I am thinking the core of this disaster is my failure to convert a yeasted challah recipe into a sourdough recipe. I followed two similar recipes and neither went well. I kneaded and kneaded by hand; I added extra flour because the doughs were way too sticky; and yes, I did the math so that the contents of the starter was accounted for in the calculation of the flour and water totals in the dough. This is clearly a voodoo-doll-type of conspiracy by my family members to prevent the replacement of their beloved challah with an identical challah that is made with sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast.
For hundreds of years, at least, challahs were made with starters because no commercial yeast existed. So somewhere in my quest, I am missing a significant piece of information pertaining either to ingredients or to methods - or to both.
Grumble, grumble, grumble - a considering of escalating to an adult equivalent of a toddler's temper tantrum - except that with my adult wisdom I am able to appreciate how unimportant, even to me, is this failure and that, as the granddaughter of someone who survived many baseball seasons of failed World Series, the best lesson is to regroup and try again rather than to throw in the towel and consider this a personal and a permanent failing.
[Off-topic: Maybe, as the granddaughter of a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, that is not exactly the right analogy. I did cry when finally my beloved Brooklyn got a major sports team (the Nets, who play basketball) after many decades and at the exact spot where the Dodgers should have moved - instead of awful suburban, auto-oriented, Los Angeles.]
Screw that ... had a little tantrum a year later
After a year of not making any new breads - the above challah disaster occurred in January 2017 - I am finally getting back into experimentation. This weekend, I made a dough so bad that I threw it in the compost before baking. I was trying to adapt a yeasted rye bread recipe from The Hot Bread Kitchen for a totally naturally leavened rye bread. Really, I wasn't disciplined; I didn't manipulate the dough as needed and then I let it sit far too long for the first rise. Probably did not help that I was trying to do this alone with a broken arm.
My tantrum was not about the abysmal dough, but a whiny complaint that bread books (okay, almost) always only include commercial yeast recipes and no alternatives for breads only made with starters. So there I am making calculations, while trying to enjoy a normal weekend, and knowing that the timing will be completely different.
The key, actually, is to commit to being home and monitoring the dough. And to waiting until the arm is sufficiently healed to knead, stretch and fold, or whatever with two good arms.
Sorry for the long absence
Why the long absence? A mix of a friend's long illness and death, which was very depressing because he and his wife both died young after suffering terribly from cancer in their last months; getting lazy and making only breads I make well and that everyone at home enjoys; and then the, I hope, blip of the broken arm. Need mojo, commitment, and patience, but first to go back and retrace some steps to make doughs that require watchful waiting and better sourdough starter maintenance. Ah yes, got lazy about that as well and now keeping the starters out on the counter and feeding them more often.
Here is a nice post from Mike's Weekly Baking Tips that goes into detail about the tradeoff of convenience versus quality of refrigerating a starter.
Last word/last tantrum: I hate counting that challah attempt because it came out so terribly. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Time to shut up, stop whining and get back to bread.