Monday, November 06, 2006

Why I'm Not Getting a Breadmaker for Christmas

Today as I was skimming through the Sunday newspaper ads I saw several breadmakers listed for pre-holiday sales. For a brief moment I was tempted to pass the ad over to my husband with a note about what he could get me for Christmas. Thankfully the moment passed.

About a year ago I started making bread every week in order to supply our family with our weekly allotment of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, french toast, and dinner rolls. This was a purely financial decision on my end--we needed to trim our budget and I have very high standards for the bread that enters our home--no pasty white cardboard crap here! Since $4-5 bakery loaves were now out of the question, my only choice was to spend Sunday afternoons baking.

I wasn't exactly a novice to bread baking. My mom owned a health food store, and making food from scratch, using whole grains and homegrown foods was a *natural* part of my childhood (haha--I just crack my punny self up sometimes!). In my single-girl, pre-marriage years, I frequently baked to satisy my own tastes for hearty, harvest fresh bread, and yes, I admit it, more than once to entice some eligible young man with my supreme domesticity in the kitchen. It eventually worked--my husband was suitably impressed enough to pop the question.

But as the demands of work, marriage, and especially of three children under the age of three, piled up, bread baking seemed a luxury that wasn't worth the time it took. Until, however, finances deemed otherwise, and the alternative (unnattractive storebought bread) wasn't acceptable.

While I rather reluctantly began my weekly baking schedule, within a few weeks it became a time I treasured in the kitchen. If I had to skip a week I missed it. I kept loaves stashed in the freezer to tide us over, but I came up with excuses not to use them so I could keep my weekly appointment with the mixing bowl.

It was something of a guilty little secret that I never gave much thought to until a few months ago, when my sister and my mom regaled me with the advantages of the breadmaker, how much they loved their bread machines, and what a fantastic addition to the kitchen it would be for me.

I found myself feeling quite protective of my old-fashioned breadmaking time, and disporportionately defensive about sticking to my handmade dough. That seemed silly--I'm not particularly sentimental, especially about kitchen appliances. I love my KitchenAid mixer, I use my slow cooker constantly, I don't know how people lived before food processors. But switching to a breadmaker was somehow threatening to me in an odd, irrational way.

It finally hit me today, when I allowed myself to consider for minute giving in and turning my dough over to a machine.

The thing is, I'm not much of a down-to-earth, back to basics woman at all. I shudder to think of a world without disposable diapers. I rejoice in the time saved by my microwave oven. I don't have a garden, and since I hate getting my hands in the dirt, I may never have a garden in this lifetime. The closest I get to the origins of my food is the occasional trip to the farmer's market. I don't beat my wet clothing out on a rock, I don't even do weekly ironing, prefering permanent press clothing for easy laundering.

There are only a few things in my life that lead to moments of supreme connection for me. Hanging laundry on the clothesline, rocking a baby, and making my own bread are teeny little spaces of perfect belonging in the universe. The rythmic, repetitive, meditative motion seems to put me in touch with millions of other women, past, present, and future, who have shared those motions, touched those same textures of wet cotton, downy soft baby heads, or yeasty, sticky dough. Time is suspended. For a few precious moments I am part of something bigger than my yard, my home, my kitchen. With hands busy, my mind drifts to a thousand places all at once, none of which I could coherently describe a few seconds later. It's a better-smelling, more productive form of yoga to me.

It's such an intensely personal ritual, yet it's all the better for being shared. Laundry is a family affair--we all help carry the big, heavy basket of wet clothes out to the line, then chubby little hands vie to bring me pieces as fast as I can clip them up. It's meditative and relaxing, but it's also communal. Rocking a baby can't take place without, well, the baby. Satisfying for mommy and baby both, it's personal zen time while also being intense bonding time. And bread....dumping ingredients in a machine and pushing some buttons would be so lonely. When I bake bread my girls climb up on stools across the counter to watch with big eyes. They wait for the finished dough to be pronounced ready so they can get the first tastes of pillowy soft dough (yes, what a horrible mother am I to let my kids eat raw bread dough). They clamber up again for the first slices warm from the oven, barely needing butter or jam or any other adornment. They are fascinated by the hand-crank grinder that lets me add a range of freshly ground grains to our weekly bread. They squeal and giggle when they see the loaves take shape and fit perfectly into the long pans. Perhaps best of all, they become part of the moment suspended in time. I learned to bake bread from my mother who learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother who learned it from hers, and all the way back as far as time stretches, and thousands upon thousands of mothers push the dough with their hands and crush the grains and carefully measure the water and oil and form it into loaves and feel the heat of the oven and watch the leavened mounds rise and break the bread to feed their hungry children who then are filled.

Every week the golden loaves lie stacked across my counter. They are warm and fragrant. They are soft and substantial and represent nurturing and sustenance and health and caring--a yeasty, crusty epitome of mother's love in a nine by five pan.

The glorious act of creation on a Sunday afternoon. I see what I have created. And I see that it is good.

1 comment:

Sean Carter said...

loved reading your post. its really touching. i also love doing a lot of things which i wont give up for anything. my mom is also good at breadmaking and she often does it herself. i appreciate all that she has done for us and nothing can beat homebaked bread.
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