Now that we’re cruising on the sailboat full-time, I’ve been baking bread from scratch. It’s teaching me about what I really knead. (I crack myself up!)
I love bread, freshly piping hot loaves that melt butter smothered over its sides cut with a special serrated knife. It’s a bummer when I feel the need to diet, because I have to cut back or, more precisely, feel bad when I do partake. I’m definitely not gluten intolerant, and I feel bad for those who are. Because bread is so yummy.
I did not grow up on fresh bread. My mom bought pre-sliced wheat bread from the grocery store, because that’s what my dad liked to make the sandwiches he packed for lunches every day. My dad remains a soup-and-sandwich lunch man. But canned soups and sammies with that preserved bread from who knows what kitchen.
On special occasions, however, we might go to a restaurant – and that’s where I first learned the magic of hot, delicious bread. Not that I was ever really gluttonous and ruined my main meal, although I sure know a lot of people who do. Isn’t bread supposed to be addictive? I think I remember flour and sugar being food “triggers” for some people, so they’ll eat a little and then, oh boy, it’s all over.
No, I have a healthy relationship with bread, thank you. But we are totally going out and IF I LIKE IT SO MUCH THEN WHY DON’T I MARRY IT!? Yo that loafer ain’t puttin’ a ring on this finger, what with seed-laced crackers out there.
Regardless, I’m baking bread now, and it’s really a great learning experience. I used to own a bread making machine – I think it was a hand-me-down from my mom? It was either
free or cheap, that I know. I baked with that all the time, but it’s a totally difference thing from baking yeasted bread. My friend Virginia perfected baking homemade bread, but she keeps the secret close to her heart. Despite my best attempts!
And frankly I never baked bread before because who has that kind of time? Doesn’t that sound like the fantasy activity that Martha Stewart and 1950’s stay-at-home moms do? My mom worked; she didn’t have time to bake bread! It’s the modern American way to just go to the store, damn it, and buy a loaf. It’s also the French way. Mais oui!
It’s not exactly the third-world way. We are cruising in the Bahamas, which is an archipelago of islands, some more inhabited than others. This country is actually known for its super-awesome breads (and conch!), so when we first got here we bought some. They’re $5 a loaf, and the bread has been light and fluffy. An absolute treat, but a little out of the price range when homemade bread is nearly as good and pennies on the dollar.
But it hasn’t been easy to replicate the amazing quality of Bahamian bread, especially for someone who really just started working to master this skill. Malcolm Gladwell says one must put 10,000 hours of practice into a skill before mastering it; I’m maybe 50 hours so far in lifetime, so I’m in the rapid learning phase.
Using a recipe from the Island Forklore Cookbook, I cut the shortening in by “worrying” it with my fingers until it “looks like rice.” At first that really didn’t make any sense, because you don’t really use THAT much. … But with time I am actually trying to channel a worrying breadmaker. Except that I’m not a big worried. Worst case scenario if the bread fails is I spend $5 on better bread. No worries, mon.
I once used the phrase “get stressed out” to my nephew, and he asked me what stress was. May you never know, nephew! At what point did we take on stress and worry? How far in the 10,000 hours toward mastering am I? Hopefully not too far.
Kneading the bread is another skill in baking bread. At first I thought the purpose of kneading was to work the air out, but it’s totally not. It’s to work the dough and stretch it to the point of providing its potential. The more the dough is worked, you can see it slightly ripping apart and then put back together until it becomes smooth. That stretch and imagined space is what allows the bread to rise and become light and fluffy.
Imagine this process as your life: It rips apart and then it comes back together, and then with time, you start to develop extra space in your life to bring new potential in. If you don’t get worked a little bit in life, you aren’t going to grow very much. And isn’t that when you are most proud of yourself, when you stretch to a new level that you weren’t sure you could reach?
I had a dream the other night (I dream vividly on the boat, it is so great) that I was on a set of gymnast’s rings. Not the kind even rings where you balance and flip, but more like a rope of rings. I took a little gymnastics when I was a kid, and I was never good at either climbing the rope or balancing on the rings. But in my dream, I killed it! I was climbing up using the rings, and then the last one was really far out of reach. Could I do it? I knew I could reach it, and I did! And everyone was stoked! Yewww!
Now back to bread: I’m learning about myself as well as learning how to make a great loaf. It is a good thing to be kneaded! It’s the first step to growth, provided you have a good catalyst (the yeast) in your life that encourages and facilitates growth. What in your life is that catalyst? Are you providing the challenge (the kneading) you need to expand your horizons?
Time is the final factor. The dough needs to rise and rest before it is baked. I always had trouble giving myself the time that was necessary for the transformation into a fully
developed next phase. The ole metamorphosis! Did you know butterflies have imaginal cells? These unique cells allow big change. It’s almost like kneading magically changes the yeast into imaginal cells in bread to turn from dough to delicious.
Of course I believe humans have imaginal cells as well. We have the ability to grow, change, transform and realize our dreams, but we must put in the effort (I work up a sweat sometimes when kneading!) and we must put in the time for rest and reflection. That’s really all you knead to be your highest, best self!