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Mindful : December 2014
how do you know when it’s ready? Ultimately, it’s a judgment call. This takes time to learn. It took me many awful loaves to know when the dough had fermented properly. When I asked this French baker how he knew when the rise was finished, he pointed to his eyes. I studied the loaves closely, poked the skin to feel the tension, which is a common method, and said, “Finis?” I thought they were. He peered close without touching a thing and replied, “cinq minutes.” Craft, attention, and practice culminated in that answer. But don’t be fooled. Now, with standardized flour, industrial processes, and factory bakeries, craft has become superfluous. The “baker” merely has to follow steps in an automated process. I saw this at an immense baking trade show outside of Paris, with a machine that filled the size of a giant room. Flour went in one end and baguettes came out the other; the baker, or technician rather, simply made sure the damn machine was working. Craft, at tention, practice—no longer needed. Making bread by hand is something else again. Having begun as a craving, it became my medita- tion. First, I had to show up, to practice time a nd again for years on end. There was no real “recipe” other than a series of techniques that took time to learn. Second, in everything I did, I had to pay at tention. If the mind wandered or I was pulled away from the tasks at hand, the bread would end up a failure. I had to keep myself focused. Third, I had to eat my bread: I had to accept all the bad loaves I made before a decent one showed up. In this work, I found my senses were lea rning, too, inherently understa nding what was happen- ing and leading my mind down a path. This was an entirely new relationship for me, and such a relief in a world, in a life, guided by thoughts. I learned that senses are intelligent, that they are part of what we call “mind” and can be trained. Even if the goal was a simple loaf of bread. Or was it? ● Samuel Fromartz is the author of In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, published by Viking in September 2014. He is editor-in-chief of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and writes the blog ChewsWise. December 2014 mindful 65