Morning: I am flinging shoes and making eye contact and nodding at children as I try to get them to get on their backpacks and socks and put down the damn marker that someone’s about to puncture an eardrum with. I take the starter out in its little pyrex container and set it on the counter. I give kisses goodbye and wave and watch as E. runs up the gravel path for his ride to school. I add a cup of flour and a half a cup of water and stir and marvel at how the kitchen is already piled with dishes.
After a mind-numbing morning of Playhouse Disney, I’m swooping through the house gathering towels and toiletries and water bottles and swimsuits on the way out the door, always late, to swim class. The starter has expanded and is liquid and bubbly and smells yeasty and sour and I stop in my tracks. I look at the clock and scoop out a cup of the fed starter and thunk the thick, gluten-stringy stuff into my cracked mixing bowl with a cup and a half of water and 3 or 4 cups of flour, ideally a mix of Gleason’s Grains Whole Wheat Bread Flour and spelt and rye. I stir, cover the bowl with a plate and race for the door.
After swim class, after lunch downtown, after picking up E., we return home, racing down the path playing “I’m Going to Get You” all the way to our door. The boys run to the dirt that’s piled up in the garden, their favorite spring location. I go in to see how things are looking. The dishes seem to have multiplied in our absence and the sponge has expanded. I add in the remaining flour and a tablespoon of salt. Today I’m feeling a little kooky and throw in a generous sprinkle of dried orange peel and a pinch of ground ginger, thinking of Swedish rye bread. I turn the oven on to 350, set the timer for one minute, and put the covered bowl into the oven once I turn it off. The door opens and the boys are there, caked with dirt and laughing and asking for juice.
The bread rises and warms for an hour or two. Close to bedtime then and I’m trying to do the math of when the bread is going to get itself baked. We have the usual spasmodic dance of toothbrushes and washcloths and they moon me with their little tushes and cry like I’ve stuck spears in them when I ask them to get on their own pajamas as they bungee themselves around their tiny room. The timer goes off and I slip downstairs to form the loaves.
I’m half-listening to them, suddenly calm without me there, as I stretch the dough thin and wide in my hands. I sprinkle cornmeal onto oiled half-sheet pans and wonder how real bakers do this as I sort of roll, sort of tuck, stretch and pat and fold the dough into a somewhat oval shape. I cover the loaves with a dry cotton towel under a slightly damp one and head back upstairs to read Cowboy and Octopus.
We have read and snuggled and put down the shades and they are quiet as I make my way downstairs. Dishes still. Plastic tools covering the couch and paints and markers all over the little table. Blueberry trails scatter across the dining room floor. The loaves have expanded. Enough? Maybe. I turn on the oven to 450, cringing and remembering the several times I’ve managed to set off the smoke alarms and wake up the boys. I open two windows and turn on the exhaust fan.
The oven beeps, preheated, and I take a steak knife and cut slits across the bread, slip it into the oven. I set the timer for 20 minutes and wait, thinking about the next day, wondering whether it would kill me to clean the bathroom. Suddenly remember that I haven’t yet checked E.’s school-to-home folder and get his backpack from the mudroom. A field trip is coming and another homework page I can’t bear to force a kindergartener to do falls to the floor. I sign the permission slip and replace the backpack, line up shoes, jackets, baseball caps for the morning.
The timer goes off and I take out the pan, quickly closing the door before the heat or the charred whatever in the oven sets off those noisy alarms. I put the loaves on a rack, and listen to the peepers singing in the pond in the dark. Upstairs someone wakes up a little, talking to their dreams. Then quiet, cool, night.
You can do it too. Let me know if you want some of my starter.