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Inspire - Posted February 25, 2011 2:20 p.m.
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My Life in Bread

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I hope my life reads like a story. A profound, awesome, fun, chock-full-of-laughter-and-beauty-and-grace-and-moments-that-take-your-breath-away story. And when I think about how I want my story to be told, I often wonder what things my children will remember when they're grown. What memories will they take with them and keep in their pockets for all those times when they're sad, lonely, stressed or just looking for the warm embrace of days gone by?

I remember amazing, larger-than-life birthdays and holidays. So much so, I find myself trying to recreate them for my kids. I remember long, family vacation road trips. I saw America from the back seat of my parents' car. And now I want to show my children. I want to create a childhood woven together by traditions and memories.

When I think back, I also remember the food. Lots of home-cooked goodness, recipes passed down. My mamaw's light-as-air doughnuts were a painstaking work of art. And her rolls were indescribable. I can see myself sitting at the kitchen table waiting for those rolls one night. We had rolls for dinner that evening. Just rolls. We didn't need anything to complicate the perfection baked in that pan. Except maybe a little honey.

My mamaw, my mom, my dad, my grandma, they all had something I don't – patience in the kitchen... the kind of patience spent simmering a pot of deliciousness all afternoon or laboriously working out a made-from-scratch pie crust. I like to cook. What I don't like is slaving over a tedious recipe for hours only to spend another hour cleaning the mess I made. My knife skills are horrendous and I have absolutely no technique. I don't know how to properly plate. I overdress salads and I tend to believe more is more. Fortunately, I have managed to amass an array of good sources for quick and easy recipes that are also healthy (mostly) and delicious (usually).

And while I'm pleased with the meals I turn out, I've never really been able to master the whole baking thing. Sure, I try to keep some sort of homemade cookie around at all times. And yes, I make cupcakes from scratch for school parties in order to accommodate my allergic-to-milk middle child. That's about as far into the world of baking as I've been willing to venture. I have never made a homemade pie crust. And I don't recall ever making bread that wasn't a quick bread or didn't come from a frozen loaf of dough.

That is until, a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a cookbook, thought it might be fun to try and decided to take a chance on it. "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" has been life-changing. It arrived on my doorstep one Friday night and suddenly, on any given day, I'm covered in flour, my house smells delicious and there's a loaf of fresh-baked-something-or-other sitting on the counter.

It's completely changed my perspective on baking bread. The French word for bread is "pain." Though it's pronounced "pan," I've always thought it an appropriate word, as hours of kneading and rolling can be pretty painful. But this book has introduced me to a whole new world that is anything but. I've learned so much about bread; it's been a real tour through history. I've come to appreciate the hard, crusty outer texture of a boule and all the rustic charm that comes with it. And best of all, there's no labor involved. I dump a few ingredients in a bowl, give it a whirl in a stand mixer, let it rise and two hours later, I have enough dough for four loaves of bread – plenty for my family for the week.

I can make ciabatta, foccacia, soft, white, sandwich bread or even slightly sweet challah (pronounced HAH-lah, with a very throaty sound, according to a good friend who recently clued me in) in a matter of minutes and without a single second of kneading. By far, the most difficult recipe I've attempted is babka and even it was a minimally difficult process. Before this, I wouldn't have even known what challah or babka was, unless you count that one Seinfeld episode.

Baking my own bread has been easier and more fun than I ever thought possible. It takes longer to clean the flecks of flour off the countertops than it does to actually make the breads. I don't have to worry about whether it contains some form of milk. There are no chemicals I can't pronounce and no questionable forms of sugar. And I feel like we're all getting a taste of France.

I suspect, if I tried, I could tell someone who didn't know that the perfect loaf of boule sitting on my counter is the product of a generations-old recipe my very French grandmother brought with her from the old country. However, neither of my grandmothers are French and I don't know where the "old country" is. What I do know is I never really thought my kids might look back on their childhood and remember me for my bread. But now, I think, they just might. And I'm writing a new chapter of our story with each loaf.

See more of April's work at thinkabink.blogspot.com

by April Brownlee

April is a freelance writer and professional fundraiser. She spends her free time reading, obsessing over reality TV, fashion, food and politics, and writing about the antics of life with a husband, three kids, two dogs, a beta fish and a dwarf frog.
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