“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
-John Muir, The Yosemite
I’ve been mourning gluten and dairy lately.
When I was diagnosed with lyme earlier this year, I went on an anti-inflammatory diet as part of my healing protocol. Turns out, gluten and dairy are not only delicious, but also inflammatory.
For most of the summer and fall, I’ve relied instead on gluten-free flours, coconut oil and a slew of dairy alternatives, looking for something creamy enough to stand in for whole milk. Coconut has come closest in terms of fat; soy’s flavor melds a bit better into the background.
I’m feeling better now, and have started to slowly re-introduce dairy and wheat back into my diet. Very slowly.
It started with slivers of cultured pasture butter. Then local sourdough raisin bread, made with a 24-hour fermentation process. My body is still in a delicate balance, though, and I haven’t yet ventured into my winter rhythm of weekly bread baking.
After the fields have all gone to bed, I turn my hands to flour and yeast and the rhythm of kneading as dough imprints into my skin where soil used to be.
And like the fields in summer, baking bread grounds me to this place, asking the entire day of me.
I mix the sponge, let it sit; I fold in more flour and knead the dough, let it rise; I punch it down, let it rise; I punch it down again, let it rise; I pre-heat the oven and shape the loaves, then let them rise one last short time before brushing the tops with egg yolk and milk and shifting them into the oven to finally bake.
An hour later, I pull the loaves from the heat, pop them from the pans, and set them to cool.
The entire act of baking bread reminds me of the necessity of pausing, of what can rise from us when we sit in quiet for long stretches of time.
It reminds me, too, of the work that’s required of us if that silence is to manifest into being, into heartiness, into something that feeds us and shapes the bounty of our days.
As I write, dawn slowly stretches over the sky.
Snow fell all day and night, and Edge slipped out an hour ago for a pre-dawn ski along old logging roads and trails that wind through the forest.
There’s solace there, among the trees and snow. Even though my body is still finding its way back to balance, the beauty never left. I suppose I should take a cue from the seasons and be at peace with letting go. The trees have long dropped their leaves and stand now with snow on their branches. And it’s so beautiful.
Thank goodness for beauty, which soothes even if bread inflames.
It brings me back to the simple lesson of gentleness. Healing comes in time. And hopefully, the rhythm of baking bread will, too.
May you find beauty today, and everyday.
May your stomach and your soul be filled.
I make my bread following the Tassajara Bread Book basic recipe for oat bread.
The more I bake, the more confident I become in adding my own changes to the dough. My standard ingredients are yeast, whole wheat flour, oats, honey, canola oil and sea salt. For more indulgent loaves I trade the honey and oil out for molasses and butter.