I’d like to think I’ve had a handful of accomplishments in my life and hold a few talents as well. But the thing I can do that gives me the most pleasure lately is my breadmaking. Today I find myself tempted to feel pride in my bagels – a history with not a single one collapsing during boiling, all of them turning out taste- if not picture-perfect. Then I quickly spin around three times and spit on the floor, not wanting to upset the capricious devil-gods of bagel cookery, so quick to jealously smite my next efforts in retaliation for baker’s hubris.
I view my breadmaking not as a talent – because really, I’m a beginner – but an accomplishment. First of all, it’s a frugal way* to add heart to a meal otherwise made from soaking dried beans and pulling tomato sauce out of the freezer and carefully frying a portion of squash. A platter of soft, fragrant pita completely, and I do mean completely, makes up for the fact I’m not serving red meat, chicken, or a rich lasagna (cost: five thousand dollars, with the cheeses needed). This is me: if I’m forced to be frugal on Ralph’s cash grocery allowance I will find a way it satisfies me.
I also like breadmaking because it’s the closest I get to meditating, praying, or relaxing. Most breads you have to knead (sometimes for many minutes), shape, and wait while the bread takes form. It’s something that checks me back into my kitchen and my home. It fits into a busy schedule at the same time – a bread that needs to rise can be slowed in the refrigerator or sped up (within reason) by a pan of steaming water. There’s plenty of time to run to get a kid at school or do the dishes and wipe the table and sit for a cup of fragrant tea in a sunny kitchen.
I like making bread because my children are learning not only how (something I missed out on as a child) but are also quite good at and help me with all parts of the process. They see their food created, not under plastic in the harsh lights of the supermarket. There is no better fragerance in a home than the yeasty warmth of fresh bread – unless it’s sauteed onions or garlic.
And finally, I take pleasure in the fact that so many people love homemade bread, or at least the breads I make. Last night’s dinner company, and my own family as wel, sung praises over the simple homemade pizza (with my own sauce and dough recipes) which was easy to make, economical, and nourishing. Last Thursday with basket on arm I parsed out slices of a chocolate rye coffee cake to those stuck in cubicles and offices and indoors. I’d like to make bread every day. Thomas Fuller said “Eaten bread is forgotten” but I think instead it builds a legacy of care, of frugality and lushness, of a joie de vivre.
* I buy my flour at 1/2 the price found at the supermarket and my yeast at 1/10th the price of the bulk jars at the same; this reduces my bread cost to a fraction of a storebought loaf.