Wednesday, May 26, 2010

our daily bread

Idea to reality, the whole thing took 15 minutes. I paid a negligible $2.99.

And dinner was served.

But something was missing. Or maybe, I was missing something – wishing for it.

Usually, I bake bread on Mondays – a favorite recipe called Featherpuff Bread that includes whole wheat flour, milk, eggs, and cottage cheese. It's an exceptionally light and high loaf that contains a lot of protein for my carb-loving kids.

But this week, heat and humidity pressed upon us, making us feel like we had been transported from late May to mid-August. We don't have an outdoor brick oven [but I'm dreaming…], so I cancelled Baking Day and tried to think of something other than our usual Monday Sandwich Day for dinner. Nothing inspired me. So I reluctantly headed to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread.

It was the fresh baked, pre-sliced variety from the store's bakery. The slices were crusty and studded with nuts. The packaged bragged: No Preservatives! All natural! Still, I was skeptical.

But it tasted pretty good. And the kids actually ate it.

So why bake bread? It's unarguably easier to buy and probably cheaper, too.

A lot goes into our homemade bread. There are the fresh ingredients, of course, which I'm constantly restocking. And then there's the time – baking bread is a commitment. I like to mix and knead the bread before the kids get up because those are the most demanding steps [20 minutes of vigorous kneading works up quite a sweat]. But kneading in meditative silence is the rare ideal – more often, Ruthie watches from her high chair and the girls twirl around me. They understand [on some days better than others] that when my hands are wrist deep in dough, I'm not able to zip dress-up clothes. [Usually] they're fine with that. And sometimes they like to stand and watch or even help.

The rising and shaping and baking organize the rest of the day, too. We can't hop in the car for any unpremeditated park outings or errand trips – I've got to take care of the dough at very specific time intervals. But the kids are happy to just play in the yard and rarely protest when I leave their games or pause my swing-pushing duties to deflate the dough.

And when the bread is finally in the oven, they always ask for me to turn on the inner light so they can watch the loaves spring. They like to point out which loaf rose higher and they breathe deeply to take in the thick scent of baking bread. As soon as the loaves are on the cooling rack, both kids request samples, though they know they have to wait until it cools or the loaves will squish.

At dinner, they both eat multiple slices [crusts off, please] and the rest goes in the freezer to feed us lunch all the days of the week.

So it's a whole day. And a lot goes into those loaves. But we get a lot out of them, too. More than just caloric sustenance.

It's a process that requires us all to participate. Sure, I'm the one mixing and kneading and tending to the dough, but I need the kids as witnesses. Their interest and observations validate the process. Yes, I love it for my own sake, but I think that when getting our food involves their respect and consideration, they gain more than just full bellies.

Their minds are filled, too: with the understanding that our most basic staple comes from here – not from an anonymous crinkly bag we grabbed last minute from the bakery shelf. Our bread comes from raw ingredients, yes, and it's a product of our time. But I think they see that it's puffed high with more than just air – there's love in there, too.

Yesterday, storms moved through our area, breaking through the humidity and tempering the heat. Today, we're opening up the house. And we're baking bread.