My favorite bread recipe — a robustly chewy, flavorful peasant bread with an indomitable crust — takes no less than 15 hours to make from start to finish. Most of this time is spent waiting for the yeast to do its thing. I confess, my favorite part comes right at the end: the scent of bread permeating the house, the crunch of a perfect golden crust, the steam that rises from cutting into it, the utter satisfaction of the first bite. I may have started baking bread to reduce my food miles and the number of plastic bags that enter my home, but it has become something else altogether.
Lightening my impact has taken me places I never thought I’d go. Mindfulness was always Kevin’s thing, some vaguely Buddhist/new agey philosophy adopted by upper middleclass white people who do yoga. Interconnection likewise had little appeal for a misanthropic introvert. And patience? That was for people who had too much time on their hands.
Yet here I am with my 15 hour bread recipe. Going green[er] has unexpectedly turned out to be about slowing down, paying more attention, and taking back aspects of my life that have long been outsourced to corporations or machines. The homey, slow pleasures of baking bread, walking to the market, line drying clothes, and making stock are subtle, perhaps ridiculously quaint to someone accustomed to instant gratification. But I think we’ve lost something important by no longer doing these ‘chores’ the long way. Sometimes I use this time to think or write in my head. Other times, I am able to quiet my chaotic brain and focus simply on the scents of damp, clean clothes and sunshine, or on the feel of soft dough under my busy hands. There’s something downright meditative about all of it.
I often feel impatient with the environmental movement. My Twitter feed supplies me with an endless stream of tragedy, destruction, loss, and emergency, all stemming from our impact on this small, fragile planet. The incongruity of the news and our daily lives and actions — how can we hear about the oil spill and, not ten minutes later, get into our cars? how can we know about loss of biodiversity and still be trafficking in endangered species and palm oil? – sometimes makes me angry, sometimes makes me despair. I want to fix it now. Big changes. No more burying-head-in-sand rhetoric.
Maybe a little patience is in order here, too. We didn’t mess things up overnight. We’ve been on this path for a while; it’s going to take a while to get back on a sustainable one. Despite considerable resistance to going back to older, less convenient, slower ways of doing things, the limitations of our planet will eventually force us to adopt sustainability. It would, of course, be a lot better if we adopted it voluntarily, en masse, and now, but let’s be realistic: it’s probably not going to happen. I don’t think that should stop us from doing as much as we can, but in working towards and hoping for progress — well, patience might be inevitable.
Has going green helped you to slow down? What are your thoughts on the direction environmentalism is taking?
In case you’re interested in cultivating patience, here’s the bread recipe in question. It’s vegan and almost foolproof. I have seriously messed it up in several ways (most notably putting in farina — cream of wheat — instead of whole wheat flour), and it has always come out perfectly edible, so I think it will work for you, too. It may seem a bit fussy the first time around, but it gets easier. Note: this one is for gluten lovers. Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s wonderful How to Bake.
Best & Easiest Homebaked Bread (makes two loaves)
1/4 tsp yeast
1 c warm water (wrist temperature)
1 c whole wheat flour
Dissolve yeast in water for 3 minutes, stir in flour, cover and allow to double at room temperature (4-8 hours). Be a little generous with all of the ingredients in the starter.
1 tsp yeast
1 1/2 c warm water
All of the starter (should be about 2 cups)
4 c unbleached all purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water for 3 minutes, stir in flour and starter. Cover and allow to triple at room temperature (4-8 hours — I usually let it go overnight). Use the biggest bowl you have.
All the sponge
2 1/2 – 3 c all purpose flour
1 TB salt
a little olive oil for the bowl and baking pans
a little corn meal to help prevent from sticking and for extra crunch
Stir sponge to deflate and stir in salt and flour (start with 2 1/2 c, add more later if necessary during kneading). Knead on a lightly floured surface about 5 minutes, adding more flour if dough is too sticky. After five minutes, dough should be smooth and slightly sticky. Oil a new bowl, put the dough in it, and turn it over so that the top is oiled. Cover and allow to double (about an hour).
Oil two medium loaf pans (I think mine are 4.5 by 8.5) and sprinkle lightly with corn meal. Punch down the dough, cut in half, flatten, and roll each half to fit the pan. Cover again and allow them to double (about another hour).
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 500 degrees. When the loaves have doubled, cut slits in the top with a sharp knife. Put the loaves in the oven and turn the temperature down to 450. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow. Remove from pans to a wire rack immediately and allow to cool at least 10 minutes before cutting. (If you wait until the bread is completely cool, you will be able to slice it much more thinly.) Freezes nicely, but tastes best fresh — terrific with a hearty soup or on its own, slathered with your favorite spread.