For a while, I was baking an obscene amount of bread as collected anxiety of these times—the newspaper headlines, the disappearing clients (and income), the grief, the uncertainty—overwhelmed me.
The price of such baking anxiety was the inevitable Covid-19 five pounds (approximately), and in retrospect it’s kind of amazing I didn’t gain more (thank you, gym routine, horses, barn chores!). I’ve dialed it down to one bake a week—one loaf/baguette/batch, at least for now.
This may be a futile attempt to regain my youthful figure (Ha!) or simply that the incredible spikes of anxiety driving me to obsessively thrust hands in dough had itself become a slow simmer of constant uncertainty. I’m getting used to not being so busy. I’m getting used to Zoom (god forbid). I’m getting used to tuning out the political insanity.
Still, every time I open the fridge, I see my collection of starters, like a tribe of neglected children, simmering up some hooch behind the water pitcher.
For those of you not familiar with what happens to neglected starter, it grows a layer of alcoholic-smelling liquid on top (hence the name). It’s harmless and easy to manage in this state; just stir it in and feed. But it’s a reminder that it’s been a bit too long since the last bake. A healthy starter needs regular doses of flour and water and love.
I made some croissants 10 days ago, for a camping trip. They were heavier than normal, mostly because I have developed a case of “baker’s shoulder,” if such a thing exists. The rolling required to turn a massive, thick mound of stiff dough to a final product less than a quarter of an inch thick required not only a lot of strength and patience, it required the assistance of Better Burque. My shoulder really hurt. The croissants were not my best effort.
Hence another part of my decision to give it a rest—lose a few pounds, rest my shoulder, regroup.
The baking I did from March through, well, last week, was a frenzy of flour and water and loaves and crusty containers and dishwashing, rinse, repeat. I hardly replicated a single recipe. I used two dozen different formulas. I took my commercial yeast recipes and converted them to sourdough (natural yeast), which resulted in varying degrees of success.
It’s been an absolute whirlwind of baking distraction.
Now, I think I’d like to stick to one or two different recipes for a while and be more disciplined about journaling the results. From a life perspective, perhaps the larger metaphor here is to revel in the slowdown; to be more mindful and present in the process, and to get really good at one or two things. My life includes enough new challenges. Repetition might be a good exercise, and, well, homemade sourdough is great even if it’s the same formula I made last week, the week before, and the week before that.
Sometimes a little routine in changing times is a welcome respite from the frenzy.