Reflections

Good Things

Did you ever wake up one morning and decide that you would try something different? Something new? Without warning? Just for the hell of it?

A week ago, I had that very same thing happen to me.

I got out of bed, fed the dogs, let them out, poured myself a cup of coffee, and suddenly found myself flipping through pages of a cookbook that I’d recently gotten as a gift. And not just any cookbook, but one that focuses specifically on bread made by hand.

Before I get too far into this story, I need to clear the air on a few things. First, I’ve made plenty of loaves of bread before, but they are usually made with the assistance of a bread machine. There’s a certain level of luxury involved in simply dumping the ingredients into a pan, pressing the power button, waiting a few hours, and being able to enjoy a freshly baked loaf of bread without so much as breaking a sweat. Second, this bread machine died a horrible and painful death very recently (thanks COVID-19). I can only assume that it wasn’t really designed for the amount of abuse I had put it through. One day, while making a loaf of cheese and onion bread, the machine itself got overheated, let out a horrible screech, and then gasped its last breath of air before joining some of its brethren in the void where all kitchen gadgets must go eventually – the trash. Third, I have made loaves of bread by hand before. Am I good at it? No!

There! I feel better now. So back to the story…

Anyway, I have this cookbook, you see. Initially, I had taken a look through the book and was intimidated by what I was seeing. Everything looked delicious, and I couldn’t wait to try some of the recipes I was reading about. The problem? The easiest recipe in the book had a completion time of 9 hours from start to finish. I hesitated…and put the cookbook back on the shelf.

When was I going to have 9 hours of free time to try this?!

Over the next week, every day, I would pick the book up again and read all about the simple ingredients (flour, water, salt, and yeast). I studied the theory behind the basics of proofing, folds, and levain. I would get excited, then flip back to that first recipe, look at the completion time, sigh, and then put it back on the shelf. Over and over.

That is, until that morning.

That one morning, I got out of bed, fed the dogs, let them out, poured myself a cup of coffee, and suddenly found myself flipping through pages of THAT cookbook.

Now, I must admit that I had every intention of taking my coffee and going back to bed that morning, but something stopped me. I can’t explain what that something was either. But before I knew it, I was mixing the flour and water with my hands, starting a process that would take me through the entire day.

At the start, I felt anxious about how this would all turn out. But I started slowly and purposefully, using all of the methods I had read and learned about over the last few weeks. I used a kitchen scale to carefully measure out all the ingredients. I took specific care and followed the listed directions, afraid that I would miss something or mess something up. I used timers, and I remained patient. I let the dough sit on its own. I folded the dough over and over. It bubbled, it rose, and it did all other kinds of things that I’m not used to. In all honesty, it wasn’t all that much work. In fact, it was really just a whole lot of waiting. And something interesting happened the farther along I got in the entire process. My anxiety over screwing up had almost entirely disappeared. I hadn’t even really noticed. Before I knew it, the day had flown by, and the end was in sight!

I watched, waited, and cared for it all day, and the time had finally come to put it in the oven. Then, finally, after an hour of baking, I pulled it out and was shocked to find one fine looking loaf of artisanal white bread, unlike anything I had ever made before! Crusty on the outside, soft and airy on the inside. Yes, it was a bit lop-sided. And yes, it could have been bigger and fluffier.

Was it perfect? No. Was it delicious? Yes!

There are a lot of things we tend to put off because they seem like too much work. They give us anxiety, they seem too hard, or they take up too much time. We find reasons not to do something, or try something new, or learn a new skill. We do this because it’s easy – it’s convenient. But these are the excuses we make that limit our own success. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Good things take time. They won’t always be perfect – they will take time, practice, and patience. But this is how we learn and grow. All we can do is try.

Next up, bacon sourdough bread!

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