mixture that can produce bread with a lighter texture and tantalizing taste. Today we understand that air contains airborne yeasts composed of billions of tiny microscopic plants that ferment when they come in contact with flour, water, and a small amount of sugar. Each sourdough is unique to its area. Some people prefer sourdough made in the San Francisco Bay area. Others are intrigued by longevity. Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter is still available, free to those who mail in their request.

Our American history books tell us that pioneers understood the great value of sourdough and took extreme care to protect their starters because they were a cheap, dependable, and never-ending source of pancakes, biscuits and breads. In her book, Alaska Sourdough, expert chef Ruth Allman writes that Alaskan prospectors were unaware of laboratory tests claiming that sourdough contains the greatest amount of protein for its weight and size of any comparable food. They clearly understood that a 50-pound sack of flour and a sourdough pot could help sustain them through a miserable winter.

Feed your starter and it can live for decades. Share it and it will feed countless people.

You see, there more to this story than the satisfaction gained from stirring and baking. When I look at my starter, I see goodness resulting from simplicity and commonness. This mirrors a godly truth I want to not only understand but believe and fully embrace, especially when I’m feeling ordinary, small, insignificant.

Such feelings are the tyranny of this modern age, for the messages splashed across magazines, TV sets, and computer screens speak against simplicity. We are told that feeling content and being able to signal to the world you are somebody -— you’ve arrived! -— happens when we have the personal trainer, the facelift, the house cleaning service, the powerful job, the big-screen TV, the vacation home, the million-dollar retirement fund, the Bentley, the latest Dooney and Brooke handbag, a Blueberry, and the big diamond.

Far too many of us believe all this, especially when most of us encounter daily experiences that feel small in comparison. We earn modest salaries. We drive used minivans. We cheer from soccer sidelines under umbrellas. We dish food from slow cookers and wonder how we will save enough money and carve out enough time to paint the house this summer. We wish that purchasing the perfect prom dress or tux for our kids would not push back another couple of months those new drapes we need in the living room.

Rather than attending movie premiers we are teaching English. We’re opening our homes to Bible studies, answering phones and greeting customers. We’re bathing Alzheimer’s patients and lubing cars. We’re installing kitchen appliances and repairing computers. We’re cleaning teeth, vaccinating pets, and selling houses. We’re blow-drying hair and manipulating post-surgical knees. There is more routine than pure excitement. Outside our immediate circles and families, few know us.

And God says we are never to discount the smallness of our deeds. We are to do something good for someone and watch for the ways He will use it. We are not to despise our modest lives but each day believe not the media but God -- especially when He promises that He loves us and sees us as truly significant players in this human drama.

Let’s ask God to stir us up just a bit, even if we see ourselves as perfectly common. It is out of this mix that God promises to produce the most wondrous of human experiences.

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