Monday, January 10, 2011

Tragedy, Humanity, Bread

"There’s no better season than winter to have the smell of fresh baked bread in the house, to hear in a quiet clean kitchen the sound of a bread crust crackling as it cools." -- Michael Ruhlman

I can't get the awful news about representative Giffords and the other shooting victims out of my mind. Reeling from disappointment with our country, our race, and the world in general, my hands found themselves wrist-deep in flour and water.

I return to food, again and again, for countless reasons. Man and woman can't live on bread alone, but bread is not any one thing alone: it is sustenance, it is comfort, it is therapy, it is a celebration of life, and it is even exercise for all of the atrophying muscles in our modern hands.

One of the many reasons I have devoted my life to immersing myself in all things edible (not literally, unfortunately) was a growing disappointment with nearly everything else. When I first got my laptop and made the Times my homepage, I noticed a pattern. It went like this:

1. Wake up. Go on-line.
2. Get barraged by news of political strife, ecological havoc, murder and mayhem.
3. Notice the link to Dining & Wine. Flee to it.
4. Read inspiring stories of heroes of the food revolution, synthesizing their desire for food justice, environmental stewardship, gastronomic sublimity, and the art of living.
5. Think "maybe the world isn't such a terrible place."

Escapism? Quite the opposite. In my senior year of college I took a class on storytelling, mythology and oral tradition taught by the professor and poet (and baker, I'm sure) Luis Yglesias. He insisted that we immerse ourselves in lore and legend in order to live a life fulfilled. To me, it sounded like hiding from reality. I told him as much, he tucked a thumb under his rainbow suspenders, twirled his mustache, gazed out the window, and finally said something along the lines of "It's not an escape; it's a return."

I feel the same way about food, and lately bread especially. At the moment I have a loaf of Michael Ruhlman's mulitgrain boule rising. Before that I made a 100% whole wheat from Beard on Bread, a buttered slice of which is pictured at top. It took coarse, whole wheat, two tablespoons of molasses, a tablespoon of salt, a little yeast, a little water, a few minutes of my day, and nothing else.

It was dense, hearty, flavorful bread. Food bread. The pieces of chaff left in the wheat crunched between my teeth like sparkly bits of Parmigiano Reggiano. This is the kind of stuff that you can feel in your bones was what your ancestors ate. Eating it, and making it, reminds me of one of the vows from Elise and my wedding: to help each other focus on what is most essential.

My thoughts are with everyone who has suffered from the recent tragedy in Arizona. My thoughts are wary of those whose hands are not completely clean of this blood, despite their backpaddling. They might threaten some of the values that are most near and dear to me -- peace, civility, tolerance, honesty -- but they can't shake my humanity. With my hands plunged in stiff, dark dough, my faith that what is good in the world will persist is immovable.

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Andrew Slack said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

Anna (CO of Allegheny College Dumbledore's Army) said...

This was inspired and just beautiful writing. Thank you for sharing your interesting way of reacting to current events.