I hope someone can give me some advice cause I sure need it! In the 80s I had a wonderful starter and made sourdough French bread 2 or 3 times a week. It was great! Then I moved, lost my starter & had a new grandson living with me so didn't have much time for it anyway. F/F to a 3 years ago.. I had a stroke that pretty much wiped out my memory capabilities, but cooking/baking is still a huge love. A week ago while making bisquits it hit me... I wanted to make a new starter and start my bread again. Made a starter from flour & water and hoped. It worked and had a GREAT sourdough smell after 5 days, BUT I'd forgotten about feeding it for petes sake (I did stir it a couple of times, but that's it). Although the bubble action had stopped I went ahead and fed it equal parts of flour and water last night and crossed my fingers.
And here my confusion starts (praying this all makes sense). It was about 7pm when I did this last night, then I promptly forgot about it and didn't check it until a little while ago (noon today). It had risen almost double but I could tell it had dropped back down. Only guessing at what I'm doing, I stirred it & took a cup out, then added a cup of flour & a cup of water. There were still lots of bubbles while stirring but I stirred so as to incorporate lots of oxygen and put it back in the oven (only half-way warm place... we have a big old farmhouse and keep our thermostat set at 57 to be able to also buy electricity & water.. sigh).
My questions - that I can remember, anyway - are:
1. (if anyone sees this in time) What time do I check it this evening?
2. If it's living good (or is it already & I just don't know it), what do I do then?
3. Do I feed it again? If so, how much?
4. Do I leave it as-is? Stir it down or not?
5. If it has risen up then fell again, does that mean I should feed it (and hope)?
5. I want to keep the starter in the fridge once I know it's alive and good because I'll only bake bread once a week or so - so when does it go in the fridge?? While it's still actively rising/bubbling?
6. In the fridge, should it be covered air-tight or with a towel? I've only used a towel so far, but using it in the fridge, what about odors?
7. When first making the starter, I'd forgotten about using distilled water & used tap. When feeding it last night I forgot again, but I'd say it's still working. Today I used distilled and would like to know if my starter will ever have no chlorine in it?
8. (and most importantly!) When can I make my first bread from this starter? How will I know it's really ready?
All of what I've read just has me so confused because there are SO many different directions everywhere. Do this/don't do this, add this/don't add.... seems it would be confusing for anyone, but my brain just doesn't process information like it used to & it makes it's doubly confusing for me. If I can just get a GOOD starter going, I know how to keep it going after I've used my first part of it, but I'm so stuck right now it's pathetic!(Please, if you have answers, make them so specific a 3 year old could understand? I would TRULY appreciate it!)
Thanks in advance!!