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Mindful : December 2014
It’s so easy to live in your head so much of the time these days, but relief from your chattering brain can be as close as your own kitchen. When you take time to bake a simple loaf of bread, you can transform your relationship between body and mind. Bread was always a part of my life. I never recall a time growing up in Brooklyn when we didn’t have bread on the table. To be honest, there was usually bread and rice, representing the two cultural poles of my upbringing. My dad, who came from a family of Russian Jewish immig ra nts, liked bread with every meal and my mom, who is Japanese-Ameri- can, usually had a pot of rice on the stove. So began my unusually rich relationship with starches—as culture, as sustenance, as delicious food. But for me, in the midst of my fourth decade, bread also became something else: it became a form of meditation. This all bega n when I moved to Washington, DC, in the mid-1990s and found a city bereft of good bread. In places like the Bay Area and New York, artisa n bakeries were beginning to suppla nt those run by the children of immigrants. Italian places like Zito’s in Greenwich Village, which shut its doors after eight decades in the business only to find an Amy’s Bread, a fine artisan shop, open up across the street. Washington, though, had little of this activity, and so I began to think about bread in a way I hadn’t before. That is, I actually began to think about it. When bread’s available, part of a daily or weekly ritual, you don’t really notice it. But when it’s rising awareness By Samuel Fromartz Photographs by Marvin Moore absent, the mind begins to work: Where is it? Who makes it? Where can I get it? Perhaps I should have recognized the craving for what it was: ephemeral desire. But if I had done so, I might not have taken the next step. Without an immediate source for my fixation, I got hold of a recipe a nd mixed the four essential ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. I was seek- ing bread that did not come out of a plastic bag. I wanted a loaf with a dark crisp crust, tasty interior, deeply rich smell, and a diverse ra nge of grains—not just white bread. I soon fell into a rhythm. On days when I wasn’t facing a work deadline, I’d walk downstairs from my home office on the second floor, turn the dough out on the isla nd kitchen counter, knead it for a minute or two (to strengthen the gluten), then cover it, wash up and return to the keyboard. On busy days when the phone was ringing I couldn’t bake. Or worse, I’d be in the middle of a crucial phone call just as the bread was due to come out of the oven. (Talking on a portable headset, I would slide the loaf out of the oven, trying not to miss a beat.) Usually, I could find two days a week to bake fresh loaves, which was more than enough for our household. And when → December 2014 mindful 63 essay