So, the starter behaved itself. I looked at it a couple times, and it looked back like it wanted to kill me. Then I stirred it once and it seemed a little less hostile. By the time the Cat Daddy returned from alert yesterday, it was bubbly and gooey, and smelled like alcohol (the drinking kind). According to Alton Brown (who invented pretty much every recipe I make that is worth eating), this means that it was a rip-roaring success.
The next step will be actually baking a loaf of bread. I'm just learning about breadmaking and starters, but to me this is where it gets interesting. If we succeed in baking a loaf of bread, and if we decide that it's good enough that we would want to eat more just like it, we can maintain the starter indefinitely by feeding it every time we bake a loaf. People have maintained starters for generations, passing them down to family members like treasured heirlooms.
Basically the starter would take up permanent residence in the fridge. The cold makes the yeasties go dormant so it more or less hibernates until we warm it up again. I have a few semi-permanent tenants in there at any given time (baking soda, maraschino cherries), but it boggles my mind to think of maintaining a starter for the long haul.
Ooh, and if we get really brave we can do a wild culture starter. Instead of using store-bought yeast, you let it accumulate the bugs from the air (there is a certain amount of yeast in the air at any given time). It can get a bit dicey, as that means that bad & nasty bugs can also make their way in, and then you have to toss the starter & try again, but because different places have different yeast make-ups, the taste of the bread made with that starter will be unique to where you live. This is why true San Francisco sourdough can't be replicated exactly anywhere else. Weird.
So anyway, the starter now lives in the fridge, at least until we can test it out and see if we want to keep it. Now we just have to figure out a permanent container; I want my cobalt Pyrex back...