Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thoughts while kneading bread

I stumbled upon an old blog of mine--forgot all about it.
I like some of what I said then, so I am sharing it anew.

On a good bread day, when the humidity is just right, the yeast budding furiously and happily in their doughy world, when my hands work unconsciously, my dough comes together after about 15 minutes of kneading.
Fold and press, fold and press, fold and press.

An occasional turn of the dough. Fold and press. It will be ready when, as the adage goes, it feels like a baby's bottom. It usually takes me about 200 folds. The purists may push for 300 folds, but after 200 or so, it feels ready. I am middle-aged, and I only know the feel of a middle-aged woman's thigh. Enough for me.

Perhaps younger bakers yearn for the firmness of 300 folds. Let them yearn. They have more energy, and certainly more time.
Wheat grown on our classroom windowsill.

200 folds. Each fold doubles the number of layers of dough beneath my hands. 2...4...8...

Which would you rather have, the old teaser goes, a million dollars now, or a penny doubled every day for a month?

Each layer makes the gluten strands stretch and layer upon itself. A network to catch the carbon dioxide released by the yeasts busy budfucking in the dough.
Bread made by a friend, Jessica Pierce (photo by her)

Most of us in this part of the world do not exert a whole lot of energy. Most of the carbon dioxide we release comes from the decomposed ferns and trilobites and pterodactyls that we burn without a thought. Sunlight captured 10 million years ago combusts, consumes O2, produces CO2.

In the States, few folks walk anymore.

My dough doubles in size in less than two hours. The hot breath of yeasties, budding and budding and budding.

We screw. We fuck. We get laid. We score. We pant. Sex. A commodity. An end in itself. Few of us take the time to bud anymore. I want to make a bud. Asexual reproduction. Proof I matter. Silly thoughts. My brow beads with sweat. Kneading is hard work.

Photo by Jessica Pierce
The moon is about 240,000 miles away. That's about 127, 200,00 feet. Or about 1,524,000,000 inches. The dough now has 40 times more layers than inches to the moon. And I am not even a quarter of the way through.

I have a 300 gallon puddle in my backyard. It has a lot of critters in it. One large koi. 2 bream I nabbed from a Newark park trying to catch tadpoles. Perhaps a few dozen nymphs. A hundred thousand copepods. And hundreds of millions of bacteria. Each critter no more aware of me than I of each of them.

My head hurts from counting. Too many critters to think about. 6 million people, give or take a million, slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps. 20 million Russians perished in the latest world war. Maybe a million less. Maybe a million more.
2,809,856,000, more counting--sweat in my eyes.

I say a prayer when I toss my yeast down the drain after they convert raw honey and blueberries into a lovely blueberry mel that makes my legs wobble. Most are dormant from exhaustion, poisoned by the alcoholic milieu they created.

I doubt they hear my prayer.  Not sure anyone does.

The yeast in my dough are less lucky--they are living and breathing, and they will be baked.

While I no longer ponder their sentience, I no longer question their desire either. I hear the burbling of carbon dioxide gassing out the carboy as the yeast bud and bud and bud to exhaustion.

I feel most alive when my lifelong love and I share breath and energy. Get the cortex out of the way. The cortex developed late in the scheme of evolution. The medulla is where we fall in love.

We try to imagine the pain of millions dead. The challenge is to feel the pain of one creature dying.

I recoil at the thought of millions slaughtered. I get real quiet when I remember the slow death of my mother. Millions matter, of course, but only matter if I have the courage to recall my mother's strength. "We are born to die," she said. Maybe.

Just not so slowly. Not so painfully. Not so grotesquesly.
Fold and press and fold and press.

I have a recipe for bread from an ancient Yugoslovian woman. I know her grand-daughter. I taught her grand-daughter a little bit about medicine.

Her grand-daughter knows I love bread. Her grand-daughter is not so far removed from her grandmother's world that she does not recognize a wheat berry. She gave me her grandmother's recipe for potato bread.

"Why potato bread?" I asked. Dr. Elana bowed her head ever so slightly--she still had an old world respect for her teachers. "Because," she explained, "we had no grain during the war. We were starving."
Fold and press and fold and press.

"We were starving" before she was even born, and she still feels the pangs.

Fold and press and fold and press.

Almost done. I slap the dough. Almost right. It is warming up from the life inside.

Americans confuse sensuality and sexuality because we cannot see that the two cannot be separated. We pretend otherwise at our peril. We blame the Puritans.

I'd bet my loaf of bread that Puritans knew how to make love better than most of us. I know they could make bread better than us. Too easy to blame the Puritans.
I fold again. The dough snaps. The dough is ready.

I slap the dough. I like the sound. I slap it again. Millions and millions of layers. A fine net of gluten strands ready to catch the breaths of the jubilant yeast madly reproducing, respiring, realizing. This will be a good loaf. You can know before the first rise.

A prayer before I thrust the dough into the oven hours later. The yeast die noiselessly, and (good western man I am), without awareness.

But not without desire.

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