I have taken this time of isolation as a chance to revive an old practice: breadmaking. My oldest child (who is an impossible 41 years old) was in kindergarten before he knew that bread could come from the grocery store. Back then my best friend (also next door neighbor) and I had a system whereby we each made 3 loaves of bread 1/week, kept 2 and gave the other family 1. So, fresh bread on Wednesdays and Saturdays were the norm. This of course was white or multigrain, yeast bread. Right from the Tassajara Bread book.
Back in the winter, I who for years have not really eaten bread, developed a hankering for real, sour sourdough bread. Like San Francisco sourdough. I couldn’t find any in the local stores. So, just before this virus stuff got really going, I researched making your own starter, making sourdough bread, etc. I even went back to try to remember the intricacies of making just yeast bread.
Bread making is an art. There is science involved in making the art happen as well. But, I had not exercised my art in way too long so the practice was less than perfect. The first couple of attempts were less than satisfactory. Way less. The first no knead artisan loaf (yeast added, not sourdough) was less than stellar. Edible, but not really enjoyable.
I found a great video on Youtube titled 15 Mistakes Most Beginner Sourdough Makers Make. Listening (studying?) and trying out his suggestions has made all the difference in the world. Things I learned:
it takes time — lots of time… like 10-12 hours of the process is resting, rising, fermenting
this dough is softer and wetter that the stuff I was used to making
despite the time, it is a gentle process which can vary from experience to experience
I’m not in control but I must listen and watch and go with the flow
yes you have to discard starter when it gets fed, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. There are many wonderful things that can be made with sourdough discard (like crumpets)
It must be the Spirit at work. I started this before I knew anybody else would be making bread. Now I read that this seems to be a “thing” during quarantine. Must be because sometimes I can get flour, and sometimes not and sometimes those of us in town that make bread share the location where supplies can be acquired. The Spirit seems to be drawing us into this time of meditation and contemplation as we are given time for doing so. Time to let the yeast (wild caught or bought) do its job and make the bread work. Time perhaps to knead bread or stretch and fold the dough to further the mixing and give the dough shape and structure and the ability to hold a bit of a shape.
I feel Part 2 in the making. But, until then, here are a couple of Sourdough Breadmaking links for you to ponder:
Today’s thought is brief, but incredibly deep and penetrating: Leave God for God.
Let go of the the God I know, in order to know the God that is. If I can comprehend God, that’s not the full picture. It’s all so overwhelming. It makes me understand the “fear of the Lord” — not quaking fear of being punished, but awe of something, someone who is so far beyond knowing. Everytime I reach a place where I explain God, I come another edge of realization that I don’t know anything at all.
On a more concrete level, leaving God for God is something that Vincent [de Paul] seemed to understand. Leave church to serve and be church. That’s not to skip out all the time, but to realize that one must reach out and be church, and serve those around us. Sitting in church, going to mass, singing, etc can certainly act to ground us but then we must be moved to action or we’ve missed the point. Leave church and take care of the sick/poor/hurting/broken. Then return to give thanks. “Eucharist”, as I understand it means “thanksgiving.” Difficult to remember at times.
Yesterday I went off on a bender. It started with a thorough scrubbing of the kitchen sink which is now, once again, shiny and white. Then, it turned to the bathroom. I found myself a driven woman, sitting on the bathroom floor with Softscrub, a cloth and a scrub brush, shining up the baseboards – bleaching them out and scrubbing the baseboards and the tile floor. Shiny! White! Clean!
Why does this feel so good? I’ve been pondering that. It seems in part a bit like reconciliation. OK – so that’s weird, I know. But, I have looked at that sink and those baseboards and been bothered by them – just not bothered enough to do something about it. Kind of like those little things that separate me from God — not great, honking, MOTRTAL SINS, but little things that get in the way of a more open relationship. So, yesterday, I addressed the issues. I got out the scrub brush and the elbow grease and I looked the problem in the eye and said to myself “The fix won’t be perfect, but it will be attempted.” I did my part. I quit running from the problem.
I’m not sure that is the whole story. I read about how Contemplatives (monks, etc) engage in physical labor – active contemplation. That seems to be a part of the whole “clean it up” issue. We are both physical and spiritual creatures. All action can be seen as a prayer. That action might be genuflecting in church, making the sign of the cross or making lunch for a 3 year old or an 80 year old. That action might be a dance class or sweeping the floor or singing (to sing is to pray twice, you know.) The physical effort that went into making these parts of my house shiny and white was a form of prayer, I think. I lost myself in the Now. I existed in the moment. And, that seems to be a element of prayer for me.