a day like today.
A day like today. Barely a month after the attacks in Paris, nine days after the tragedy in San Bernardino, and losing another friend to cancer, the morning is frosty, the sky a hazy pewter gray, the fog hanging low and clinging to the bare branches of the trees. It's December tenth and the sky outside my window is just lighting up to be a wildfire. The streets are warming up for the day, and my furnace hasn't kicked on once all night.
Nothing feels quite right, and I'm okay with that.
I hear people talking about slowing down to enjoy the season and honestly, I don't understand what that means. Life doesn't slow down for anything, and I'm not sure it's supposed to. I'm baking my cookies and wrapping gifts, I started my own mini food pantry at the dialysis center and doing all of those things because I want to and I can, but arriving at a place where I avoid interruption or inconvenience because I'm trying so hard to savor Christmas is not the way I roll.
So, my heart this morning is heavy.
I buy gifts for "the needy", pass out free meals, donate clothing, write the check for St Judes, but am I resisting opening my door to the heaviness of fractured lives.
Am I really listening?
I can hear the hearts breaking all over the world while I stand in my Holiday clothes and sing carols, swearing Christmas makes my weary heart rejoice, failing to acknowledge that I am not the weariest? I hate the thought of that. I wish it away. pretend there is peace on earth
I am still laid low by something flulike, the bug that has been dancing back and forth amongst us for the past month. But I have decided to shake it off, because I know that when I am laid low, the best way to overcome whatever is clinging to my body and my soul can only be shaken off by movement, work, and activity.
The problem with the Christmas season is, there's this amped-up expectation to be merry, automatically. The radio croons that from now on, our troubles will be far away. But they aren't. They're in our living rooms and down the street and knocking around in empty bank accounts and broken hearts.
I used to hear that the holidays are a struggle for the hurting, but it was just another one of those things that seemed oddly fictional to me - I knew it happened sometimes, somewhere. But it never got close enough to home. It didn't belong to me.
I get it now. I'm feeling those contact burns again, maybe more than ever. Snuggle up to the pain of other people and you can't help but walk away singed.
But today… a day like today, is the kind of day one must bake bread. The pure act of blending, kneading, shaping, baking bread is therapeutic and soothing. The pure act of making loaves of bread takes time and concentration, it allows my mind to wander while focusing my physical body and soul on the careful, purposeful measuring and weighing of ingredients, the rhythmic movement of kneading, the sensual delight of shaping the dough. The magic of watching it rise. The pleasure of the finished loaf.
Baking bread is a lot like relationships. It starts from nothing, a blend of a few simple, basic ingredients and love. It is a gentle balance of coddling and kneading, tender pressure mixed with a little force and elbow grease. Press and fold, push and pull as I whisper encouragement, brush the sweat from my brow and try and get the perfect texture, faultless, beyond compare. I do my best to mold it into the desired shape and yet accept its imperfections, patching up its bumps and imperceptibly, gingerly pushing it back as best I can. Then I cover it loosely, just enough to protect it but not so much as to smother it, hinder its growth, then step back, breathe and wait. Wait. Impatiently even as I am oh-so tempted to help it along, knowing that my help just won’t make it go any faster or change the outcome. I watch. Anxiously. Praying that it goes as planned though knowing now that I have done my job, all that I can do, and now can only watch and wait.
I am at once powerless and all-powerful, having followed my own urges and made the decision to create something of beauty, something to please others while really only trying to please myself, yet I can only do what is in my power to do for only so long and then what happens happens. I pray that inside my relationships are soft and tender, fragrant and sweet. I hope that outside they are tough enough to hold up to heat and pressure, protect the delicate goodness inside, crusty, golden, delectable. I would like what I have created to be distinctive, enticing, delightful and, yes, palatable. I take that basic recipe and throw in my own personal mix of pizzazz: nuts, earthy, wholesome and toothsome; chocolate chips or fruit, sweetness oh-so sweet; cheese or meat, smoky, powerful, spicy or subtle yet intriguing. And I serve it up, send it out of the kitchen and into the world to be tasted, and wait, wait some more, for smiles to appear all around, on a day like today.
Yield: 2 loaves
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
The mix of flours and light touch of butter and honey give this bread a tender crumb rare among whole wheat breads. Even better: instead of drying out overnight in the way of so many homemade loaves, it holds this supple softness for three days, maybe more (no loaf has made it to day four yet, to test). My KitchenAid is my accomplice in all things kneaded; wiser bakers will need to be consulted for instructions in pummeling a yeast dough into submission without it.
4 cups whole wheat/whole grain flour (I use a mix of whole wheat and oat flour)
3 cups white flour, unbleached
1 shy Tbs. Salt
1 Tbs. Yeast
1/4-1/2 cup Honey, to taste
4 Tbs. Butter, softened
2 ½ cups whole milk, warmed
plus extra butter for greasing bowls and pans
1. Proof yeast in ½ cup warm water, about 10 minutes, in bottom of mixing bowl. When foamy, loosely mix in remaining ingredients with wooden spoon, just to roughly combine.
2. Attach dough hook, and knead dough on medium speed for 5-8 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
3. Grease a large bowl with butter. Scrape dough from bowl, shape into ball, place in bowl, cover with clean dishcloth, and let rise in warmish spot for at least 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Overnight works quite nicely.
4. Deflate dough, shape again into a ball, and let rise 15 minutes, covered. While rising, butter your two loaf pans.
5. Shape dough: The idea here is to make a rectangle of your dough, then fold both long sides toward the middle, business-letter fashion, and place in the pan seam-side down. Traditionally, you would flour a surface, then press it into the aforementioned shapes and folds. Repeat to form second loaf.
6. Cover and let rise, in loaf pan, 1 hour. Fire up your oven to 350° toward the end of this hour.
7. Bake at 350° for approximately 45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.
8. Try to wait at least 12 seconds before slicing it open and slathering it with butter. Experts recommend waiting one hour. Good luck with that.