Friday, January 1, 2010

Kneading

It's Friday and I'm making bread that I will feed to my loves with tonight's dinner. All baking is a sleight of hand. Mix these things, this flour, those eggs and behind the black oven door or inside the black magician's hat something happens. And the rewards for believing are sweet.

If I bake a pie or a cake that's what happens. I mix and I stir and the spatula or the long wooden spoon or the food processer or the stand mixer serve as my wand, my intermediary, my barrier, my substitute. The rewards are always sweet so I'll always believe in the magic. As will you. But was I there?

Bread is more powerful, more primal. Four years and five months ago we moved into this house with no soffits above the kitchen cabinets and there I store some small appliances. In four years and five months I believe I've never reached for the bread machine that looks down on the roof of the fridge. Baking bread is no mere magic. It's alchemy. Yeast and warm water and sugar and flour and butter and eggs and a drop of honey, zest of two clementines. I don't make bread dough with an electric beater or even a wooden spoon. I mix bread dough like my ancestors' ancestors mixed, with my hands, until the webbing between my fingers is coated and sticky and forges me to my ingredients' yield and I am neither distinguishable nor divisible from the nourishment I'll later pop in my daughters' expectant mouths.

Now I have a round, smooth ball of dough, a tabula rasa. But is there really any true beginning? The first man was formed from dirt and this Friday was born on the death of a Thursday and even the blank canvas of New Year's Day Metaphor Perfection was stretched and stapled and primed for you by some MFA student earning a few extra dollars in the back of the craft store. What is a smooth, warm sphere is only so perfect at the surface because I've stretched and pulled and heated from the heat of my own skin and activated the yeast and invigorated the gluten and toiled to tired forearms so that this dough can be anything. It's a new day, a new year, and I could braid this dough with three strands or six. Or I could twist it or ball it or throw it plain in a loaf pan and let it stay unformed of personality because it's only Day One, and we have 365 of these in which to discover ourselves anew.

Is there really any difference in today compared with yesterday and I don't know that there is, except we love our mile markers. We love our auld lang synes and our resolutions and is there really any more might behind a resolution made on the first day of the first month or one made on a half birthday or that day upcoming in September when we'll pay off our car note or the one upcoming in February when I birth my son? and the answer is: I don't think so. But there is power in zeitgeist just as there is power in these pale forearms and today is the day to dream big, wipe a slate clean, forgive ourselves and others in advance of our still unseen failings, even if that failing is that what you thought was a fresh start was manufactured in large rolls in China with primer with too much lead and stapled to hardwoods pulled from depleted rainforests. Even in our biggest hopes, none of us is perfect.

I think of how I will shape this bread and I think of how I will shape this year. I will spend more time lowering the curtain between imagination and reality. I'll believe in magic beans and fairy wings and wishes on first night stars. I would like to have more fun with my kids and fewer unfulfilling obligations and more patience with adults. I would like to be a more generous listener and be less socially timid and throw myself into challenges that scare me a little.

Those aren't resolutions, but maybe they are impetuses. Maybe they're motivations. Maybe they're just little puffs of steam behind the black oven door.

I'll make only one resolution this year:

I herewith resolve to make a lot more bread. Pin It