The Paris Review piece called Fuck the Bread, The Bread is Over. made multi appearances on my Facebook page, posted twice in my grad school MFA in Creative Nonfiction group, so I assumed it was a must read.
The headline’s catchy and the piece spoke to me because it was about a writer trying to get a job as a professor. It was about a writer trying to feel important, with a key to an office, library privileges, students, and colleagues. She did not get the job. But she wrote a killer good essay in The Paris Review, goddamnit (cue professional jealousy rearing its crumby, crusty head).
This blog is not appearing in the Paris Review, at least not yet, nor did I win Pulitzer this week. Nor have any of the three dozen resumes I’ve sent out in the past four months borne even a blip of response. Nothing’s moving.
But my rye bread is damn good.
For the record, bread is NOT over. Not even close. Bread baking is not just a seasonal/pandemical trend for some of us. After all, baking bread has been around for 14,000 years or so (future interesting career: archeobotanist who studies food remains).
And it’s key to the survival of mankind. No time for the leavening? Matzoh! Grind up some masa, pound it flat, tortillas!
I made crackers this week for the first time with some sourdough discard. I forgot about the part where you have to prick them with a fork, so they ended up as one-and-a-half inch sourdough rosemary pillows rather than Wheat Thins (which I crave periodically and which was the desired result). We ate them anyway. Dayenu, as the saying goes.
I’m sorry if you’ve lost interest in your starter, and if bread requires too much fiddling (it really doesn’t, not like decorating a themed birthday cake or making a feuilletine pastry). I’m sorry if you’ve had too many failures, or if you’re interest in new arty-crafty projects has been beaten down by the relentlessness of quarantine and creepy goings-on that feel like they should be in a fictional movie script and not in the newspaper of record, the one that often wins Pulitzers.
Bread rocks and rolls. Baking bread is (cue corny music) salve for the anxious soul. Like the Paris Review writer, I don’t feel very good at very much these days, but I am really good at bread.
This week it was hot in the kitchen, and everything rose too fast, proofed too long (kitchen temp matters!). But hey, who cares? They’re gonna eat it anyway. And they’ll love it. As much as I fret over the state of my oven spring, beauty of my scores, and crispiness of my “ears,” most of this means nothing to the eater. They are super happy to have homemade bread.
All that other stuff is for the benefit of showing off to other bakers on Instagram and Facebook #breadboss, #breadbaking, #whatever the hell a hashtag is supposed to do. I don’t really know.
Despite my anxiety over bread perfection, my husband doesn’t know that my rye is flatter than it should be and that the multigrain rose outward instead of upward. He doesn’t know that my dough was 80 degrees when I set it to proof, and hence I should have shortened my proofing time, but didn’t. He loves it anyway.
In giving my starter away to friends around the city, I’ve unwittingly helped generate quality anxiety—one friend commented late one night on my Facebook page—Tribble had indeed risen, but she was afraid of it! She had performance anxiety: “I just put it back in the fridge.”
Don’t be afraid. Creating a thing that people love, that smells like home, that tastes familiar and nurturing, that’s something. Dayenu.
Maybe it’s not an essay in the Paris Review or a Pulitzer or even a call back for a job interview. Maybe it’s not a check in the mail or a significant drop in new cases, a vaccine, or a president who isn’t careening us all toward indignity with his careless bluster. But it’s something. And if it isn’t perfect? They’ll love it anyway. And that’s something to remember and dearly hold on to in this time of “bakelash” and pandemic.