This I Believe

Karen - Joliet, Montana
Entered on January 25, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family

When You Yeast, Respect It


I Always Get What I Knead

My husband always knows.

“Who were you angry with when you made this?” he’ll say, or “What else were you doing at the same time?”

“What’s wrong with it?” I used to ask a little defensively, and he’d reply that there was nothing really wrong with it, but he knew that I wasn’t fully present while making it.

“Bread don’t lie,” he’ll say, and I know that he knows I was in multi-tasking mode when I made it.

I often whine to him that “There’s not enough time,” (“But you have all the time there is,” he’ll calmly tell me), and compensate by doing two or three or four things at once — laundry and ironing in between waiting for a coat of paint to dry and then, somehow, thinking I can squeeze in a batch of bread . Really, it’s not a very wise way to live.

Of course, we live in a culture that encourages us to multi-task, and we’re rewarded in our work life if we’re multi-tasking mavericks. Go ahead – check next Sunday’s help wanted ads and count how many require “an ability to multi-task” as a prerequisite.

So while it might be good for our work life, when multi-tasking becomes our minute-to-minute lifetime habit, we cheat ourselves by not being in the very present, very infinite moment.

So, I believe in bread …..or rather, making bread with my hands, my heart, and my whole being.

Making bread allows me to step off my – admittedly – self-chosen, multi-tasking treadmill. It’s a form of meditation that, in a way, re-unites me with my long-dead grandmother who made the best bread ever. That connection helps me to honor the living presence and holiness that bread dough — and our lives — ought to be.

There’s such magical alchemy to making bread! Take a handful of ordinary ingredients – yeast and water, flour and salt – make the spiritual commitment to be really present, and…… well, magic happens.

My husband does tai chi and tried to teach me once, but it was agonizingly slow. I couldn’t do it. “That’s the whole point,” he said, “to slow down and appreciate each moment and each movement.” I so wanted to hurry it all up, so that I could get on to something else that needed to be done.

I’m finally learning in middle age that sometimes what needs to be done is………nothing! And bread-making, with those periods when gases expand, gluten stretches and other unseen mysteries take place, provides abundant opportunities for doing “nothing” – to place full attention in the moment and be drawn into the cradle and heartbeat motion of kneading back and forth, until the dough has the just-right feel, and it’s time to let more magic materialize in a sunny spot while the dough rises and I settle down with a good book …. or just settle down.

As a child, I asked my grandmother for her bread recipe. This is what she told me. “Well, honey, you take warm water and a cake of yeast, and dissolve them with a little sugar. When it gets all bubbly, you add some warm milk, two pinches of salt, a chunk of lard the size of a walnut, and knead in ‘bout ten hand-fulls of flour ‘til it feels right.”

“What’s ‘feelin’ right” feel like?” I asked Gram.

“Oh, when it gets to feelin’ ‘bout like your earlobe and don’t take up anymore flour. You’ll know,” she said with a knowing smile.

Many, many years later, I do know that feeling and while I bless the many machines that make my life easier – the computer I’m using now, the washer and dryer, and the hot water heater I daily bless – I’ll continue to pursue the mystery and magic of the moment – making bread with my hands, my body, my whole being………..and “listening” for that just-right earlobe feel that Grandma told me about some fifty odd years ago.