Monday, January 17, 2011

Baking Bread: a return to the calm

I've started baking bread again. You might think "oh, that's nice" or "big woop." But for me this is a loaded statement and has less to do with the actual food and more to do with the my current state of being. You see, I go through phases of bread feast and bread famine, phases which correspond to my inner sense of chaos.

Bread baking for me began during my last semester of college. For the first time I was working full-time but only taking a partial load at school - I only had one measly online course before graduating. I wasn't used to the extra time I was enjoying. Suddenly the house was cleaner, I was complaining less and smiling more. And I began to bake bread. I had asked for - and received - a copy of Peter Reinhardt's 'The Bread Baker's Apprentice' that year for Christmas.

The recipes were complex; one had to read the entire introduction and gain a good understanding of the chemistry involved before attempting any recipes. I read the introduction three times. Most of the breads required multiple steps with "soakers" or "bigas" prepared the night before. Step by step techniques were given on how to properly knead the dough and form a loaf. I ground my own wheat. I went to specialty shops for hard to find ingredients. I bought an extra dough hook for my mixer.

I baked at least 2-3 loaves a week: whole wheat, buttermilk white, multigrain, and Leonard's favorite, marbled rye. To me the process was as lovely as the outcome - mise en place with weighed ingredients divided among cups before being added to the mixer. The leisurely enjoyment of kneading dough while daydreaming. Flour smudged on my apron. Watching the bread rise above the rim of the bowls, and later, the pans. The smell of baking bread. A thick warm slice dripping in butter and honey.

And then Leonard and I went to PA school. Chaos returned, multiplied beyond anything I'd ever experienced. 8 hours a day in class followed by study sessions until bedtime, awaken, repeat. Test anxiety on an almost daily basis. Weekends spent cramming with classmates and trying to reduce my sleep deficit. Two years without baking a single loaf.

Then work began, less stressful but still busy - double and triple checking treatment plans. Always behind on my charts. The transition to a new home, a new life, a new baby. Until now. The newness of those changes has worn off, juggling two days of work a week and baby is doable, and every now and then I find myself with a bit of time on my hands. And so the bread baking began, but with a few changes thanks to a miniature human who allows my hands only brief moments sans rattle or superman maneuvers. Instead of complicated two day loaves I've transitioned to a whole wheat recipe that mixes in 7 minutes and requires only one rise. But the outcome is the same - the satisfaction of weekly delicious healthy loaves for my family to enjoy.

I wish I was the type of person who didn't need a calm environment in order to produce my bread, but I'm not - maybe one day. For now though, if there is fresh homemade bread on my counter, you can bet I'm breathing easy and walking unhurried.

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