The last time I sat with intent to contribute to my small reel on the internet, Rooting for Fruit, I was at a borrowed desk in a friend’s rented house on a dirt road in Butare, Rwanda. The house was palatial, well-tended by a rotating cast of caretakers and the comfortably spartan office looked onto a small rose garden. Beyond, a barbed wire-fringed concrete wall stood as a faded war relic. For whatever reason, during that morning back in July as I sat writing about Pimm’s and tree tomato fruits, it felt like home.Farther from home, in minutes and miles, I couldn’t have been. Between that desk and this one I claim 11 separate boarding passes, six new stamps in my passport, and stays in two other places I also call home: New York and San Francisco. But like it or not, here in Los Angeles, I’ve returned to where I rest my belongings and engrave those cow paths of daily routine. I returned here last month feeling desperate to commit to this place where I reside but have never called home. Short of buying property (a task poorly suited to the times, anyhow), how does one commit to a place and come to call it home?
I suppose the answer to that could be both existential and gravely practical, but I’ve decided on something much more pleasurable: collecting the wild yeasts that inhabit my apartment and turning them into something I can taste. I’ve started a sourdough starter.
By The Cheese Board Collective Works cookbook lent by friends Abigail and Emma, I was inspired. Sourdough starter is little more than flour and water left to the elements, fed regularly with more flour--your garden-variety 4th grade science experiment. Yesterday I stirred lukewarm water into rye flour as suggested, with a stainless steel eating apparatus. Already it’s bubbling and emitting cozy odors. Tomorrow I will feed it with more flour (this time white bread flour), and more flour 48 hours after that, and again after that. I’ve vowed to keep my starter alive in the refrigerator through monthly feedings and most importantly, though use. By folding it into breads of all kinds, I’ll be celebrating wild yeasts, the taste of home. With proper care, my sourdough starter will outlive any pet goldfish and potentially even your pet golden retriever.
In the shadow of a towering parking garage, near the nexus of Wilshire and the 405 freeway and with no soil outside in which to dig a garden of my own, my Los Angeles apartment exists a world away from the wild. And yet. A taste of the wild, this untamed Los Angeles, is arising and being cultivated in (and by) my kitchen.