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Bread Alone

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Some days, things don't necessarily go your way.

Some days, chaos reigns supreme.

Some days, you don't know which end is up in this modern a-go-go world and everything is wired and no one is connecting and the hustlebustle of the crowds of sound and fury adds up to nothing.

Those days are good days to bake bread.

I used to love fancy buildings. I loved fancy buildings for many years. Then I got tired of them.

I used to love fancy clothes. I loved fancy clothes for many years. Then I got tired of them.

I used to love fancy food. I loved fancy food for many years. Then I got tired of it.

I used to love fancy pretty tired of them too although not fast enough...and fancy adjectives...and fancy music...and it all gets right tiresome. It doesn't last. Remember what Ezra Pound said: "that which thou lovest well remains; the rest is dross."

In the end, what remains is the side of me that became a Quaker in 8th grade, that loves Bach, that could spend the entire rest of my life in a soft black pencil skirt, that loves plainsong, that chose Oyama karate over other styles because it had the emptiest technique, that strives to get rid of anything that smacks of “style” in self-expression and lets the subject speak for itself. That's the side that is winning right now. That's the side that says, “candied jellyfish was for when you were a 24-year-old artist in Alphabet City and had a crush on a Korean genius. Right now it's time to bake brown oatmeal bread.”

The less certain times are, the more critically we need to recharge on the touchstone of simplicity. A word flabbergastingly overbandied about but, like art, everyone knows it when they see it.

I've been reading EB White's One Man's Meat and think it's the best and most germane book I ever read. Part Thoreau, part Dorothy Parker, part Herodotus, part Buddha, part Bob Dylan, all White, it's cracklingly witty and life-changingly profound, an endless string of deep and brilliant bons mots, and the perfect book for all of us to be reading right now. Life on a farm in Maine during World War II. Nature, candour, freedom, high drama, sly jokes...and above all, humane transparent essentialism and love.

I have no idea which end is up right now. I don't know where I'm going to be sleeping tomorrow night, let alone two months from now. I don't know what I'm going to be doing, how I'm going to be doing it, with whom I'm going to be doing it, where I'm going to be doing it, I don't know if I will ever have a home of my own again or if I will even want one...the only thing I am certain of right now is uncertainty.

Give the sous vide pheasant and the foamed sea urchin gelée to the peasants, for they will find them much more entertaining than I. For me, tonight, give me the bread I made myself, golden brown and still warm from the oven, the magic of yeast and flour and other things coming together and creating the Staff of Life. Give me the thrill of opening the oven and seeing that out of a mess of disparate objects and some chutzpah, I have made Food and ensured that my tribe will not starve in the winter.

Sometimes computers, people, networking, and things not working out can fry your circuits. Patch them back together with the incredible magical skill of baking bread. Bon appetit.

Jordana's Brown Oatmeal Bread for Counteracting the Helterskeltivity of Life

1 3/4 C warm water

1 package yeast

3/4 C oatmeal, uncooked

3/4 C leftover oatmeal someone didn't eat at breakfast

1/3 C honey

4 T browned butter

1 T salt

2 eggs

3 C whole wheat flour

2 C flour

optional poppy seeds

    1. Stir 1/4 cup warm water and yeast in large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes to dissolve yeast. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups water, 3/4 cup oats, honey, butter, 1 egg, and salt. Stir in enough flour to form soft dough. Transfer dough to the cast-iron skillet you used to brown the butter, turn over until buttered. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
    2. Butter a loaf pan. Place half the dough in the loaf pan, leave the other half in the skillet for variety. Cover and let rise in warm area until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
    3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush tops of loaves with other egg, sprinkle one with poppy seeds if you feel like it. Bake until brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Anyone who says you have to let homemade bread cool completely before eating it has your best interests at heart but clearly has never been in a home with the deafening smell of baking bread permeating its entire atmosphere.