Thanks Dad for the Life Lesson!

Cheese-braid Loaf fresh out of the oven

My father taught me how to bake bread. I was 17, in my final year of high school. We were living in Germany at the time and I was busy trying to make a plan for the rest of my life. It wasn’t going well.

“Here, I’ll teach you how to bake bread,” my father said one day in his usual gruff voice that left no room for argument.

From the first knead I fell in love.

It’s a love affair that has never ended, though there have been times when the challenges of baking sourdough during Covid’s lockdown almost soured me on my passion!

But I digress.

Baking bread from scratch is one part science, one part alchemy and one part Love with a hearty dollop of magic thrown in for good measure.

Along with its capacity to lighten any burden I may be carrying and calm my fears or tears, baking bread also deepens my connection to the ‘now’. It brings me full circle back to life’s mysteries, beauties, and sometimes inexplicable inconsistencies.

On Monday, while snow fell and the temperature began its steady climb down into the sub-zero zones of Arctic climes where it currently rests in defiance of my demands it rise up again, I heated a cup of water to just the right temperature (110F), poured 3 teaspons yeast onto the water in a large bowl, threw in a pinch of salt, gave it a stir, and let it rest for five minutes.

The water, salt and yeast responded well to each other’s presence and frothed joyfully in the bowl.

A cup of flowr. A cup of grated cheddar. A good healthy whisking, a second five minute rest and the ooey gooey mess was ready to receieve its final ministrations.

It is the simplicity of bread-making I love the most. Three ingredients (plus whatever extras, like cheddar, parsley and herbs, you want to throw in). A bit of attention to measurements, the water to flour combination does not require accuracy, just a good feeling in the dough’s bounce back response prior to its first rise.

Of course, it’s important to pay attention to the details – the water can’t be too hot or it will kill the yeast. Too cold, the yeast won’t awaken. The biggest demand on the breadmaker is our willingness to let the magic happen without poking and prodding it along.

Bread-making, if you’re doing it from scratch and by hand, requires patience, time and muscle. After the second five minute rest, when you start adding flour to the mixture to create the doughball, arm-strength is vital. Not only are you thickening up the gooey mess, you’re moving it around to make sure the flour, water and salt are combined and the gluten is stretched and coerced into activation.

And that’s where the ‘stress-relief’ comes in.You get to punch and roll, punch and roll as you apply your full arm power to the process, ’cause it’s the kneading that puts the gluten to work. Plopping the dough onto the counter and giving it a couple of tepid roll-overs just doesn’t make it work!

You gotta knead that baby doughball into an elastic-like consistency where the gluten knows, with great certainty, that its only job in life is to stretch in all directions beyond the confines of its small-spongle like birth-form to become what it is destined to be – a baked to perfection, crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside, delectable concoction whose only calling in life is to inveigle you into smearing a copious serving of butter and jam onto its fresh out of the oven goodness and devour it with moans of delight.

Kneading is the stress relief. Consuming is the delight.

On Monday, in anticipation of our family dinner of ten that evening, I baked a cheese-braid loaf of bread in honour of my eldest daughter who would not be joining us at the table. It is her favourite and I have never created a family dinner without one loaf gracing the center of the table(or two if she’s present as, as along with C.C., she tends to nibble away at the loaf until the product that appears on the table looks like a horde of gophers had free-reign with its preparation).

It is an act of Love. A reflection of the strength and stretchy nature of our family circle that has spanned decades and generations, been stretched at times to its maximum capacity to hold pain and grief, sorrow and sadness and still bounce back to hold us all together.

I baked a loaf of bread on Monday. The family circle remains strong, reminding me that no matter the times, or weather outside, we are all connected through Love’s enduring embrace.

Thanks dad for the life lesson! You taught me well.

16 thoughts on “Thanks Dad for the Life Lesson!

  1. I think I will try that recipe.. looks like a nice little tasty treat for the grandkids and my other half. Cheese and…. what’s your favourite herb in it. Assuming you add the grated cheese as you roll it up?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I use parsley and tarragon — sometimes add garlic to the butter I melt to spread the herb paste. 🙂

      PS – the cheese is added — half a cup into the sponge after the first five minute rest, and then as much as you want before you roll it up. The parsely/herb paste gets spread on the full dough before you add cheese and roll it up.


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