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Monday, April 14, 2008

On Feeding Bob

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Meet Bob.  Yeah, I've given my starter a name.  He's now called Bob.  He's kind of a blob anyway, and I actually don't have any human friend called Bob.  I know quite a few Roberts, but no Robert I know is a Bob.  So there, I can call my starter Bob and no one shall be offended.

Here's a photo of Bob when he's just been fed breakfast.  Bob eats his breakfast at the same time Ella does hers.  Who's Ella?  Why my kitty of course.  Ella and Bob are both fed breakfast while I wait for Miss Silvia to heat up.  Miss Silvia is my espresso machine-she has to heat up properly before I could make my coffee, for my own breakfast, and David's.  You know who David is.  This is not getting too confusing for you, is it?  I've still got you with me, right?

So, about feeding Bob.  It's quite important, the feeding of Bob.  Keeping Bob bubbly and lively is the key to baking happy bread.  Like this one for example.

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Gorgeous, yes?  Should I name my bread too?  Now that'll be too much I guess.  Ok, no then.  Back to Bob, shall we?

Working out a schedule with Bob so that he fits my life as opposed to dictate it took a bit of planning.  Once I had it figured out, then it's easy peasy.  I've got him now where I want him, and he's helping me make bread 2-3 times a week without much effort on my part.

The key to this relationship, like any other relationships, is understanding.  I must understand what he needs, while not forgetting what I can afford to give.  There are plenty of instructions on how to feed and care for a starter that are so complicated they made me want to give up.  I'm sure you can find them too if you really wanted to read them.  There's no need for me to repeat them for you here, I'll just concentrate on telling what works for me.  My Bob is kind of low maintenance, I guess you could put it that way.

I keep Bob in a glass jar I bought from Ikea.  It's got a metal top that I keep on, but the top doesn't seal tight so Bob can breath.  The jar isn't very big, Bob's not very big.  He's only about 16-18oz's worth, oh, about 2-3 cups I'd say.  I feed him equal amount of flour and water each day, about 4oz each.  It's important to do this by weight: just as Samurais live and die by the sword, bread bakers live and die by the scale. 

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There's a little trick to keeping Bob in check.  Bob doubles in size every time I feed him, you see.  That's how he grows, how he tells me he's healthy and happy.  As I continue to feed him, he gets bigger.  So, before I feed him, I pour about half of him down the drain.  Yes, the drain.  It's a bit of a waste, yes, but that's the only way to deal with it.  If I kept all of him, I'd have to feed him a bigger breakfast than 4oz each of water and flour, and that would be a bigger waste, not to mention I'd eventually have to move him out from my jar into a swimming pool.

So, before I feed him, I pour a good part of him down the drain, about a cup's worth.  Then I make a paste by stirring water and flour together, which is then fed to Bob.  Dump the paste in, and stir, stir, stir, mixing it in and giving him some air in the process.  That's it.  Done.  Put the lid back on and let him sit on the counter until he's ready.

Here's a shot of Bob at his happiest.  See all the bubbles?  I wish you could smell the screen, because he smells heavenly.  He is at his best about 8 hrs after I fed him, which is perfect, because I usually make my no-knead Pain au Levain dough at night, and let it rest overnight to bake in the morning. 

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Here's the picture of Bob in his jar.  Before I leave for New Orleans later this week, I'll put him in the fridge, where he will be slumbering peacefully until I return.  Bob can go a few days in the fridge without being fed.  He's healthy.  When I get home, I'll take him out from the fridge and feed him twice before I use him again. 

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As you know, I adopted Bob from my friend Chris.  If you want to have a Bob of your own, but can't find a kind bread-baking friend to share a starter with you, don't let that deter you.  You can always start your own.  Check out this blog for example.

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