Sunday, November 4, 2007

First Loaves

I have gone through long stretches in which I have baked all of our family's bread. It was a habit I got out of in England, where there was barely enough room in our kitchen to knead, and I was unable to buy flour in bulk. Now, after a long absence, I'm back. Above you can see the first two loaves out of the Hardy oven since summer 2006.* They're a simple recipe: flour (whole wheat and white), water, honey, buttermilk, yeast and salt. (My brother-in-law in Roseville, who's a better person than I am, makes all of his family's bread, using a sourdough starter he made himself with fermented grapes.) Will and Peter love my home-baked bread. Peter likes it best when it's still butter-meltingly warm from the oven, and often eats half a loaf before it cools.

My first published essay was on bread, fatherhood, and creation; if you want to try to find it, it appeared in North Dakota Quarterly in 1998 (volume 65, number 1). In the essay, Will is still a little boy, just being potty trained and learning to use blunt-tipped scissors:

He tells me that he wants to make a world. He cuts suns and moons and stars out of yellow construction paper. He cuts the Earth out of blue construction paper and sets the green continents in their places with great lava flows of Elmer's Glue. He tapes each star and planet to the end of a chopstick and stages cosmological puppet shows... Out in the yard, he pushes the chopsticks into the soft dirt, as if marking rows of seeds that later in the season will yield a bumper crop of planets and suns...

Now that "eccentric" (his grandfather's word) little boy is a sixteen-year old, sitting in his room playing Elliot Smith songs on his guitar, having pizza parties with his friends, taking AP American History, starting to think about going away to college.

Last night, I was astounded by the high school production of On the Town, not least because I remembered so many of the actors from my days as a substitute teacher. There were Charlie and Clara from Mrs. Betcher's fourth grade class at Bridgewater; there was Kelsey, looking exactly as if she had stepped out of a 1940's fashion plate, so different from the chubby baby I first met when she was three months old. There was Dylan, taller than I am, a boy I visited in the hospital on the day he was born. That seems like such a short time ago. How have they had time to become so talented and beautiful and big?

When we got home from the play, Peter showed up with his friends Parker, Tommy, and Danny for an impromptu sleepover. This morning, we found them sprawled on a solid carpet of Magic cards on the family room floor, surrounded by half-drunk cups of hot chocolate (and one cup mysteriously containing melted Dove bars mixed with coffee beans). Fortunately, they hadn't quite eaten all of the bread.

*Note the local Ernst Honey (Northfield); I also used Swany White Flour (Freeport, Minnesota) and local tap water from the Jordan sandstone beneath Northfield. I usually don't use a recipe when baking bread, but since I hadn't baked bread in a while, I adapted this recipe from Bernard Clayton's excellent bread book, also seen in the photograph.

1 comment:

Jim H. said...

Save a hunk of the dough and use it to make a small pizza crust. Remarkable what a difference fresh dough makes, especially when the other ingredients are also very fresh and very simple (tomato, cheese, basil).

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