I quickly realized I was way more clueless than I thought. For example, was I supposed to use the starter before or after feeding it? The way my day was yesterday meant that the only time I could make the dough with enough time to let it rise before baking was to mix the dough right after I fed it. I suspect i should have given it some time to get happy but not enough to get desperately hungry again before using it. As it was the small amount of starter left in the bowl seemed flat and unhappy all day. The loaf didn't really seem to rise but I baked it anyways because what was the alternative? I had no idea.
The bread is very sour and a little bit gummy when it's not toasted. Maybe I didn't quite bake it enough. There's one part at the bottom of the loaf that doesn't have bubbles but most of it has lots of small holes. Toasted, it has the nicest, chewy, not crumbly texture I've had in a gluten-free bread. To me (and keep in mind I haven't had 'real' bread in a year), it seems like real bread (except for the gumminess).
I was a bit nervous about eating it, because if it didn't bake enough maybe the yeast would still be alive and make me sick. (My brother once told me a harrowing story of drinking wine that still had living yeast in it.) But I had a whole piece of toast this morning and so far no ill effects. I will say it was A LOT more filling than any other toast I've had. I was all set to declare it a failure when it came out of the oven, but maybe it's not. After all, it was quite tasty toasted with almond butter and jam.
I'm realizing that I've never actually had real sourdough bread before. The sourdough I remember was made with white flour and was very fluffy (and delicious), but this is a very dense bread. Or at least the bread that my starter made is very dense. I think maybe I could have waited another day to let the starter build up strength, but who knows?
Apparently starters have individuality. And to care for them optimally, you need to be able to read their signs. I'm feeling like I dove in a bit too recklessly because now I have this starter I have to care for and I don't know how and any move I make could prove fatal. It does seem to have perked up since yesterday but there's been nothing like that big poofiness. There's an ebook I think I will buy tonight and hope it has more info about understanding and nurturing a starter.
Apart from the angst of dealing with the starter, making the bread was SUPER easy. Because there's no gluten to work, I didn't even have to knead the dough. I just mixed it in the mixer, set it to rise, then baked it. Simple. So I'm definitely going to do my best to keep the starter alive and really try to get the hang of this. I love the idea of not having to buy commercial yeast to bake bread, and having to use the starter will serve as good motivation to keep baking.