Quote of Inspiration

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Making Challah - Part 1

I started the challah this morning. I put on my favorite apron, an old apron given to me by my sister from her days at Le Cordon Bleu. It is white and very stained, and it makes me feel all professional and competent.

I started by combining two packets of yeast with one cup of warm water. After five minutes, nothing was happening. I was expecting some bubbling, but there was nothing. So, I called my sister. She suggested I add sugar. I did that. Nothing. She suggested I try another packet of yeast, and I did that. Nothing.

Now, by this point, I was starting to go down what my other sister refers to as the "Debbie Downer" road - thinking my bread was a bust, my yeast was bad and the whole thing was going to be a flop.

In addition to all of this, I was discussing with my sister my husband's response to my 52 Figs idea, and I was all can you believe he wanted me to wait for him to start my list? and my sister laughed and said, "Listen to what you're saying."

I said, "What do you mean?"

She said, "Well, you complain all the time that your husband ignores you and doesn't want to do stuff with you. Now he's excited to do something with you and you want to do it all yourself."

I said, "But, he's not even going to be home for seven months. Am I supposed to just wait for him? I mean, is this list about him?"

She said, "No, but you could talk to him about all the stuff on the list he wants to do with you, and during the next six months, you could do the other stuff."

I said, "Well, that's not really the point, at least for me."

We stopped talking then, so I could focus on my flat yeast. I decided to just try the yeast as it was, rather than running to the store to find more - I mean, in that time I could at least see if the dough will rise, right?

I got off the phone so I could make the dough, and my daughter joined me. It was a little stressful, making the dough with her, because I had to answer questions and discuss the bread while trying to read the recipe and measure ingredients, but I think she enjoyed it and so I'm happy we did that together. She ended up scraping the leftover dough bits from the bowl while I kneaded the bread.

At this point, the dough was very sticky and I thought: this is never going to come together.

I know - can you believe how quickly I shift into Debbie-Downer?

Well, I kept at it, all the while thinking about what my sister had to say and about how funny it is that two people (sisters even) can have such different views on the same subject. For me, setting aside my list to wait for my husband would only further exacerbate my feelings of waiting on everyone else before I can live my life (feelings that may or may not be accurate but that I have nonetheless). Also, asking him which figs he wants to do with me and setting those figs aside for his return just seems crazy to me. I mean, it seems like I'd be missing the whole point - which is to experience life now, to do what I've been too afraid or (frankly) lazy to do. I want to see how I might be changed by completing this year, and I don't want this to be about another person.

I think that my sister feels I'm selfish and that maybe I'm missing the point.

As I thought about this, my hands worked the dough back and forth, kneading one side and turning the dough over, kneading the other side. I watched the sticky, unkempt mess turn into a smooth, round ball. It was amazing. I loved it. I think bread machines are for the birds. The kneading is the absolute best part - aside from the eating.

I thought, too, about how it must have been in the past, before industrial bread - when mothers woke early, fathers already in the fields, and began their chores. I have a little Laura Ingalls Wilder picture book that I read to my daughter often, and in that book Wilder writes about the weekly chores and how each day was set aside for a specific chore: washing, baking, churning butter, etc. It seems like life in that manner would have a nice rhythm to it.

Here is a photo of my beautiful dough..........I'm off to Whole Foods for groceries. When I return, I guess we'll see how the yeast has done. Will it rise? Only the gods know........


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