Is It Really Quarantine If You’re Not Baking Bread?

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About a week into quarantine, I told my kids that we’d make bread. They groaned. We had all the ingredients – at our first grocery run before isolation I got a bag each of flour and sugar. I don’t know why; it just felt like a staple I needed like milk, bread, and eggs. I just thought I should have it in the house as if I were Ma Ingalls and baked fresh bread every morning (which I do not).

The next week, I said it again. Hey kids, do either of you have any FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) class assignments? Let’s bake bread. They groaned. We did not bake bread.

Another week went by and my daughter asked to go to the supermarket; she had an assignment that she needed to prepare and photograph and submit for FACS. I cheered. We’ll bake bread! No, she said after she groaned; I’m making a grilled chicken salad. Fine, I said, but you need to make enough for all of us to eat lunch. She groaned again.

I watched people all over Twitter and Facebook baking bread. Some used regular rising yeast, some used self-rising flour, some used starters, mostly sourdough starter, a lot made banana bread. A lot. Why were my kids immune to the call of the fresh smell of baking bread. Sure, I could have made it on my own, but we can buy bread. I didn’t need fresh bread. I hated the kneading, and my dough was never smooth like in the photos or on the Food Network, and I wanted it to be a family project. Me and the kids, measuring and watching the dough rising, kneading like we used to do with playdoh, and then baking it at three hundred fifty degrees for thirty to forty minutes. Why wouldn’t they cooperate?

Five years ago, I would have had them. They’d put on the too-big aprons and they’d get flour on their faces, and they’d burn their fingers trying to pull bits of bread right when it came out of the oven. Five years is a long time in kid ages. My two youngest are fourteen and fifteen, and they had no interest in baking bread with Mommy.

We have to, I said more than once. Everyone is baking bread. Everyone, I whispered. Is it really quarantine if we’re not baking bread? They looked at me in that way that teenagers look at their parents – the face that is partly pity and partly embarrassment; and not of you, but for you. I let them walk away.

We were cooking at least I thought with a shrug. We made pasta, Chef Jose Andres‘ Angel hair with tomato sauce (he called it pomodoro), chicken Alfredo, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, lasagna, roast chicken, pork in orange sauce, even my own leek and potato soup.

And still no bread.

Until….

I have a friend in Oklahoma who made a starter and offered it to her friends, like a chain letter. You get the starter, you grow it, and then, after ten days, you bake your bread, and you share the rest with your friends leaving one cup for you to continue the starter or freeze it for when you’re ready. for more Hmm, I thought, sure why not.

About two weeks later, a small postal box arrived at my doorstop. My starter was here! This was day one, and the directions couldn’t have been easier: do nothing.

I can do nothing.

For ten days, I mix the starter in the bag and I feed it twice. At the second feeding it’s ready to divide and use.

I put on my red apron, I got covered with flour because really what choice did I have – that stuff gets everywhere! One of the best parts of this type of bread is that apart from the starter, I already had every ingredient in my house.

I mixed it smooth. There is no kneading; it has a batter consistency and it poured into the loaf pan easily. I covered it with cinnamon sugar, although I feel as though in the end I should have mixed the sugar with butter to give it a streusel-style topping. I will try that when I make this the next time, and I will definitely add my results in here with an update (but not for awhile). I baked the bread on Wednesday, and I still have a full half of a loaf left. I think my family hasn’t figured out where the bread is or it would be gone already.

Apart from the community of what seems like the entire world baking bread simultaneously, the act of baking the bread is its own therapy. It brings out the homesteading, the nurturing, the nesting that just naturally happens in days of trauma, especially this shared trauma we’ve been facing. This feels different, though, maybe not as natural as other moments, and there is a level of stress and an undercurrent of fear sitting on the surface; the unknown that awaits. Like a rising tide lifts all boats, bread rising is an act of faith. You can follow the directions, mix all the ingredients, knead and rise, and it works or it doesn’t. Sweet breads are a little different, but there is still the wonder of making something from your hands and then sharing that with the people around you, whether that is physically with your family or here online with the people who make up our community.

I got the starter and I followed the directions. I added the ingredients. I mixed. I poured. I spread. I baked.

It hadn’t taken much for the house to smell like a bakery. A little cinnamon and vanilla goes a long way. The smells combined with each other – the cinnamon mixed in with the vanilla – and then it spread throughout the entire house until it was just there; it was consoling, comforting. It calmed. It’s quiet work reassured that things are okay and if they’re not okay right now, they will be. They will be.

Twenty-twenty’s been a year, hasn’t it? We’ll get through it in our own ways and yet still together.

It will take time, but we’ll be okay.

And there will always be bread.

For anyone who wants to make this bread, this is the link for the ingredients and directions as well as a few photos from my baking venture.

Random Thoughts: Bread

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​​I’m really not supposed to be eating that much bread, if any at all. But bread is….delicious. In all its forms and varieties. Not croutons. Croutons are delicious, but they are most certainly not bread, a discussion I recently had on Twitter with Alyssa Mastromonaco and also with my therapist. Croutons are croutons. 

I should really be eating oatmeal for breakfast, oatmeal with cranberries, but I’m waiting for a ride, and I didn’t think I had time to make and eat oatmeal and of course, a cup of tea with the oatmeal because what’s the point of boiling the water for oatmeal and not having some for tea, so instead I had some toast. With butter. I usually like cream cheese, but we have Kerrygold Irish butter left from St. Patrick’s Day’s Irish Soda Bread, so I’m using that on my plain old wheat toast.

Sometimes I’ll have another piece of toast, which I shouldn’t have in the first place, because the butter (or whatever’s on it) tastes so good, so I’ll want a little bit extra. Since I’m not supposed to have the bread, I think maybe I should just take a spoon and have a little extra butter with or without jam, and now I’m realizing that I should have put jam on the toast and with the butter, but I didn’t, and I’ve already had too much bread that I can’t go back for more.

Should I just eat the butter then? Would that be better than the extra slice of toast? Or would that be worse than the bread? Worse, I think.

Ah well, breakfast is over, and my ride is on their way.

Insta-Thanksgiving

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My church has a beautiful Thanksgiving tradition. Instead of the typical collection basket, there is a basket at the entranceways for donations to St. Vincent de Paul Society. They provide food for Thanksgiving and Christmas and gifts for Christmas for those less fortunate as well as throughout the year. During the offertory, parishioners bring up canned goods and nonperishable foods and leave them on the altar for the Society. At the end of Mass, we are given a loaf of bread to continue the communion of the Eucharist at home as well as to break and share bread with our families. (c)2017

Thanksgiving Dinner with my sister-in-law and her family. Good food, good people. (c)2017


Dessert: apple pie and pecan pie. (c)2017

Giving Up One Bread for Another

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​I did have the thought on it before my priest mentioned the duality during my first Lenten confession. Yes, I said first. This was one of those seasons that needed more than one visit for reconciliation. Every time I cleared my conscience and received absolution, that pesky Lenten abstinence came and bit me in the willpower. Sometimes, it wasn’t even about the willpower; it was forgetfulness. In my four years of observing abstinence for Lent, this was the first year that nearly did me in. It truly was a reminder of the big picture and not so much the item given up.

I believe I’ve mentioned that it took me longer than usual to choose something to give up. I finally decided on bread, and then promptly forgot what bread was. it was in my mouth, and then I knew I was done for. I had been told, this year for the first time, that I could eat the forbidden item on Sundays, but I always seemed to forget that, and abstain on Sunday, and then trade it off for another day, like my son’s birthday or the parish Holy Thursday dinner, both Italian feasts that included the most amazing breads.

Not only that, but I even confessed to a priest who wasn’t my own for the first time. That felt weird, but I was on retreat, and wanted to be absolved before I began the retreat. I like beginning those with a clear head and heart.

So I gave up bread.

The reasons were two-fold. One was for the religion of it all. I have to give up something. What would be meaningful? The second reason was that bread was something my doctor wanted me to give up. I actually had given it up last year under doctor’s orders. That included all bread products, sugars, cakes, cookies, etc. Everything except flatbread. I lost nearly thirty pounds in three months of doing that. And then, I got lazy and complacent and gained it all back, and a little bit more. I thought that I’d try to follow the doctor’s plans as part of my Lenten abstinence and at the same time attempt to once again jump start my health care.

That is what Lent is about. Giving up something to make room for something else, in order to take on a new direction to focus. That focus is not only a benefit to my spirituality, but also physically. It is all connected.

Give up something; add something else. All for the greater goal of becoming closer to G-d, and keeping the positive action in my life when Lent ends.

For Lent, I didn’t give up all breads; just bread. Bread, rolls, croissants, bagels, French toast, English muffins, waffles but not pancakes. Not cakes or muffins or cookies, but pumpkin bread and raspberry swirl loaf. Corn bread, but not corn bread muffins or sweet cake. I would still eat flatbread as my doctor allowed during the first change. For some of them, as obvious as they are, I hadn’t realized what comprised of bread. French toast was the hard one. I love French toast. And bread pudding.

Not to brag, but I do have to admit that I made an amazing spinach quiche using broken matzo as a bottom crust. Everytime I’ve attempted quiche it’s been a disaster, but this one was spectacular. I’m planning on making it again before Passover ends.

Now the real question: In giving up the bread, what would I be taking on?

I’ve been keeping a Lenten journal since Ash Wednesday. I jot something in it every day; most days I have quite a lot, and if I left it off for the entire day, I wrote a little admonishment about forgetting or being tired, but I usually made up for it the next day, coming back to it two and three times or more throughout the day. There is no word minimum; just something contemplative, prayerful, meaningful every day. I have really loved doing this. I have already decided to continue it through the Easter season. I may keep it up as a prayer journal after that, but I will see how it goes through Pentecost.

Unless I had a retreat or a doctor’s appointment, I have also attended the daily nine o’clock mass. When I started attending those five years ago, they were something to do, something to keep my depression in check, to give me a schedule to adhere and then they became more. Now, I go because it’s Lent, but also because I miss going when I don’t. Whether the reason is that I’m busy or too lazy, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t go, and I really missed it in my life. It is a good beginning to any day.

For the past two weeks, I have added praying the rosary with the church group daily after those masses. While I have my issues with some of the political aspects of the after rosary prayers, I have still gotten something out of it for my spirit, and it has given me some incentive for working on my own prayer card for St. Elen, my name saint. It is in these informal prayer settings that I see how I, and anyone else can write their own prayers that will rise to the subject they are addressing, whether they be the Holy Mother, Jesus, the saints, or a family member deeply missed.

In giving up bread, however, I of course did not give up the Eucharist. For one thing, it is a flatbread, so technically it didn’t count for my purposes. It’s also not really a bread at all when it’s consecrated as Jesus. I also had to reconcile with myself the giving up of bread and then continuing to take the Eucharist during Passover which would be during the Lenten season and Holy Week. I have managed to separate the two that has worked for my purposes and conscience. The balance of the two isn’t quite a burden, but it is something that I do struggle with as I blend the two important observations without shorting either of them.

It was kind of perfect, though to give up bread. This is the season after all, that we are given life-giving bread; the season that celebrates its origins. While we receive it weekly, we are reminded of how it came to be during our Last Supper Mass. “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” It seemed appropriate that in giving up the bread of everyday, I was continuing to take the bread of redemption, of salvation. Every time I gave up a bread item during Lent, I was reminded of the bread I would receive each Sunday.

Every time I resisted a piece of bread or a biscuit, inside I smiled, not at my willpower or how wonderful I was to uphold my promise, but because of what giving up that bread represented. Instead of physical bread, I received eternal bread, and the taste of that lasts much longer and satisfies much more than regular, unconsecrated bread from wheat. I am nourished through the bread of Jesus, and it lingers with me throughout the day, and the days between my next taste.

Christ is Risen. Lent is over now, and I go back to my regular life. I hope that it includes regular masses during the week, and pausing when I eat my bread in memory of why I gave it up this Lent in the first place. It seemed apropos to substitute Christ’s bread for sustenance, and a never ending supply of faith and life everlasting.

Amen.

Puerto Rican Bread

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On Easter Sunday, right about dinner time, I realized we had no dinner rolls so since it was the only store open, I sent my son to Wal-Mart to pick up a bread. I said something like an Italian bread, or a French baguette, whatever he wanted to choose.

He went and came back quickly with this:

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It looked very similar to Italian bread, but it was very different. For one thing, while it looks like it’s one large loaf, it is really two. They’re attached by being baked too close together I imagine, but it seemed thatw this type of bread comes in twos.

t was also a soft, squishy bread, the kind that I like to slather with butter. When I tasted it, I think it was the best bread I’ve ever eaten. It was the perfect texture, inside and out, and it was airy which surprised me.

All cultures and countries have their own types of breads. We are very lucky in the US that we have the opportunity to try them from bagels to naan, from tortillas to biscuits.

I had never heard of Puerto Rican bread specifically before so I put out a call to my Facebook friends to see if anyone knew what it was that made it so special, and I was sent this video:

This video called it Puerto Rican water bread, and another one on the page called it Puerto Rican sweet bread. Either way, it looks easy enough to make, and my plan is to head back over to Wal-Mart for another loaf (or two since that’s how they’re packaged).

My husband’s theme for 2016 is TSN or Try Something New. I thought I’d share this new thing with you.