Are you like me? Before embarking on some medium-sized endeavor, do you have to find the perfect soundtrack? And consequentially wind up squandering 30 minutes or more of precious precious time? I am guilty. I sat down to write tonight, just now, and I thought, man, something chill to listen to would be really groovy. But what? So I checked NPR’s first listen and right there waiting for me was new Mazzy Star. So satisfying right now that I can’t believe I didn’t spend 45 minutes finding it. Ah, when things go impressively correct.
I have some pretty serious matters to discuss here today. So if you can’t handle the idea of some kitchen heat, well, then I suggest you back out now.
We need to talk about bread. Specifically, Tassajara bread. And more precisely, we need to talk about the documentary How to Cook Your Life. Enter: zen teacher, bread making, humor and genuine tears over a dented kettle. This film is beautiful. I watched it four times while I sewed one night. Honestly. I became so entranced with Edward Espé Brown’s hands. His hands are majestic and slow and so filled with intention. This man kneads dough the way I want to approach my entire life. He models what I strive with his hands only. It is a meditative practice, watching him knead. Instantly calming, spellbinding.
Enough adjectives, you get the point. I had to get a hold of a Tassajara Bread recipe and duplicate his technique in my own kitchen. I needed this peace in my canteen, needed to eat something so tranquilly tended. I do own a Tassajara cook book, but it is not Brown’s bread book, it is a vegetable cookbook. I googled. I found that The New York Times published a recipe in 1997. Tassajara Yeasted Bread has been consumed so copiously in my home. So much in fact that after the initial two day bread binge, we must step back from bread baking for a moment. You don’t bake, you say? But I’ve got you interested? This is among the easier yeasted breads I’ve ever baked. No pre-heating a cast-iron or dutch oven; no ensuring billowing vapors of steam for perfect crust. Just mixing, kneading, time. Very few ingredients. So. So. So holy on the tongue.
This recipe yields two loaves.
The night before I start this bread, I mix my dry ingredients in separate bowls. I place the contents of two packets of yeast in my large mixing bowl, and cover. In a smaller bowl I measure out the dehydrated milk. I then measure out the first round of flour needed, 4 cups. Generally, we stick to the recipe, using whole-wheat flour and opting for molasses. Well, we were out of whole-wheat flour, save two cups. So the bread you will be seeing shortly is 2 cups whole wheat four, 5ish cups of unbleached all purpose flour. And I opted for honey this round as well.
So, morning of baking I measure out water that is at body temperature and no warmer. Very important. Hot water will kill your yeast. I stir my yeasty water a tadbit, then add the dry milk and honey. Stir a bit more. Work in, very slowly, the four cups of flour. I go about a half cup at a time, personally. Stir your 100 strokes. Let it rise. You have time to kill. Now is a good time to ensnare your baby and make a mess for a while. We went with painting.
Shortly after smearing your first colors about, Dingo-Pajama-Sandwich highly recommends sitting on top of the paper and wet paint. One really ought to ruminate on color combinations and he advises to do such pondering from a vantage point directly above the piece. Then step back for perspective. Perhaps now is a good time to have a tantrum about the lid to red shutting on you. Pace the drop cloth frantically while mama opens it and hands it back to you. Become a new man, and start afresh.
Right about now you realize the whole bread thing is happening and frantically throw the baby into the bathtub and watch the water turn to mud. The baby will most likely slip, because he is pulling to stand on everything. His face will touch the water, he will remain unharmed, but it will ruin his day for the next ten minutes. Hoist blubbering grub from the muddy waters and clothe him. Return to the kitchen, give the clean screamer an empty wine bottle to roll around the kitchen and return to bread making.
At this point you add 4 teaspoons of salt, 1/3 cup of oil or butter, and 3 cups of flour, again gradually. Get your hands in there and mix it. When the dough loosens from the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a floured surface and knead. Use up to another cup of flour if it begins to stick. No sticking. To achieve that zen-kneading high, you may want to watch the documentary and work on your technique. I tried to find a video for you, but failed. It is simple yet specific. It matters where you put your hands, it matters how you roll and turn. It’s beautiful. You will lose yourself in it. Let the dough rise again, this time for an hour.
Now is probably a good time for a nap. If you must, wrestle your youngin’ and coerce it to sleep. If you are like me, and your infant/child associates napping with nursing, simply make the sign for milk and ask him to come with you to the couch. Just the sight of the Boppy will have him bucking like a bronco and trampling his beloved cat to get to the source. He sleeps one hour, twice a day, so this timing couldn’t work out better. Smell the baby head and relish the moment, then get serious and rot/internet/read/knit for the next hour. Exhale.
Wake. Your bread dough has doubled in size. You didn’t even have to do anything, it did it for you.
Punch the dough down. It is spongy and responsive, alive. Let it rise again for 45 minutes. If I recall properly, Dougie stood up against every surface he could and I laid on the floor. He is in this phase where I need to be on the floor for him to be comfortable. He likes to check in. Crawl across me, touch a knee, kiss (slobber) my face. Then back to playing. So long as I am on the floor, he is content. It is a phase, I tell myself. Thankfully, the kitchen is full of many wonders and he will entertain himself here for 7 minutes before losing his cool. So what this looks like in my life is a lot of clean laundry straight onto the floor to be folded and trotted through. A lot of reading on the floor. Crawling on the floor. Living on the floor.
Return to bread. Cut into two small loaves. I implement a serrated knife. Transfer to a baking sheet and let them rest for 20 minutes. This recipe is 95% waiting, 5% work. Brush with your egg wash after the 20 minutes is up (do some stretching, on the floor of course, to pass the time) and bake at 350 degree Fahrenheit for one hour. Back to the floor, read books to baby. Talk about colors. Surely by now you’ve had lunch, so have a snack. Edamame and mango? Perfect. Gallop about with a baby doll on your back for laughs. Dance to grub’s favorite record.
If you want my opinion, don’t let the baby hands touch the turn table. It resulted in 23 minutes of hardcore battle. Real tears. I finally averted the boundary testing by balancing objects on my head, and accidentally allowing them to fall. Laughs through tearful gasps guaranteed.
Now comes the hardest part of all this baking bread business. This is where one must really roll up the sleeves and break a sweat. Pull the bread from the oven and let it cool fully before attacking it. That is right. You may not cut into it hot and fresh. Allowing it to cool will ensure the bread completes it’s cooking on the inside. It is painful. But give it an hour, let it cool off. Slice. Smear with butter, honey. Die a little. Watch the baby sign “more” over and over again bite after bite.
A true labor of love.