Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Better Than ...

Damn.

Is there anything better than a warm piece of bread and butter?

Sex?, you say. No, I've had some pretty mediocre sex.

Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but some days, I am a frickin' genius is the kitchen.

Have you ever read "Like Water for Chocolate" (or seen the movie)? I believe there's truth in Laura Esquivel's words, that your emotions go into your food. Not to the extreme, like in her story, but if I'm upset - sad or angry - my food suffers for it. Cooking may be good therapy for some people, but for me, I have to be in tune with my food, and distractions are just that.

So today, wind howling, powdered-sugar snow snowing, I made bread. My Aunt Anne taught me how to make it when I was 8. And I was on the hook to make it whenever it was called for, from then on. Of course, those were the days before my mom owned a KitchenAid, and mixing bread dough with a wooden spoon is next to impossible, even for a grown-up, but especially for an 8-year-old, so mom did a fair amount of the mixing in those days.

I love making bread. It's alchemy. A few simple ingredients, some love, and some time create these spectacular loaves. I love the demands that come with baking bread: You must take your time. If you add the yeast before the liquid has cooled, it's over. No point in going on. Likewise, rising bread takes its time. You can use quick-rise yeast. You can raise it in a warm place, but it will be ready when it's ready. All you can do is wait.

You must be engaged with what you're doing, fully present. There's a communion that happens with bread, a tactile experience, the finer points of which you learn with time. Even with my mixer, I turn the dough out and finish kneading it by hand. It's the only way to know when it's ready.

I'm heartened that the bread-machine craze has waned. What's the point? If you can't be bothered to make bread, don't make bread. If you want the smell of fresh bread baking in the house, you can buy a frozen, unbaked loaf and stick it in the oven.

Baking bread isn't the challenge everyone seems to think it is. So long as you don't kill the yeast and add too much flour, it's pretty hard to screw it up. Your first loaf might not make the cover of a magazine, but it doesn't have to look good to taste fabulous. Try it. You'll see what I mean.

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