This weekend's accomplishments: 8 mini-loaves of banana-coconut bread; 3 large loaves of banana-pecan-cranberry bread; and a trial run of the Mondrian Cake for the girl's 17th birthday. And the leftover egg yolks became fresh lasagna sheets, their mouthfeel light and tender, more sensuous than any pasta from a box.
On tap for this coming Saturday: a couple of loaves of Spelt Sourdough, or perhaps the Kuerbiskernbrot from my favorite bread forum, (for you non-German speakers, this translates to Pumpkin Seed Bread, and it's flavored with pumpkinseed oil, a rich green oil more flavorful than extra-virgin olive oil and lacking the bitter bite of EVOO).
The banana bread marathon followed a pre-Valentine's Day cookie festival two weeks ago: Oatmeal-chocolate chippers, with and without walnuts; rye-pecan sables sandwiched with chocolate; and linzer hearts filled with raspberry jam. This on the heels of a pair of mixed-grains sourdough loaves; two flaxseed filones; four Nury light rye batards; and before that, six kinds of Christmas cookies. I'm gratified to see the flours in my freezer being gradually transformed into edibles.
But why such a baking extravaganza? Because I finally, finally admitted that I need Zen in my life. Some people get their peace from yoga; others are at one with the universe playing in the dirt of a garden, or circling in the sky in a glider. I have accepted that I find my mindfulness in the kitchen. Cooking works, but baking is even better. I can focus on the tactile sensation of bread dough as it transforms from flour and water, feeling the gluten form beneath my fingertips from the simplest of ingredients. I can marvel at the interplay of flavors: honeyed bananas, tangy cranberries, buttery pecans. The russet coloring of a well-baked loaf. The fragrance of toasting wheat. Even the sounds: a recent cake recipe noted, "if the loaves crackle and pop, they need a few more minutes in the oven."
The typically-dreaded washing up has become a Zen moment as well; I focus on scrubbing the last bits of baked-on cheese from the lasagne pan and in that moment, that's all that matters. Being one with the change, the transformation.
Because right now, that's what I need. At my job, I'm working entirely too many hours and at the end of the day I am drained, unable to do more than heat up some soup or grill a cheese sandwich (thank God for good bread!). At home, my heart and my mind are bound up with my daughter: three months ago she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. What we thought was going to be "cancer light" has become more complex, more serious than we imagined; as I write this she is in surgery for the second time to remove a series of metastatic lymph nodes in her neck. I know her surgeon is brilliant, careful, perfectionistic, passionate, caring. I know she will ultimately heal and go on to live a remarkable life. But no 17-year-old should have to face this. Our family--and I mean our extended family and circle of friends--should not have to face our second go-round with pediatric cancer.
And so I bake. Unlike so many other things in my life, it's a process over which I do have some control. It's a way to feed my soul, and as I give away the tins of cookies and the loaves of bread, it's a way to feed others as well. Thank you for being part of my family, for taking good care of my child, for holding down the fort when I'm absent from work, for being a faithful friend.