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Baking Bread Again

            I don’t know if the new dose of the antidepressant kicked in, or if it was just because of the cold weather, but the other day I finally felt like baking again. Mom and I looked through cookie recipes and cake recipes and then we settled on a Buttermilk Seed Bread, because it just sounded right. There’s something about the way bread dough needs to rest, and rest again, that resonates with me.

Ellie too.

            I didn’t knead the dough myself (that’s what Kitchenaid mixers and dough hooks are for, it turns out), but I helped mix in the ingredients (whole wheat flour, titular Buttermilk, cranberries, dates, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.), and helped punch down the dough after the first rise (so satisfying!), and put it into the loaf pans to rise again. I fell asleep before the bread was ready to go into the oven, but at least it was a start.

Despite the mass baking on social media (sourdough and banana bread especially) that occurred during the stay at home orders and boredom of Covid, I haven’t done much baking, or even cooking for the past two years. I made cookies once or twice, from a mix, and I chopped vegetables here and there, but mostly I reheated frozen dinners and opened cans of soup and smeared peanut butter on almost everything, while Mom did the actual cooking.

“Where’s the peanut butter?

            I used to cook every day, and bake a lot too, but I’ve been so tired, for so long, that I’ve gotten used to not wanting to do things, especially in the kitchen, where standing on the hard floor and leaning over the sink or the counter or the dishwasher leaves me feeling like I’ve been stabbed in the back with a cleaver. But for some reason, the other day, I felt like baking, so that’s what we did.

            Each day this past week we lit our Chanukah candles – either with our congregation on Zoom or just me and Mom and the dogs – and even though it often felt like a chore, like something I just had to get done, sometimes the sparks of light reached me and made a difference.

Day 4

            There’s something about the way the fire grows by one candle each night of Chanukah that makes sense to me. It fits the way I live my life, growing slowly each day, doing a little bit more and a little bit more, until seemingly out of nowhere, I’ve achieved something I didn’t know I could do. The way the Chanukah candles grow brighter each day of the holiday, instead of dimmer, makes me feel like it’s okay to pace myself, and to make the most of each day in whatever way works for me (naps, snacks, more naps, repeat), allowing me to focus on letting the fire grow instead of dim as I go forward.

Day 7

            I’m not suddenly cooking every day, but I’m noticing that I want to do more. I want to go to the Costco near us and buy…something, and I want to take a trip…somewhere. I’m not up to it yet, but for now it’s enough to know that I want to do these things; that they even sound like fun.

            After a few days of making sandwiches with the new bread (pastrami with mustard), I found a recipe for marzipan filled rugelach. I haven’t made them yet, but I bought all of the ingredients, so those Chanukah candles are adding up to something. I’m not setting the world on fire yet, but I’m wondering what else might start to sound good again, and I’m looking forward to finding out.

“We’re ready!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Walking The Bread Gauntlet

 

One of my neighbors, I’m not sure which one, believes that the tiny birds in our communal backyard will enjoy huge crusts of French bread that would suffocate a goose. We live in an apartment complex and share this backyard with a lot of people we rarely see. And Cricket makes sure to bark at anyone who dares to be outside, so I feel bad complaining about anyone else’s foibles. But the scattering of bread felt like a field of landmines to me. The last time the French bread was thrown out into the backyard was over the winter, when we discovered that my other dog, Butterfly, is diabetic.

The bread in the grass.

The bread in the grass.

Putting white bread in front of Butterfly would be like leaving bowls of whiskey in front of an alcoholic dog.

Butterfly loves the food she’s allowed to eat. She loves her chicken treats and kibble and chew sticks. It’s just that, if I am sitting on the couch eating a piece of pizza, she will stretch until she can reach the pizza and try to chew off the side of the crust. She is very short, but white flour gives her magical powers.

Butterfly is finding bread...

Butterfly is finding bread…

Everywhere!

Everywhere!

Cricket was interested in the bread too, but not more than she was interested in the squirrels, and the birds, and the sticks. When I pulled Cricket away from a piece of the bread, she basically shrugged and said, “whatever,” and moved on to try to rip my arm out of the socket as she ran towards a squirrel who was already miles out of her reach.

A conference is required to sniff this bread.

“Look, Cricket, bread is falling from the sky!”

Of course, my first thought when I saw the bread scattered on the lawn was to do a blog post about it. So Mom brought her camera and I brought the girls and we had to pose Butterfly close enough to the bread to show the temptation, but not so close that she could actually eat the bread. Of course, she gobbled a piece down before I could pull her away.

"Mine!"

“Mine!”

I don’t know what to make of my behavior here. I was worried about Butterfly being tempted by the bread and falling into a sugar coma and dying in front of me, and yet, another part of me just kept thinking – blog post!

The bread was gone by the end of that day, and it hasn’t returned. I have no idea who was tossing the bread out there, but it’s possible that they were watching me and Mom and the girls out on the lawn feverishly trying to get pictures, and decided to scoop the bread back up. Or, the maintenance guys saw the bread and grumbled about how they could possibly mow around these stupid obstacles, and picked them all up and threw them in the garbage.

I didn’t even realize how anxious the bread gauntlet had made me feel until it was gone. Not having to grip Butterfly’s leash in a fist made the bread-free walk, even in the heat, almost blissful.

And yet, I almost wish the bread gauntlet, with its connotations of manna from heaven, would return. I don’t want Butterfly to get sick, but the glee on her face when she sees those magical pieces of bread is overwhelming and, selfishly, I want to see that look again. Is there such a thing as low sugar manna from heaven?

 

"More!"

“More!”