Starting Again: Days 2-5
On Thursday (Day 2), I fed the starter with one cup each of unbleached bread flour and water. I checked it every few hours for progress. There were a few healthy looking bubbles, and the starter still smelled like wet flour.
On Friday, I added 1 1/3 cups each of unbleached bread flour and water. Periodic checking showed a lot of bubbles; also, by evening, the starter was beginning to smell like sourdough. There was a very thin layer of water on the top, but that's normal. It will separate when left alone for several hours.
Before I added more flour and water on Saturday, the sourdough smell was stronger, and the bubbles were looking fine. Most of the thin layer of water had been absorbed overnight. I added 1/ 1/4 cups each of unbleached bread flour and water. As I checked it throughout the day, I noticed that there was a lot of water on the top, and there weren't many bubbles. The sourdough smell had weakened. By the end of the night, the bubbles were gone entirely, there was still a deep layer of water on top, and the starter was musty smelling. I refuse to panic so soon in the face of a comatose sourdough starter, so I covered it up and went to bed.
When I got up this morning (Day 5), I took a look at the starter, expecting the worst. The good news is there was no mold. The bad news is the starter looked so close to death, it was probably heading towards a bright, shining light as its short life passed before its eyes. And it stilled smelled musty. Feeling pretty crappy myself, and with neither coffee nor my first cigarette in me yet, I still had the presence of mind not to panic. There was plenty of time for that later. It was only 8 AM, and I've been feeding this bitch every day at around 1 PM, so I had time to think about what to do.
It occurred to me that I had used too much water yesterday, and those wild yeasties were drowning. The method I'm using says "On the third day, add flour and water again, a little more than before. Feed it every day." I read that to mean I should increase the amount of flour and water by a little bit every day, but I could have been wrong about that. I also hadn't yet discarded any of the starter, because it had been developing so well and I wanted to keep it strong.
When it was time for a feeding, I removed the grapes and stirred the starter. It was really musty, and the consistency of pancake batter, which I'm pretty sure isn't good. I removed a cup of starter, stirred the starter again, and added 1 1/2 cups of flour, and just under a half cup of water. It was still a little thin, but it looked better. I replaced the grapes and covered it again.
It's been sitting for just over five hours. I took a look at it a couple minutes ago, and it's looking better. There are a lot of tiny bubbles and a decent amount of larger ones. It hasn't separated, which I think is OK. At this point, it needs to readjust itself. It's still a little musty smelling, but there's also the faint smell of sourdough that says it's healthy.
I think it's on the right track, although I'm really winging it at this point. If you've read the method I'm following, you know Albala'a instructions are vague. I'm working from a book excerpt (The Lost Art of Cooking), and I don't know if some of the information has been edited. But I've done this several times now, and I sort of know what I'm doing. I'm trying to follow my instincts, for what those are worth.
I'll check the starter a few more times this evening, and I'll do an update either tonight after Mad Men (which takes precedence over everything), or tomorrow.