The Magic of Bread

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My husband, Scott purchased me a small container of sourdough starter about a year and a half ago. I had tried making starter from scratch several years prior, but it was temperamental. The bread it made didn’t seem very sourdough like and after one hot weekend unattended it threw a mold party and had to be thrown out.

This new starter was simpler to take care of and less finicky. I found an extremely easy no-knead artisan bread recipe that I adapted into a sourdough recipe. I started making bread regularly. It has only four ingredients making it healthy and much cheaper than store bought bread.

The effects of making bread regularly are more than just physical and financial gain. It makes me feel happy and grounded. The act of making bread gives me this very strange and strong sense of being useful. Obviously, I’m useful. I clean, do laundry, pay bills. I work a full-time job. I write two blogs and freelance articles on the side. There is just something about making bread specially that gives me this sense of usefulness and accomplishment.

It makes me feel like I really have my shit together. Perhaps it has to do with the minor planning that happens when I make bread. I must feed the starter and then make the dough before I go work in order for it to have enough time to rise. Maybe it’s the knowledge I’ve gained from all my bread experiments to make good bread consistently that feels so satisfying. It could just be the effort. I know I could just go to the store and buy bread, but instead I’ve chosen to take the time and put in the effort to make my own.

And yet while making my own bread takes more time, effort, and knowledge compared to grabbing a loaf off the store shelf, it feels simpler. It feels quieter. It could be the nostalgia of grandmothers making bread. It could be the fact that I didn’t have to go to the noisy, huge, overly bright grocery store to get it.

When I make bread, it reminds me of the country which in turn reminds me of where I grew up and my childhood. It reminds me of baking with my grandmother even though I never remember her making bread. The act of making bread makes me feel more connected to the past.

The act of making bread is a type of therapy. I can’t say for certain what it does or how it does it.  But there is a sense of peace and serenity that I don’t otherwise experience.

I bake and crochet, and I love watching other enjoy the fruits of my work, but bread is even on a different level from that. It could be its necessity. It could be that its generally something I do just for my husband and me.

There is a certain skill and love that goes into bread that isn’t in other baking or crafting. And really is there anything better than the smell of freshly baked bread?

In a way making bread and seeing what comes out is an act of acceptance. Anytime yeast or starter are involved, there are any number of things that can go amiss. There are oodles of variables that weirdly effect the outcome of the loaf no matter how many times a recipe has been made. I’ve learned to be okay with it. It’s okay if it’s a little lopsided or comes out a little flatter. I accept that it is what it is- a beautiful homemade loaf.

It makes me happy and my husband happy. It is a way for me to get back to basics. It’s a bi-weekly reminder to slow down, reflect. To take a moment for myself and enjoy the world around me as it is right this second.

When I started making bread I thought it was a cool, niffy, unique experiment. Then it became something that was fiscally helpful, but as time has gone on. I’ve realized that the act of bread making is magic. It feeds me so much more than just for lunch. It helps with my sense of purpose and being in the here and now. This is a rare commodity in our tech obsessed, instant gratification driven world. Bread is a reminder that process to something can be satisfying and the benefits are worth the wait.

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The Cookie

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I walked into the kitchen at work, and there was a cookie. It was the last cookie standing, and standing it truly was.  It had been a part of a cookie bouquet sent to one of the attorneys in my office as a thank you.

It stood there starting me menacingly in the face with its bright green and yellow frosting.  Daring me to walk away. I quickly made the morning coffee and bolted as it stared to brew.

When I went back to pour myself the much-needed joe for the day. There it still was taunting me from its high and mighty stick that was skewered through its square baked dough body.

I thought about how good sweets are with coffee. But then I thought about sugary residue and dry, crumb cookies with no flavor. It would probably not be worth the calories. I promptly marched out of the kitchen.  The first battle of the day had been won.

I turned and set my coffee down on my desk and spotted the purple box of truffle chocolates my boss had given to me the day before. I huffed, ripped open the box, grabbed one of the delectable morsels, and popped it in my month.

We can’t win them all.

 

The Apex of Adulthood

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As you grow up, there are milestones-learning to walk, to talk, the abcs, that logically the English language is a bit goofy, and that most mathematical problems are hard.

You graduate the 8th grade. You feel like hot shit. You learn to drive, and you start to catch on to all the grown-up jokes in Disney films. You are super-hot shit.

You graduate high-school. You are deemed an adult. You begin to realize that who you went to prom with doesn’t really matter.  Drinking all you want does really add on the pounds; that jeans are more expensive than they should be. And you begrudgingly understand what your mom was always muttering about.

You finally graduate college you are now not only legally but supposedly educationally an adult; although, you soon realize that certain lessons such as comparing The Passion of the Christ to The Life of Brian doesn’t seem to have any direct application to the real world.  But you are young, the world is your oyster, especially with no homework. Adulthood seems pretty rad.

You go out drinking with co-workers. You go to festivals, movies, and concerts with friends. Life is great. You occasionally have a tiff with your roommate about the bathroom cleaning schedule but on the whole, you get on.

You then meet a boy, fall in love, move in together. You learn to deal with the socks underneath the coffee table, and he learns to hang up his damn belt, so you don’t step on the buckle in the middle of the night and impale your foot.  You go through the traumatic experience of getting married. You’re hitched. You are definitely an adult, but just hip and fun. You hang out with your couple friends and do brewery trips to Milwaukee and Michigan.

You then take the leap and buy a house.  You invest for the first time in a new couch instead of your brother’s hand me down couch with the unique smell of weed and Febreze. You hang some pictures on the wall. You feel super adult. I mean you are married. You own a house. You have a job with insurance and a 401k plan.

You then get a dog. Cleaning becomes a new priority.  There always seems to be hair and drool everywhere. You vacuum often and perfect your floor scrubbing technique.  And then one day someone asks you what you’re doing that evening, and you say, in a voice with far too much excitement, that you are going home to try out your new steam mop that your husband randomly gifted you!

That…ladies and gentlemen is when you know, and can outrightly proclaim, that you’ve reach adulthood. You get excited over a fucking steam mop.

Kids have no idea what they have to look forward to…a $60 appliance and some really hot water…

I’m livin’ the dream over here.

The King of Shoes

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My husband and I have had our dog, as many of you know, for about two months. In that time, we have learned a lot such as the counters must be cleared of food or food remnants.  Otherwise, we will be hearing loud crashes from the kitchen or playing tug of war with him over empty deli meat bags.

As time has gone on we have let him roam free in the house for a few hours at a time. He mainly sniffs at the door and lounges on the couch watching the door waiting for our return. He seems less excited when we get home when he’s spent the day out of his crate.

Since having a 100-pound mastiff freak out with joy that includes jumping (we are working on it.) We decided that perhaps we should ask our dog walker to leave him out after his early afternoon walk.  This would give him sometime to be free and hopefully be less crazy when we come home.

So, we made the switch.  We have cameras in our house in order to keep an eye on him.  On the first day within about a half an hour of being left alone, I check to see him carrying all the shoes he could find into the living room.  He had them scattered everywhere. He found a pair of my shoes, two pairs of Scott’s, and my tap dance shoes which he must have found particularly delicious smelling.  He was drooling and playing with them until I yelled at him to drop the shoe.  Our cameras have audio capability. He was very confused about this turn of events but dropped my shoe.

He then proceeded to sit on the couch and survey his kingdom of shoes that he had created. He later played with a few of them, but mainly he sat there and just presided over his new-found subjects.

When I got home, while they were strewn about and were mildly damp due to their mode of involuntary transportation, they were, otherwise, completely unharmed.  Nevertheless, the next day before leaving for work all extra shoes were stuffed into rooms with the doors and those doors were firmly closed because we were concerned that shoe gathering may escalate to shoe chewing.

But from what I can tell he just wanted to be surrounded by them.  He just wanted to (for the day) be the king of shoes.

Mid-Year Reassessment

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I’m a goal-oriented person. I’m good at setting them, breaking them down, and accomplishing them. It feels good to have a goal and reach it.  I find it motivating when I can check them off.

Every year, I set a number of goals in a variety of categories in my life.  I have financial goals, fitness goals, hobby goals, career goals, and personal development goals. I’ve done well in the past, but this year as we reach this mid-way point.  I see that I’m not on target as usual.

I realize as I gaze at my goal list that I’m not as on target because many of these goals exist for the sake of having a goal. In essence, they are not true goals because reaching them doesn’t feel important or necessary.

Several years ago, I had a reading goal. I not only achieved it, I far surpassed it. So much so that, I knew making a reading goal for the next year would be really silly.  It would either be something that I could easily do or something that was so outrageously hard that it would make reading stressful.  I decided to not create a reading goal.  It wasn’t necessary.

I didn’t apply this logic to other areas of my goal setting list.  Thus, I think I need to do some goal trimming this mid-year assessment. I need to think about what I really want to put my efforts in to and what’s there because I feel like I need a goal.

I don’t want to have no goals or no direction, but I don’t need goals and direction for absolutely everything I do. I think I would do better with a bit of focus, so my refined goals are:

  • Financial:
    1. Save $7,000
  • Personal Development:
    1. Better posture
  • Career:
    1. Get a pitch accepted by a publication
  • Fitness:
    1. Strength train at least once a week

This is what I’m going to spend my time delving into. I will continue to tap dance, crochet, bake, bike, and read, so I don’t need goals in these areas at this particular moment. I’m going to take the pressure off and see what happens.

The Sunglasses

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A long, long, long, long time ago my roommate and I got this wild hair and decided to take a trip to Belize. It was an adventuring trip of sorts and thus we purchased hiking shoes and pants. Among the purchases were a cheap pair of athletic sunglasses. I figured if I lost them or if they broke, it would be no big deal.  They were six whole dollars.

We went on our trip. We had a blast, and the sunglasses survived. Our the next several years I would wear them on various outdoorsy activities. Again, if something happened to them, it would be no great loss.

When I started running I ran mainly in the morning before the sun was up and on side streets that did block the sun when it did rise. However, we moved, and winter came so I was running on the lakefront path and later in the day when it was slightly warmer.

One Saturday morning the sun was extremely bright and amplified by the snow and water.  It’s strange but squinting for ten miles takes a lot of energy.  When I got ready to go on my next run I dug out my old trusty pair of athletic sunglasses.

I really like them for running because if I don’t want to wear them they easily can sit a top my head or hat and I have very little chance of losing them.  But again, if I did, it would not be tragic.

Upon seeing my bright neon pink sunglasses my husband stated that I should get new ones.  I didn’t think much of it.  He knows I tend to use things long after their expiration.  He thinks I deserve better and that I shouldn’t have to use something until its completely broken. I told him, no my sunglasses were fine.  I liked these, and I had my reasoning.

However, every time I put them on.  He would say I should get new sunglasses.  Again, I would reiterate that these were fine.  I didn’t need new glasses.  My $6 pair was doing just fine.

Finally, one day I caught on when he mentioned them again. I said, “You hate these don’t you? Why?” He sheepishly smiled and said that they looked super out of date,-early 2000s, and they were just super unattractive.  He felt that I work so hard to be in great shape that I shouldn’t have to wear these ridiculous sunglasses. I started laughing.

I knew they looked super out of style and that they didn’t look cool, but I never look cool with I’m running. I sweat like its 100 degrees and I’m wearing a sweater every time I run.  My face gets super red.  My hair gets wet, matted, and tussled in very unbecoming ways.  I don’t wear them to be attractive. I wear them for functionality.  I don’t wear my workout clothes to look cute either.  Most of the time, they are incredibly mismatched, but they are what’s clean and climate appropriate.

Brene Brown once said something to the effect of: I’m so okay with myself; I’m dangerous. And at least when I’m running that’s what I’ve achieved, so the bad new for my husband is that until those $6 bright neon pink sunglasses with their 2002 vibe break or get lost, I’m wearing them.  At which point, I will probably go to Target and buy another pair as close to them as I can find.

They do their job really well and they’ve taken on a little bit of a symbolic meaning of how I view myself which I’m really proud of it.  They mean that I’m confident in how I look and that I work out for me and my mental health. The fit body is just a nice side-effect. It’s probably the best $6 I’ve ever spent.

The Kitchen

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I would have never thought that when I became an adult and owned a place of my own that my favorite room in the house would be my kitchen. Yet, my kitchen holds a special place in my heart. It provides feelings of comfort and warmth. I feel at ease and at peace in there. I happily get lost in it for hours with my husband as we try new recipes.

I never used to feel this way about kitchens or even my kitchen.  It was a room where food was stored and made. It had the pre-disposition to always seem messy and cluttered. It, at times, was a point of contention with my roommates. It had function, not heart.

When I met my husband, I was surprised to learn that not only did he cook but that he enjoyed doing so.  After our first few dates, when things seemed to be going in a more serious direction. He would cook dinner instead of ordering food or going out. We took on our first major cooking project together for Thanksgiving at his grandmother’s. We were tasked with supplying pies.

He had the day off before Thanksgiving, and I got the afternoon off. We baked all afternoon.  The kitchen was an absolute flour bomb by the time the last pie went in. It was marvelous. We then started trying other recipes to make together on the weekends.  By the time, we moved in together it was our thing.

We made roast duck, beef wellington, mussels, beef bourguignon, bowls of brown, chili, bean soup, various versions of homemade pizzas.  Our fascination and love of food followed us as we started to travel. We didn’t buy souvenirs; we splurged on food and wine.

We ate our way through Rome. In France, we ate like kings and attempted to try as many traditional French dishes as possible. I may have made a list.  In Bar Harbor Maine, we did not shy away from oysters, haddock, lobster, or clams. In London and Scotland, we mustered up the gumption and tried haggis and black pudding.  Both were far more delectable than we thought they would be.

We brought these culinary adventures back to our kitchen. We made homemade steak tartare.  We delight in fresh mozzarella and good balsamic vinegar, and I regularly drink English Breakfast tea something I didn’t know I loved until I was in London.

Nearly every free weekend, we pick something new and see how we do.  We learn a lot along the way. I bake or make ice cream. Dessert has become much more apart of our diet than it ever used to be, but it’s worth it. Raspberry crumble, toffee cake, pecan pies, apple cakes- these are the things risking a few extra pounds for.  There is an endless list of things to try.

We stand in our kitchen working together stirring, chopping, washing, mixing, measuring to make the decadence that we have chosen.  Once things are simmering we sip wine, chat, kiss, even dance as we let the heat of the stove or oven do what needs to be done.

The kitchen is a place of happiness and harmony. It’s where we laugh and reconnect at the end of the day.  The food is almost always good; actually, the food is great.  We have learned a lot over the years, this knowledge and our growing collection of kitchen gadgets allow us to try more technical and involved recipes.

We make food because we love food, and we love making food together and for each other. We love the process. We work together in unison. We help each other out. We both learn as we go.

Our kitchen is not just where we feed ourselves in order that we don’t starve. Our kitchen is a place where we feed our souls and our marriage. I don’t care how cheesy this sounds. It’s true.  It’s a place where a lot of good things come out of.  We have lots of good laughs.  There are lots of good smells.

It’s a sanctuary. I don’t want a huge master bedroom.  I want a beautiful, yet very functional kitchen where I can feed the all the things in my life that need feeding. My need to learn something new is very much fulfilled in the kitchen.

It feels so good to make good food with your own hands, and it feels even better when you can do that in tandem with someone you dearly love. I’m proud of my kitchen, but also protective of it.  Because in my world the kitchen is what makes my condo a home not just a small box inside a bigger box.

I love that my kitchen nearly always smells of fresh baked sourdough bread and that some surface has a light dusting of flour. I love that I have a reason to own four aprons and to bulk buy flour at Sam’s club.

There are memories in food and the process of making it, and I’m so thankful that my kitchen provides the perfect backdrop for all of those experiences and creations.  I never thought it would be a haven, but that it certainly has become.