My Bread and Butter

 
jennifer hulley food photographer food stylist food writer blogger hamilton toronto ontario
 

Patience. There has to be patience. Our immediate instinct is to control. To organize, to streamline, to orchestrate and supervise, to ensure success.

 Bread is a different beast.

 "Let the dough rise for one hour, or until it has doubled in size." The guideline of "an hour" is almost irrelevant. The reality is that the dough will be ready when she wants to be ready.  Not when an hour has passed, not when you need to move forward to stay on schedule. Not when you have a perfectly orchestrated break in your Netflix binging. The dough will be ready when she wants to be ready.

 The magic and science that is baking forms an intricately intertwined relationship. One in which a small change, a minor difference, or tiny manipulation of one value will have a knock on effect cascading throughout the entire experience. These values are often outside of our control. Heat, humidity, surface materials, it all matters, and yet we have much less control than we think.

 My first trek into baking bread was testing. Oh, how I fought against my need to control, my need to speed up time and my need to experience immediate gratification. I scoured the internet for what looked like an easy beginner recipe. Something with a doable wait time, none of this "let it rise overnight" nonsense. I wanted bread, and I wanted it now. Eventually I found something that looked to be appropriate, checked the times and mentally prepared myself for the double rise, both estimated to be an hour long. It was New Year's Day and nothing was open, the timing was perfect.

 I gathered the ingredients, tossed them into the mixer, waited and watched as they spun around the bowl dancing between the glass wall and the metal hook. I paid close attention, looking for subtle signs of communication between us, so that I could react to my dough's needs. Waiting, watching. Eventually she turned satiny smooth and became marshmallow  to the touch.

 I knew what this meant. All the signs were there, she was ready. Ready to be proofed, shaped and eventually baked. I  gathered her up and gently shaped her, wrapping her in loose fitting plastic and placed her on the floor, nestled up beside the hot air vent, hoping this extra proximity to heat would give her a head start on life for it was -20C  outside and I knew this bitter cold could stunt her development. I did it all the way I was supposed to, leaving no box unchecked. I was proud and felt a surge of confidence wash over me. I had allowed myself to wait, to watch, and most importantly I didn't fuss with it or force anything. I had just let it be.

 When she had reached the point of having doubled in size I took the next step of gathering her up again, lightly pressing down to expel the excess air, reshaped and recovered her, nestling her back once again on her resting spot.  Again I waited.

 I waited again for what now felt like a cumulative eternity. For a third time I shaped her gently, taking care not to over stretch or overwork her, and cut delicate lines into her top, dusted with flour and placed her carefully in the oven.

 This was it, the final stretch. Only 30 min to go until success.

 Eventually the buzzer sounded and I took her out, tapping the bottom, waiting for that hollow sound. In the past I had never really understood what that meant. How can something sound hollow? What  exactly did hollow feel like? When my previous attempts had reached this point I would tap the bottom and without any self-reflection or analysis think to myself  "that’s good enough,"  followed then by a forceful yank out of the oven, immediately cutting into to see if I had got it right.

 This time was different. This time I knew. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was it. I had finally done it. I carefully removed it from the oven and set it on a rack to cool. Instinctively a memory from my baking class at college flashed into my mind's eye. Reminding me of the necessity of letting the apple pie sit and to resisting the urge to cut into it immediately to keep the structure intact and not have it all fall apart into a soupy mess.

 Was this the same as bread? I had come this far and couldn't risk ruining it over such a careless error. I ran a quick google search and what stared me in the face was heartbreaking. Bread is best when left to cool completely, often for several hours and often overnight. It was already 7pm! I had been working on this baby for what felt like days. I wanted nothing more than to tear into the loaf and devour the delicious goodness that I had so carefully and mindfully crafted. Frantically searching for a different answer I kept scoured the internet and read. Over and over again the same message appeared before me. Wait. Wait. Wait. Waiting allows the essential final stage of baking to occur in which moisture is distributed evenly throughout the loaf. Failure do so would result in a dense, gummy loaf.

 I may have wept a little. The waiting was so hard. I felt like had waited and worked for years for this moment. All I wanted was a little slice of heaven. Reluctantly, I placed it back into the cast iron pot, closed the lid and resigned myself to the fact that I would have to wait yet another day.

 
ennifer hulley food photographer food writer food stylist travel photographer writer hamilton ontario
 

 My venture into the emotionally exhausting world of bread was occurring concurrently with a major turning point in my life. I was in a brawl. A brawl with my mind, my body, my past relationships, my hopes for the future, my goals and beliefs, my health care system and the red tape that surrounded my reality. None of it was anything I could immediately control. I knew that, and yet every time there was a small set back or what I interpreted as a backwards movement I greeted it with frustration, anger and  overwhelming sadness.

 Patience. There has to be patience. Our immediate instinct is to control. To organize, to streamline, to orchestrate and supervise, to ensure success.

 Motherhood is a different beast.

 My foray into the idea of being a single mother by choice was testing. Oh how it fought against my need to control, my need to speed up time and my desire for immediate gratification. I spent weeks scouring the internet to understand what felt like the right process for a beginner. Many times came when I would think I was ready, and then with trembling hands would frantically hit the end call button on my mobile before being able to speak. Other times even though I would feel "really ready" I decided to give a relationship one last go before moving forward.

 Over and over the same message had appeared before me. Wait. The waiting allowed the essential final stage of growth and for strength to set in place. I may have wept a little. The waiting was so hard. I felt like had waited and worked for years for this moment. All I wanted was a little slice of heaven. And still I waited.

 Time passed until one day I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was it. The moment my consciousness mind recognized what possibilities lay before me, I heard a quiet but confident voice inside me and I just knew. "That's it!" I exhaled triumphantly, finally understanding what it meant to no longer feel hollow, to feel fulfilled and to be ready.

 The next morning I sleepily stumbled downstairs and shuffled into the kitchen. There she was, right in front of me. The time was now. Nervously I held the knife in my hand, drew in and held my breath cutting carefully with a gentle sawing motion. "Please be ok, please be ok, please be ok…" I repeated. This was it. The moment of truth. I closed my eyes  and continued until I felt the knife tap the wood of the cutting board. I opened my eyes. A sense wave of elation washed over me. I had done it! A celebratory happy dance filled me with a sense of pride and purpose. I dropped the slice into the toaster and opened up my email.


 You have 1 new message:

 From: Outreach Health Services

 Good morning Jennifer!

 This email is to confirm we have overnight priority shipping arranged for your two vials of donor # XXXXXX to arrive to your clinic.

 Thank you,

Melinda

Client Specialist


 I took a big bite of my freshly buttered toast. The combination of salty, sweet, crunchy and chewiness melted in my mouth as I smiled. Finally, a little slice of heaven.

 
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