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September 23, 2013

I Rise Again

Millie The Magnificent
I've always felt a kinship for the Phoenix of Greek mythology. According to legend, the Phoenix would rise up from the ashes of its predecessor, regenerating into a new being. I like the image of rising from the ashes, lessons learned, wisdom gained, and moving into a new life.

I'd forgotten all about the Phoenix until this past weekend when I was cleaning out my refrigerator. Actually, I hadn't forgotten about the Phoenix--I just hadn't thought about it in a really long time. That is until I reached into the very back of the refrigerator, on the very bottom shelf, way back in the far corner, hidden away under the cheese bin and I saw the crumpled brown paper lunch bag.

It was Millie--my sourdough starter from way back last November when I was furiously working on an article about sourdough starters. Millie wasn't my first try, in fact, I'd gone through the heartbreak of several failed starters before Millie sprang, quite unexpectedly, to life one gray winter morning. Immediately, I knew she was different; she was fierce and steady and her aroma was the sweet fruity smell of peaches just a shade too ripe.

Millie did more for me than just teach me the ins and outs of lactic fermentation. There were a few days when I let Millie languish between feedings and just when I was certain that she was done, having died from my neglect, she'd rise up stronger than ever.

Millie and I spent a season baking bread. Everyday at the same time, I'd give Millie her feeding and then take my share of her sweet yeasty ferment for a loaf of bread. Every afternoon I'd turn on the oven and every night, Mr. B and I would butter thick slices to go along with our dinner.

My whole house smelled of yeast--even the curtains smelled as if they had been hanging in a bakery. Then, the inevitable happened--spring arrived. Over a few weeks, it grew far too warm to bake bread, so I gave Millie one last feeding, slid her jar into a paper lunch bag, and tucked her into the depths of the refrigerator.

Over the course of the ensuing months, I thought about her and promised myself to check on her, but, alas, I never did and there she stayed, forgotten all of these long months until this past Saturday when my hand ever so gently passed alongside her crumpled bag.

This time, I wasn't sure if she'd be able to rise again. It was nearly October and as clearly as I could remember, she'd been in a state of slumber since early April. I wasn't certain what to expect, but deep in my heart, I hoped she'd spark back to life.

So, imagine my glee, when after I fed her, she did just that and like the Millie I remembered, she was even stronger. I was ready to bake bread again, but I was also ready for something else--to realize that Millie and I were a lot alike; I, too, was ready to rise up again, to bake bread and eat poems and drink wine and dream beneath the weight of the moon. Like Millie, I was ready to live again.

To make your own Millie:
Mix equal parts of bread flour and warm water together in a large glass jar. Cover the mouth with a piece of plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band. Poke a hole into the plastic wrap. Set the jar somewhere warm and dark and let the mixture ferment. It should start to bubble within 4-10 days, depending on the temperature of the room. Once it bubbles and rises, dump out half the ferment and add 1/2 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup warm water. Continue to discard and feed until it rises reliably.

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