Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Moving Meditation

I decided to make bread today. I was making venison stew for dinner, and nothing tastes better with stew than fresh baked bread, still warm from the oven. Baking bread is still a new skill for me, something that requires a lot of attention to detail on my part. I still follow the recipes exactly, without any variation in routine, because otherwise I risk hockey pucks rather than loaves of bread. The recipe I use is out of a neat book called Bread Alone. It's one the hubby learned from and it has a good variety of recipes for delicious bread. What it also has is something it calls a "teaching loaf." You can manipulate it a bit, try different things with it, but the basic recipe, if followed, will result in a good (if not spectacular) loaf of bread.

The end result, as you can see, was quite good. I did one batch, which yields two loaves. Just to be contrary, I braided one loaf, and did the other as a "torpedo" loaf, the standard artisan bread loaf. I'm actually quite happy with both of them, although the crumb in the braided loaf was a bit under-done. Neither would have been hurt by five more minutes in the oven, but I'm glad they came out when they did. The hardest part, of course, is leaving the bread to cool for 20 full minutes before cutting into it. I had to keep reminding myself that the final 20 minutes of "cooling" is actually a cooking time. Cut into too early, even a perfect loaf of bread will seem a bit doughy; the cooking process continues for 15 to 20 minutes after the bread is out of the oven.

We had our bread with venison stew, and it was quite delicious. Hot bread, fresh butter, home-made venison stew with meat we'd butchered ourselves... you can't get much better than that!

The process of making the bread was what I wanted to touch on, though. I am fond of moving meditations, and find that using movement when meditating actually helps me to concentrate and follow my breath better. I've enjoyed tai chi (the 128 poses version), yoga, a split yoga-pilates combo, ecstatic dance, and some others. Kneading bread, though, is a whole other experience.

At the beginning of the knead, the dough is very sticky. It's almost like kneading cake batter that's sat out too long. It clings to your fingers, clumps around the heels of your hands... It can be annoying if you don't let yourself disappear into the back and forth motion of the kneading itself. If you do let yourself disappear into it, though... it's wonderful. The squish, the push, turn and fold, repeat. You just keep doing it over and over until the dough changes.

That's when my real meditation begins. There's a moment when the dough goes from being a sticky mess to being ... well, dough. It becomes a little tacky, but not overly wet, and it becomes doughy and elastic. That's when you work the muscles in your arms, when you push with your legs and the palms of your hands, when you can really lose yourself in the rhythm of what you're doing. There's a real joy to kneading, to the slight burn in the muscles of the shoulders if you aren't used to it.

I didn't meditate as much as I would have liked today, but there are more days to come. I had fun, I enjoyed kneading, and I loved what came out of the oven several hours later.
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