The Mysteries of Bread

Photo by  Austin Ban  on  Unsplash

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

What do the following have in common?
Chicken_Veggie Stock, 
Eye makeup remover, 
Laundry Soap, 

Any guesses? It is tricky because we all know that Deodorant and Salsa have MUCH in common.  

This is a list of items that I no longer buy instead I make them myself.  

Most are pretty easy and take little time.  For example, the deodorant takes maybe 10 minutes to measure and mix together, and my first batch still works and has lasted for more than a year now.

Laundry Soap takes about 30 minutes of active prep once every 3ish weeks.

Salsa is fun because I can vary the ingredients, which are thrown into the food processor and then kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.  

I do this for a variety of reasons.  Most often these items are healthier when I make them and cost less than if I were to purchase from any grocery store from King Soopers to Whole Foods.  It is often better for the environment as well when I do this.  I create less waste and in general feel like it is a good use of my time and energy to make these items.  

All except for the last item on the list.  


Ah, remember Bread?

I do make my own bread but not exclusively. I'm not an exclusive bread maker mostly because a lot of my bread-making at this present moment where I am using a fermented starter is failing.  

We don’t eat a lot of bread.  But we often have one loaf for toast in the morning or the sandwich in a lunch box.  Liora Day, my youngest daughter, loves toast for breakfast.  Always spread with some melted butter.  There was a phase where she would wake up and ask for “hot buttered toast” because we were reading a series of books where the hero - a lovely pig named Mercy Watson, the author, Kate Di Camillo - loves herself some hot buttered toast.  

I want to be the kind of person who bakes.  For totally selfish reasons.  I want the glory that comes from presenting the glorious cream puffs for dessert or the perfect scone for breakfast. There is something so satisfying about pleasing people gathered around a table.  I do want more than glory.  I want the knowledge.   I love the Great British Baking Show, and I wish I had the wisdom of the judges, Paul and Mary, who understand at a glance whose sponge was over-proved or under-baked.  

I am not naturally a baker.  I can cook.  But, Cooking is different.  Cooking has more generosity and mercy than Baking.  Make the tiniest mistake with Baking, and she tosses her scarf across her shoulder and haughtily puts on her dark sunglasses as she stalks away across the room leaving you with another loaf to add to the compost pile (at least I’m feeding the hummus and squirrels).

Baking requires patience.  Diligence.  A careful hand.  It needs you to learn about her.  You must work with her and learn the feel of the dough you must work with her so often that you understand just when she needs that extra knead or how to make her beautiful with one more twist of your fingers.  

I want to be an artist and scientist and creator in this way.  

I watch the baking shows.  I check out books from the library.  I talk to friends.  I try using their starters.  I eat their fresh bread.  
I have even preached about bread!! 

It is a fascinating creature.  

And I’m failing with her.  Yes, lots of fails.  
Which means I am doing a lot of trying.  
Again and again.  
I’m taking the temperature of my water.  I’m experimenting with different grains, and I’m trying separate containers.  I’m reading blogs and asking friends for the starter recipes and comparing notes.  

And this failure takes time.  I hope for 5-7 days for the starter to foam and rise, and when it doesn’t, I feel frustrated, wasteful with flour and water, and sad that I have to buy another loaf from the store instead of providing one of my own.  

I was going to stop.  I told myself it was a bad choice to waste the flour and water I was using trying to build up my starter.  And then Paul said something - he is like, always talking - and I can’t even remember exactly what he said.  Probably some crap about failure meaning I was learning more and getting better questions to ask.  Something super crappy like that.  And inside my brain, I knew I couldn’t quit.  I know I needed to keep failing for myself as a practice.  (Side note: another topic is the truth that exists at the same time of knowing when to quit and walk away as the healthiest choice one can make)

It is actually so important that in all this failing that I’m doing (and incidentally whether one quits or stays) that I remember to ask questions.  Any question.  All the questions.  

This is the key.  The asking-questions-part of failure.  It has the power to change everything - maybe not even the bread but it will change me.  And I will grow even if my dough doesn’t rise.  I will learn even if the loaf is as solid is dough can get.  I will then have the opportunity to change the way I think about trying, failing, learning and how I navigate the doorways between those spaces.

So, I ask myself, do I still wish to learn how to make a starter?
Do I wish to push myself at least one more time to see what more I can accomplish?
Do I want to change the way I view failure?
Yes, yes, yes.                                  

So, when I get back into town from a quick weekend away, I will once again be applying myself to the fermentation of flour and water in the hopes that bread will stay on the list of things I make myself.  

Which will mean then I will have one more question: 

What do I try next?