“All sorrows are less with bread.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Much like icon and queen Oprah, I love bread. I am a bread lover. I’ve never met a bread I absolutely hated and I generally enjoy most types heartily. The smell of freshly baked bread is the most angelic.
Much in our lives contains a duality. You might think this doesn’t apply to bread, but bear with me. It does.
On one hand, there’s a faster sort of living, with its productivity culture, rise-and-grind, burnout, and all of that “fun” stuff. On the other, there’s a more mindful and slow style of living. Finding a balance between the two can be difficult in this fast-paced world, where your value is sometimes measured by how much work you do. Many of us are trying to find a more balanced lifestyle or even a life that leans more towards the slow than the fast. I know I’m not alone in craving a mindful and meaningful way of living.
This duality also applies to bread. There’s the pre-sliced bread you find at the grocery store, ready to go in an instant, and there’s the fresh bread you find at the bakery, not as instant.
But there’s even one level further: homemade bread, made from scratch.
I think we all benefit from being in touch with our ingredients. The connection between the person and the dough heightens the enjoyment, and you create a relationship with the dough that is to become your bread. — Sébastian Boudet
As a casual but enthusiastic baker, I’ve always had a fond daydream of making my own bread. I recently found a recipe for sourdough bread in a French cookbook I bought for my father a while back called, The French Baker by Sébastien Boudet. I only partially joked to him that I’d like to try and make it, starter and all. It would take days to get the starter going then days longer to actually make the loaf.
“Or I could make bread in the bread machine and you could have it this afternoon,” he responded, not unsupportively.
I grew up eating fresh machine-made bread on very special occasions, and recently more often as my family has discovered the pleasures of eating fresh bread. But, in amongst my pies and cupcakes and just cakes, I’d never had bread from scratch — let alone made it myself.
Bread machine bread made at home and fresh bakery bread also have more of an instant gratification element to them. Where is the relationship with the thing you are consuming? With the bread machine, even if the ingredients are gathered and combined by yourself, your hands don’t touch the dough until it’s fully-baked bread.
This recipe I was reading for sourdough bread had the baker mixing the dough with their hands, kneading with their hands, and spending days letting the bread proof and rise. First, the starter would take four days to develop with feeding. Then the dough would take three days to be ready for baking.
When you spend so much time making something, it’s almost inevitable that a relationship would form. It’s a natural part of the creation process. Whether it’s a painting, a piece of writing, handmade clothing, or anything. And it’s the relationship and mindfulness which makes the creation so special.
Spending days or even weeks creating something is a good indicator of passion. You love what you’re doing so much that you’re willing to put in the time it takes to get it right or the way you want it.
As I first began making my sourdough starter, I knew that this wasn’t something that would instantly become bread. I didn’t even know if it would work. The next day, when I saw the bubbling – an indication that it’s properly souring – I was so happy. It would need to be fed for a few days before I could bake the bread, but I was completely willing to do the work and take the time.
When baking with sourdough, the most important thing of all is that you enjoy the moment and that you are proud of your accomplishment when you take the bread out of the oven. — Sébastian Boudet
When I take a quiet moment to think about what I want my life to look like in the coming years, I see someone who lives meaningfully and takes time to be mindful and intentional with my decisions. I also see a lot of baking.
I’m not sure if this desire to live a quieter and slower life comes as a reaction to how the world operates in the 21st century, but I suspect that’s part of it. There are those who can thrive and fully live with so much technology and constant demands for attention, and there are those who sort of recoil from that way of living. I’d put myself in the latter category.
There’s this desire I have to be able to enjoy things without having to feel like I need to “get something out of it.” As if all my hobbies aren’t worth it if I can’t make a profit.
But that’s what baking bread is for me. I’m not a professional baker and I have no plans to be – only little dreams – so when I bake anything, it’s for pure and simple enjoyment. That’s what I “get out of it,” self-fulfillment and personal value.
When I started mixing the dough, everything that could go wrong went wrong. I made the biggest mess I’ve ever done during any of my baking adventures before. Despite all the craziness, the dough was made and I felt like I’d become a better baker for it. The imperfect, messy, wild route that I ended up taking has made the experience more meaningful for me. At least I’ll have a funny story to tell.
If this all works out, I should have an eatable loaf at the end. I will also have all the experience and knowledge. But that’s it. No profit. No recognition beyond friends and family. The bread itself and the experience is the reward.
What if we put more value in experiences, instead of focusing on how everything we do or create could make a profit?
My generation has certainly shifted the economic climate because we are spending our money on meaningful experiences instead of material goods. But we’re also the generation who tends to need multiple streams of income to maintain the same standard of living. I know a lot of creatives who have a day job and use their creative passions as a way to make more money.
But can we make the intentional decision to enjoy things without worrying about profit?
I believe we can and should.
The dough I’ve made still needs another day before it can be baked into bread, so whether it will actually turn out is yet to be seen. Even if it doesn’t turn out, I will have learned more about baking and about being more mindful of my decisions.