Memories, ideas for future rise with the dough

Contributing WriterJanuary 20, 2014 

I need to knead. Right now, anyway. I’m on a bread-baking binge. A tear, a jag, a spree.

The first loaf was raisin with a hint of cinnamon: delicious toasted and buttered. The second, wheat germ and molasses. Two slabs around leftover turkey made lunch. Next up? Uncertain. But the half jug of buttermilk still left in the fridge calls for an outlet.

Bread has become my comfort food. But not in the way you might think. (Yes, I have my weaknesses re: consumption. Specifically, mac and cheese. My take on this truly American vice is my late mother’s gooey, 1950s recipe. The central ingredients are canned cream of mushroom soup and artificially orange, processed cheese product. If I ate too much of this, I’d fatten like a hog. And with all the leftover holiday chocolate around, I don’t need more risk.)

So what’s with bread? Solace comes in the making. The kinesthetic experience beckons. Creation is its own reward.

There’s connection implied as well. Petting the dog only goes so far, I guess — yes, we got another — so I mess with microorganisms in baker’s yeast and wake up the gluten in the flour. I’ve cleaned off and scrubbed up an otherwise cluttered kitchen counter, sprinkled it with flour and taken up bread therapy.

And so far, it seems to be working out.

I last baked my own bread decades ago. (No, I don’t own a bread machine; don’t want one. Plus, I banished my lousy food processer a while back. You don’t want to hear my rant against kitchen invasion by rarely useful small appliances.)

Those primary bread-baking years were long before marriage, when I allowed my eclectic enthusiasms to run free. I’ve still got some handwritten recipes folded up in a tattered manila envelope. Stains and splatters obscure the text, written on recycled paper.

One of the best was oatmeal and molasses, yielding three loaves, a recipe scrawled on the back of a copy of a municipal court docket. (The type is purple, from a spirit duplicator, aka a Ditto, Inc. machine. My hometown newspaper — where I was a cub reporter — published the dispositions. Some names on the docket seem familiar. I wonder what happened to that 18-year-old, only a little younger than I was? His charges were abbreviated, but obvious: Op. U/influ., Flr. to obey off., etc.)

Now, once again, I push bread dough around the counter. Press it flat with the heels of my hands, flip it, fold it, pound, pummel and poke. There’s a limit, I suppose, to the drubbing the dough will take, but I haven’t hit that mark.

I’m not meticulous in the kitchen. (Messy to clean up after, too, my husband says.) However, of late I’ve been careful not to overplay. There’s a family of eaters to consider, and I’m not talking about the chickens out back. With this bread binge, I stick to step-by-step directions. I pretend I’m Goldilocks and make sure temperatures are just right. Before shaping the loaves, I allow time for a second rising. All in all, it takes most of the day.

Patience is not my strong suit. During down times, my mind seeks an outlet, travels the circuit of awareness, hankers for application. Mental meanderings, both savory and not, run wild. It’s a mix of to-do lists and revelations.

During walks, I pack a tiny notebook and a stub of a pencil in my back pocket to capture important-seeming ideas. In the house, the notebook lies on a dresser or, as now, next to the computer. A more high-tech me would have a cellphone handy for recording.

When kneading, I’m otherwise engaged. My hands, gummy with dough or dusty with flour, are tied to the here and now. No notes needed. I’m making bread instead.

Susan Gordon, one of five reader columnists whose work has appeared on this page, lives on about five acres north of Eatonville with her husband and son. She’s a former staff writer and currently a part-time copy editor at The News Tribune. Reach her at SJGordonCommunications@gmail.com.

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