All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kneaded Stone-ground Whole Wheat Sourdough with 30% Rye

Musical Boredom

The other night my wife and I and a friend from our Yoga class drove to a Kirtan in a nearby city.  A Kirtan like this one is little more than a "Kum-bay-ah" for westerners who like sing-a-longs and chants in Sanskrit.

We sat on little tuffets on the floor.  The Kirtani was a westerner whose wife has opened a very nice Yoga shop; the percussionist was an older gentleman with bongos and some other interesting percussive devices, who had himself never been to a kirtan before.  The pair "onstage" (they were also just sitting on the floor, on a rug) did a reasonable job, and it sounded nice.

The songs are very repetitive and whether one does the chant-response or not, anyone attending is pretty much guaranteed to go into a trance of some sort.  Although I'm not really sure what sort of trance you are supposed to get into, or why you would want a trance, when you sing to Kali or Durga.  (That's not entirely true.  I know of the work of Thomas Ashley-farrand, who left behind some interesting studies of Sanskrit mantras, and gave plausible reasons why one would invoke these frightening female deities.)

I was really bored.  I was reminded of a time when I went to a symphonic performance of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with great hopes, but ended up so uncomfortable I left during the the intermission.  This kirtan made me similarly uncomfortable, and I longed for an intermission so I could slip away.  At one point during the kirtan, I even took out my iPod and read part of a novel, just to get my attention elsewhere.  That was during the single song that the performer had written, putting to music an old Sanskrit poem from the Upanishads.  The music was, to my limited appreciation, extremely jarring.

The fellow playing the guitar and singing said that he used to play guitar, years ago, but set it aside for some 15 years, only picking it up again when his wife opened this yoga studio.  He finds that he can now sit and play endlessly for hours while singing Sanskrit lyrics.

The kirtan performer also talked for a few minutes about how music sets up expectations, and how he purposely tried, at the end of each chant, to not fulfill those expectations (think of the theories of Leonard Meyer and more recently David Huron -- who has written a book on musical anticipation, but has done a lot of interesting work on music and psychology, including memory

David Huron: a Lecture at Rice University
"Exploring the Mind through Music"
-- this video will get into schematic and veridical expectation, for example; it is a long video, but worth it).  So, unexpectedly, the kirtani would end a chant by not returning to the tonic, or fundamental tone of the song he was playing, and leave it hanging on the 5th, or the 4th, or even the 7th (if you know about the circle of fifths, you'll know what I'm talking about here.  If you don't, perhaps watch these YouTube videos about musical expectation [Axis of Awesome and 4 chords] and musical boredom [Rob Pacavonian and Pachelbel's Canon]).  The purpose, I think, was for us to awaken the Nam or the Shabd, or to engage with the silence and allow the music to continue inwardly.  The actual effect was to have the kirtan audience chanters confused and giggling because they finished the song aloud, interrupting the silence.

I think my wife dragged me to the "show" because I too have set aside my guitar for 15-20 years.  I used to write hundreds of songs.  Now I can't stand to even listen to much music.  Once in a while I will be intrigued by the purity of a voice (e.g. Snatum Kaur) ,  or appreciate an interesting harmonic structure.  But mostly, music simply bores me.  These days, if I enter a room and music is playing, I will turn it off or look for ways to leave without offending.  I wonder why that is?  Is it because I prefer the silence?  Or is it because I am significantly lacking in oxytocin?  Maybe I just need a hug.

And I wonder why baking bread, with its endless similarities, and its drudgingly similar methods and ingredients, still fascinates me so much.  Really, there should be nothing more boring than bread.

To everything there is a season, I guess.  Some day, probably, baking bread is going to bore me too.

Details of this Bread

Yesterday's refreshment of the starters: I used only 100g of water and flour for each, so I had a little less than 200g of the whole wheat starter, and I simply added a few Tablespoons of the Tartine starter to it to make up the 200g.  That was the starter for this bread.

I used all the stone-ground whole wheat I had (not my usual Arva whole wheat), somewhere around 700g.  The rest of the dough was made up of rye flour, so I had somewhere around 300g.  The measurements aren't exact, but let's call it a 30% rye just for fun.

Right after adding the salt (2%), and bringing the hydration to 75%, I did not turn this dough but placed it in the refrigerator overnight.  Here it sat for 10 hours.

At this point, I removed it and allowed it to come to room temperature a couple of hours before I touched it.  I did one fold, and then an hour later I decided I would try kneading it.  I kneaded for less than 5 minutes, and the dough felt good.  I've been making the Tartine-style breads now for so long, which only require folding, I've forgotten how it feels to knead bread.  The boring, repetitive movements put one into a Kirtan-like trance.

An hour later, I divided the dough, gave it a bench rest, and then set it in baskets to proof.  Once again, the dough was retarded in the refrigerator.  This time, for about 2 1/2 hours.  When I was ready to work with it again, I took it from the fridge and turned on the oven.  At the 3 hour mark of proofing, the dough was baked in Dutch Ovens.

A much tighter crumb, a lot less airy and less irregular holes, due no doubt to the kneading.  This bread is going to hold jam better.

And it tastes great.

I gave one of these loaves away to a friend.

Notes to Myself
  • These breads stayed fresh a long, long time.
  • Kneading bread can be trance-inducing. 
  • Artisan bread seems to be going for large, irregular holes these days.  Smaller, regular holes provided by kneading can be more practical for jam, however.  Kneading still has its place.
  • You can't get oxytocin by eating bread!  It is destroyed in the GI tract.  But it is usually delivered via IV (to induce labor, for example), or via nasal spray, medicinally. 

    But is it possible that the
    scent of baking bread will tag our highly specific oxytocin receptors in the brain?  It would seem that the hormone triggers some of the same contentment, calming, sensory feelings that the smell of baking bread provides (if we had that experience as a youngster...)


  1. I hope your music issues are different than mine. One of the early signs of something going wrong in my brain was that I lost the ability to handle things like live musical theatre. The stimulation would leave my brain so overwhelmed that I could barely walk or talk after the show.

    I've gotten behind on blog reading/responding. Will catch up after my wrist fracture heals.

  2. Interesting. Thanks for the warning.

    While I don't rule out the idea that my brain may indeed be at fault, my problem with most music is not that it is overwhelming but that it is underwhelming.

    I could barely walk after the kirtan, too, but I think that was simply because I'd spent so long in half-lotus on the marshmallow/beanbag tuffet.

    Sending healing thoughts your way, hope you heal quickly and safely. I once broke my left wrist while high-jumping in the rain at a track and field event, so I'm drawing on that remembered pain/event for empathy. But I wonder if your ostogenesis imperfecta also affects the time it takes to heal broken bones?

    If I broke my wrist(s) today I'd be in real trouble, unable to knead bread dough.