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, December 22, 2012

Bread and the Suspension of Thought

Breads I gave away, breads I ate
Looks like the new kitchen table behind these loaves is not yet put together

What's the use, and what does it matter?

Why think of bread, why become obsessed with its making, why consider this staple in our diet, why think of food at all?  Where do such thoughts lead?  

You start with the particular: some flour, milled from some grain.  Add water, a smidgeon of salt, and a bit of leaven left over from the last baking, and you mix it together.  Isn't that enough?  Why ever should such a basic act -- the act of our ancestors, brought home to my hands -- why should I care, why should anyone spend a single thought upon it?  Allow your mind to drift into the general: death is at hand.  Life is arising, transforming at our touch, from mere broken matter.  There are mysteries here.

Questions arise in the mind: where this grain came from, where the salt, where the water, what is the unseen leaven, what are these materials, why have they come to take this place in our diet, what have they made us?   What is our history, why have humans arisen from the soil with minds to ask these questions?  From whence comes our need?   How shall we describe this continuity with the past?   Where could it eventually lead us?  What has this done to -- what will become of -- our earth?  The questions overpower our ability to answer.

Sometimes one wishes to suspend all thought by touching dough, mixing it by hand, turning it, kneading it, shaping it.  Let it be a meditation, where thoughts of life and death become suspended.  Add our tears to the mixture, our sweat.  Our dreams, our primal needs, our living desires, our fears.  Put it all together.  What have you now?  Let it go into the bread.  We require no thought to do this.  Let instinct be your guide. 

Let the dough swallow your hands, even as you will perhaps soon swallow the bread.  Let the dough mix you.   Let the bread make itself, for we are the bread's hands.  Toss the thoughts and cares, the grief, the longing, the gentle ache in your hands, the broken heart within you, into the dough, let it be borne away in the dough.  Nothing matters but this, and it is what we do.

Punch it down when it has risen.  Let the dough be God's face.  He has not told us why we are here.  We make it up as we go along.  We discover our own meaning.  Here is some dough.  This becomes bread, the cornerstone of our diet.  All that God or the Universe has given, wrapped inside a grain, crushed to reveal it, remade at our own hands.  Get angry at God, at the Universe Created that is so remote and detached and uncaring.  Let every idea you ever had about God, about the Universe, deflate with the dough.  The ideas you had are but limits.  God, and the Universe, can take the punch, can take your anger, can take the loss of everything you assume.  

Now let it go.  It is out of your hands.  It is something unto itself: divided, proving itself, rising autonomously.  Now the amorphous has taken shape.  The world is rebalanced, the chaos redressed.  Bread appears in the oven, on the rack, on the counter, on the cutting board, in your mouth.  Once again, the crown of the ground, the harvested grain, the epitome of our best season, the pinnacle of our evolution, the here and now, has broken apart and become part of your body.  You are remade.

What will you next do with your hands?  With your words?  With your heart?

The breads

My day to day life has been woven around these breads:

  • I have no written record of these breads any longer.  They were there, see them?  But I didn't blog about them immediately.  The bread moved through my GI tract apparently without much notice.

  • Another mystery loaf.  This looks a lot denser.  I seem to remember it, and giving the heel of it to the chickens on the fifth day after baking.

  • A 50% Rye flour, 50% WW flour bread, baked Monday morning.  The checkerboard top was memorable.  I gave the other loaf away.

  • An 80% WW flour, 20% Semolina flour bread, baked Tuesday afternoon.  Also contains 1 egg.  And made with homemade pumpkin juice.  Some home-made bread spice, sprinkled into the banneton prior to proofing, not part of the dough, but redolent still on the crust.

Homemade Pumpkin Juice goes into the dough

Sourdough starter floating in pumpkin juice

The Kitchen Table is together at last

All loaves have the usual 20% whole wheat sourdough starter @100% hydration, 2% coarse seasalt, 5% wheat germ, and approximately 70% hydration.

Notes to Myself
  • The breadblogosphere is abuzz with the terrible news of the senseless shooting of elementary school children in Connecticut, one of whom was the grandson of everyone's favourite bread blogger, Farine. I think about death and life a lot -- as much because of my nature, let alone because of my job. This awful event has weighed heavy upon all of our hearts. I have no answers, no wisdom. I only have bread to fall back upon. Thank God or the Universe for that.
  • I am baking as much bread as I always did, but I am not eating as much because I continue to fast 2 days a week. I am no longer forcing myself to finish all of each loaf. These days, as a loaf stales, I soak it in water and give the heels of it to the chickens, and move on to the next fresh loaf.  Making it and baking it seems at least as important for my peace of mind as it does for the sustenance of my body.

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