Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bread thoughts.

Is everyone recovering from the Halloween festivities of last night?  I seem to greet each November first with relief and a sharp intake of air, thankful it is clean and new.  We are now fast approaching mine and Onnie's favorite holiday of the year- Thanksgiving.

But first

A few thoughts I had yesterday as I was making baking bread.

Many of you know I have been baking our bread for a while now.  In Ron's and my mission to rid our home of GMOs, processed foods, and toxic chemicals, making sandwich bread at home seemed an economical and easy place to start.  Some of my friends graciously shared recipes and tips with me as I began this process, and I am so very grateful for the support and practical resources.

I am proud to say we have not purchased a loaf of bread from a store in over two months. (Well, except for that one round of sourdough to go with homemade corn chowder, as we celebrated my job...special occasion.)

But I have a confession to make's probably gonna make moot all those domestically blithe facebook posts I like to put up about my newly acquired bread making skills...

I don't really enjoy making bread.

There it is.  Shame, folks.  Shame.

Wait, let me explain.

I make bread the old-fashioned measuring, mixing and kneading by hand, forming loaves, and baking in the oven.  I do not own a food processor, bread machine, or one of those lovely KitchenAid stand mixers.  Sure, I could be more old fashioned with this bread process...sprouting and milling grains, culturing yeast and baking over a fire.  I actually hope to acquire those skills one day.  It could be a lot tougher than it currently is.

But it's still a lot of time and effort.

Honest- I psyche myself up each week before I begin..."Look what I'm doing, I'm making homemade bread for my family!  It's gonna be peaceful and cozy, and the smells filling our home are going to be heavenly!"  The inner pep talk works enough to get me to pull out bowls and measuring cups.  By the way, it takes almost every bowl in our home to make bread each week, as I make four loaves at a time. More on that in a minute.

So I make it into the kitchen and pull out the supplies.

I always attempt to have adequate time set aside for the making and baking.  However, I  underestimate how long this process actually takes.  I know how long it should take, around three hours.  It usually takes four.   

I measure and mix, fretting over minor details, like how the active yeast never bubbles the way the recipe describes.  And the fact I never add the amount of flour called for, as the dough is already too dry with the starting amount.  Weekly, I wonder if my bread is actually going to turn out like...well, bread...or if it's gonna be an inedible mess.  Fret worry.

I let the dough rest after mixing.  Experts say bread turns out much better if given time to rest along the way.  Hmm.

Then...the dreaded kneading.  Ooaf.  My arms are tired just thinking about it.

I make four loaves of bread each week, divided into two batches of dough requiring kneading for 10-12 minutes each.  So I knead for a minimum of twenty minutes.

The first two minutes are tough.  Then I settle into a routine and my arms still feel strong.  However, the last minute of the first batch is murder.  Knowing I have to do it all over again for the second batch of dough is mentally exhausting.

But then a strange thing happens.

The second batch isn't's kind of peaceful.  Sure, my arms are tired.  But I've resigned myself to the job by this point, and the rhythm of "push out with palms, turn and fold, and push out with palms again" is soothing.  Purposeful.  I begin smiling again.

Spray the bowls for rising- never metal for rising, although I still have no idea why- plop the round dough balls in, and let science happen.  I get a break for an hour.

Doubled-in-size dough in bowls gets punched down, kneaded twice, flattened into a rectangle, and folded folded folded into acceptable sandwich loaves.  Well, I try.  My loaves always turn out strange shaped at this point.  Good thing they rise again for a half hour in the loaf pans before being pushed into the oven.

Spray pans, dump in weird-shaped loaves...preheat oven...

And the rest is cake.  Bread.  You know what I mean.

Every week my bread turns out well.  It does now, anyway.  The first few weeks of experimenting were not as successful.  But my girls adore it, and Onnie proclaims loudly and often that my bread is so much better than store-bought.  I am pretty sure Ron likes it too.

Yes, there is a broader point to all this bread making baking complaining 101.  I love analogies, don't you?

I had the thought yesterday that the bread making process is much like many other processes in life...the tall mountains we face which require climbing.

We dread, but psyche ourselves up...we can do this!  The end result is gonna be incredible!

We show up, gather our supplies, and begin to work.  This isn't so bad.

But still, we fret.  Are we doing this correctly?  What if we are spending all this time and effort and our results are worthless in the end?  Still, we plod on.

We rest.  Experts say we will be more successful in the end if we rest along the way. Hmm.

Then we hit the dreadful middle.  We begin to lose strength...we are tired.  There is so much more to will we ever do this? 

Something strange occurs.  Just when we feel we can't move another step, peace begins to settle into our hearts.  Sure, we are still tired.  But our purpose comes back and there is joy again in the hard work.

There is joy in hard work, yes?

We let the processes of our hard  We get a short break to attend to other things.

A little more attention to our climb...finishing out the processes...and then we wait to see what our hard work and persistence have created.

Hint:  they always create something beautiful and worthwhile.  It's the process which sharpens and shapes us, not the end result.

There is victory beauty and great accomplishment.  For a moment.  It doesn't last.

We must begin anew. And again and over. This is life.

Speaking of mountains to climb... 

Beginning today, I am tackling one of the toughest processes in writing to date-  I am taking part in NaNoWriMo...National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write 50,000 words, in novel form, during the month of November.  I am a strange mix of excited scared full of dread.  I'm not even prepared with a plot or outline.  But I'm doing it anyway.

I feel called.  By God and by my purpose as a writer.

I'm not gonna cheat the process anymore, nor the beauty that the hard work accomplishes in me.

Tackle something impossible today...begin the process.  This is life.

This was a long one, thanks for hanging in there.