Sunday, February 27, 2005

Making word quota via a dirty trick

I am too mentally constipated right now to actually write fiction to meet my quota, therefore you're stuck with a diatribe about bread and another lost piece of my heritage.

I just made an awesome loaf of bread with the breadmaker. I’ve been having trouble with it latterly, and this one I just pulled is be-yout-ee-ful. It’s really tall too. It’s kind of like a Brazillian model… kind of classic looking, kind of exotic, six feet tall, and if it were anything other than a Brazillian model, you’d think it was gangly.

I get warm fuzzies off of homemade bread. It tastes like real, honest to gosh bread. Store-bought bread is all style and no substance. Sure it comes in a pretty plastic bag that will prevent it from getting hard. But It’s too fluffy. To mushy. It has no texture, no personality.

This stuff gets tough a little quicker because of the lack of preservatives, but at least I know what the heck’s in it, namely because I put it all in there. One thing it does lack is the hands-on sort of experience that comes with really, truly baking bread; making it from scratch.

My mom and my grandmother didn’t do it often, but my grandmother’s sister used to make bread from scratch “all the time.” And by all the time, I mean on several occasions when I was over her house. I remember mixing and mixing and kneading and folding until my chubby little kid hands were tired, then being fascinated by her putting the big balls of dough beneath dish towels, and when she ran out of those, aprons, to let it raise, kneading still more, and maybe even once again before they went into the oven.

And when they came out… there was so much bread. Italian people tend to cook for a cast of thousands. The need to have extras, leftovers and stuff for other people to take home is genetically engrained. I remember warm bread on the stove, the counters, the table. I remember bread pans being filled, cookie sheets, anything and everything that Aunt Annie had in her already well-stocked kitchen was put to use. And all of it covered with dish towels to keep it warm and the crust from getting hard.

My parents were strictly white breaders. Wheat was a rare treat, cinnamon raisin bread if you were really lucky. Compared to the grocery store bread isle treatment, this was a gourmet luxury. The thicker texture, the comparatively less sweet taste… I could hope and wait patiently for “bread days” in my house, which were few and far between (usually relegated to days when mom was trying to keep the house warm, and turning on the oven was a good way to do it), but I knew that for the bread hookup, you talked to Aunt Annie. She even made those fried dough balls covered in honey (I have the recipe somewhere) at Christmas time and sometimes just because. She was the quintessential Italian Nonna, teaching her kids and grandkids to cook, and even just scraggly tomboy second nieces. I’ll miss that.

I try to make one loaf a week. And it usually lasts me a week, since I’m usually the only one who eats it. I get a warm fuzzy from knowing it’s fresh bread, however, I still know. I know that my hands didn’t touch that dough, didn’t form it in any sort of way. I know what I have is cheapened somewhat by this. The sum of my flour mess can be wiped up and erased with a napkin and my hands are clean. The only thing I need to I gather all the ingredients, and even then sometimes I’m too lazy to do that, and then there is no bread for the week.

Maybe I’d have less aggressions if I took it out on the bread. That sounds reasonable. In my ‘old age’ I’m beginning to learn the value of “midless” manual labor. It really does clear the mind… kind of like a miniature mental retreat/vacation. Maybe we need more of that in our lives, instead of less. Look what happens when we have machines to do menial tasks for us—we end up filling that time with something that taxes the last little bit of our mental reserve, and then we wonder why we’re burnt out mental messes.

Maybe we all just need to make some more bread.

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