When Chloe, my 17 year old daughter, was a toddler, I baked my first loaf of bread. I used the recipe found in the bread bible of my twenties, The Laurel Kitchen's Bread Book. It was for a yeasted whole wheat, just the basic loaf. I was one of those rare lucky ones, and my first loaf turned out almost perfect. It had heft but also a crusty fluffiness as well, with an almost nutty aftertaste. I was enamored. My ex-husband was intrigued but alas not sold, as he grew up with plastic white bread and to this day, well into his forties, will consume nothing else. My little blonde, blue-eyed enigma however, toddled into the kitchen and devoured a slice slathered with herb butter. Thus an informed, more nuanced palate was born. A fact which I am sure she both blesses and curses me for.
And like all meaningful events, that first loaf of bread has eclipsed all others. My last loaf was born almost 7 years ago. The last baby was just a baby, and her father was nonplussed (as he is only slightly more adventuresome in palate than the other one) and my heart wasn't in it. I had baked it in response to drunken taunting from my husband, "You say you can do it, but I've never seen it. You're probably lying about it." In the midst of severe postpartum depression, I trudged into a cold kitchen with a baby tied to my hip and made that damn bread. From the process emerged a hefty albeit tasty brick. The husband staggered into the kitchen to cut himself a slice, pressing the loaf into a patty as he sawed through. The brick was further decimated into an inch or so remnant. I tossed it into the trash, never tasting it myself.
Baking bread is an exercise in faith. In hope the ingredients are assembled. It matters where and how long ago the flour was milled from the grain. Science enters the picture as the yeast is dissolved in a bath of perfect temperature. Like life, you have to get in there and get your hands dirty as you knead and knead again to form the dough. There is also the time of hibernation, where the loaf proofs, the yeast working its magic, as your efforts rest under a clean dish towel like a little nap in a warm room. And finally the risk of shoving all this work into the oven, like sending your child into the world, and not really knowing what will result when the loaf emerges from the fiery furnace.
One of these days I hope to have the time off work, a moment to myself, and some stolen moments from exhaustion and pain to bake bread again. I'd like to exercise some faith.