OUR HOUSE HAS become concentrated with tropes of self-isolation: 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, a 1,000 percent increase in the number of video conferences, hair desperate for a trim, a hefty increase in online shopping, a slew of new hobbies, extensive conversations with the cat, the ongoing yet ultimately futile promise to oneself that this time will be used for creative pursuits and, perhaps, finally wearing pants. And, of course, naturally, there’s homemade bread and sourdough.
Although some of these activities are sure to wilt and keel over once life returns to normal (whenever that happens to be), the addition of sourdough to our kitchen is one I’m sure will endure. Not just because it’s delicious— or that we’ve already sunk no shortage of time into managing the starter we’ve affectionately dubbed “Gertruda”—but because it represents a larger sea change in our attitudes and approaches to everyday life as we know it. It’s a chance to say we’ve learned something from the time we’ve spent at home, which is a much- too-long way of saying that we’d been desperately searching for a silver lining, and this is the best we found.
However, beyond providing an imperfect substitution for injera (the flavor of the starter isn’t too distant from the Ethiopian bread, which pairs wonderfully with a stew called Doro Wat) and fodder for self-quarantine self-reflection, the prepping and baking of sourdough also struck an oddly resonant chord with one of the stories we produced for this issue.
When we first hit upon the idea of running a story about the basics of homesteading—activities that had achieved new relevance as the shelves were cleared of kitchen staples and people found themselves with an abundance of time on their hands—it was for the sake of the novelty and perceived utility for enterprising readers. When I first spoke with Ruthie Pepler, who owns Dogwood Hills Guest Farm in Harriet with her family, however, that notion was turned on its head. The return to these activities isn’t simply about satisfying some nouveau-urban-farmer impulse, but a chance for something more important: As Ruthie said, these activities offer a chance to make connections with your community and neighbors.
There was a chance to go beyond the isolation of one’s own home or apartment and make connections, however tenuous, with others: to share what you made, to share what you learned, not to barter but to give and gift. Although silver linings and deeper meanings may continue to be elusive—especially when it comes to months-long delayed haircuts—the notion that we might be closer, or at least poised to be closer, with our neighbors at the end of this gives me hope that we’ll be able to look back and say we did something meaningful with this time.