Robert Beverly Hale, the famous art instructor, used to say, "If you haven't drawn for a week, you'll know it. If you haven't drawn for two weeks, everyone will know it."
It seems the same applies to cooking.
In case you've forgotten, I ruined a batch of sauerkraut by adding twice the required salt, but I was happy nonetheless because my sourdough starter was bubbling on schedule. Well, um, that starter? I went to feed it on Sunday, only to discover a fermenting mass beneath - and a canopy of mold above. And these were interesting molds, not just your garden variety white bread mold. No, these had structures, nobules, spray formations and color patterns.
I think I may have screamed.
I was crazy enough to go online to see if the starter could be salvaged. After all, I had paid shipping on that flour; that was certainly the most expensive flour of my life, and it was hard to accept the inevitable. But I did. There's a running theme through all the advice pages on sourdough: if you find mold, toss it. So my insanely expensive fermented paste got flushed.
I was using no yeast, and I think that's where things went wrong. A little yeast probably does get things going faster, so the mold has less of a chance. According to one person I read, the initial strain of yeast is crowded out by local yeasts after two or three feedings anyway, so my "symbolically local" issue need not suffer too much from a bit of yeast in the starter. I also was following instructions to feed alternate days after the first two days, and most other sourdough recipes seem to indicate daily feedings are required for the first week. So tonight I will start again, a modern-day Sisyphus of the kitchen. I'll let you know how it goes.
Fortunately, I was able to make some actual edible food this weekend, a braised chuck roast with horseradish from Please to the Table, which was excellent, though much milder than expected, and fried potatoes with mushrooms from the same, which was delicious, if absurdly rich. I also threw together a buttermilk sherbet, and I really did throw it together - I don't know how much sugar I added, and when I realized I had no lemon, I added some pineapple juice instead. It was really good, which soothed my rather battered ego.