portrait of the author as a young baker

March 12, 2011

portrait of the author as a young baker

i’ve been baking bread for six years, and it still challenges and inspires me almost every time. working with the dough is stimulating in a way that little else in my adult life is, in that lovely way that mud, clay, and salt dough (or playdough, if you must;)  enliven your childhood (and, if you are lucky, your adulthood) senses. the advance planning required to make delicious, whole-grain, naturally leavened bread is a great organizational challenge, and mixing and measuring is never rote recipe following:  baking is a real chance to listen to my intuition and create (homely, wholesome, consumable, never-perfect, folksy) art.

i learned to bake bread from a friend who is a professional baker here in Portland (Morgan of the delectable Dovetail Bakery). she was at my apartment in Palo Alto with her sister (my long-time best friend McKay of cute and beautiful craft-makers sour grass) visiting my son, my then-partner, and i, and asked if i wanted to learn to bake bread. i was nervous but excited, having recently been re-infected with the DIY bug (i had started making ‘zines for the first time since i was 17 and gotten curious about pickles and cob and such wonders of humanity-partnered-with-our-world).

she and McKay were very gentle and i felt confident enough to go on experimenting after making my first loaf!

the only problem was that i was (and remain) horrified by the wastefulness represented by regular consumption of refined grains (i’m not into throwing away necessary, useful parts of things on a regular basis, although i see a place for white flour in the world of desserts and feast days;).

i had been cooking delicious, healthy vegetarian meals from the book Laurel’s Kitchen for a few years (brief aside: this book is worth finding for the beautiful woodcuts by Laurel and the ruminations on the running of a joyous, life-affirming household alone), and i discovered that the authors had also written a book exclusively about whole-grain breadmaking: Laurel’s Bread Book. And it wasn’t about the kind of “whole-grain” breads other cookbooks touted (half whole-grain flour, half refined flour), it was about 100% whole-grain bread, tested on many a family member or friend and found to be tasty.

i dove in head first and i haven’t been seen since…

well, not quite. i haven’t baked as much since becoming a single mother a few years ago. the peak of my baking was when my family was celebrating Shabbat every Friday evening (my former partner is Jewish). every single week my son and i would bake challah on Thursday in addition to doing 100% of the other baking for the household, including for a few months grinding all our grains at home in our tabletop, human-powered grain mill (my son especially enjoyed rolling oats (rolling oats takes a lot less strength and stamina than making flour)).

my son called us “the baker team.” it was lovely to have such a productive, satisfying task to share several times a week, and then to share the fruit of our labor with each other and his baby brother and so many friends and family.

i want to reintegrate that into our lives. i look forward to baking and eating with as many of you whose paths might cross mine.

2 Responses to “portrait of the author as a young baker”

  1. Tracie said

    OK, time to bake some bread. My mom made all our bread growing up. I haven’t made any in ages. My kids get a kick out of yeast.
    thanks for the story.

  2. jess s said

    my library has laurel’s bread book, so i am going to check it out and give it a go. thanks for the recommendation, as i am similarly disappointed in the 1/2 and 1/2 recipes i find elsewhere. what kind of grain grinding device did/do you have?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: