I love freshly baked artisanal bread. I love the smell and the crunching sound of toast as it crumbles when you break it apart. I love how good bread signals that the dining adventure you are about to embark on is off to a good start.
It was this exquisiteness that I have always wanted to relive at home where I dine most frequently anyway. But how? I have never baked anything in my life. I love baked goods, but never saw the point of making them myself. Why go through all that science I had deliberately left behind in high school when I can order a cheesecake by phone? Why waste time on something that other people have already spent years trying to replicate?
That has always been my relationship with bread — essential but impersonal, and worse, commercial.
That changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Suddenly, dining adventures have been put on hold. My income is in limbo. I have utilities, not just food, to pay for. I now had to line up for the commercial white bread I had loathed because that is what I could afford.
Unless I make my own bread.
It took a good ten weeks of isolation to force me out of my procrastination and unwarranted fears because this was no mean feat. This was bread. This was life. This is the food that brought me to life at the start of each brand new day. This is the food I grew up loving. Baking bread was daunting because baking bread made life possible. Why would an inexperienced noob like me mess with something like that?
And isn’t baking a hard science? All those exact measurements seem to take away the fun in the improvisational nature of cooking, which I love. It felt like a mathematical ordeal, and math is not exactly one of my strongest suits.
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, because in a pandemic, it helps to minimize needs, especially if you are trying to be vegan like me. I did not want to ever need bread or resort to expensive bad bread, so I finally made my first vegan bread using this recipe from Food.
Luckily, I have an oven, which had never been used for baking, just roasting.
I did not have aluminum baking pans but had some glassware suitable for baking. That should do for a first-timer.
I have a mixer, but the recipe did not require it. It just said a wooden spoon, which any home kitchen has.
I have never kneaded dough in my life. No problem! This tutorial by Allrecipes helped out, which made me realize that I had been missing out. What a great way to de-stress!
A rising dough is a beautiful thing. When I saw my first dough double in size so quickly, I knew I had reached culinary nirvana. I could not help but wonder, in jaw-dropping awe: how could the fusion of two simple ingredients such as water and flour so powerfully nourish the human race? Bread making is now a source of endless fascination for me.
My initial attempt came out far better than what I had expected. It was crunchy on the outside, and soft and dense on the inside. I had struck gold. I have always wanted to make something else with my bare hands, something that was less cerebral but just as meaningful as writing, and that something had just manifested itself. Bread is life. Its importance is unsurpassed, despite the bad rap gluten has gotten in recent years. What I had just achieved enables its continuance. Why stop at the first bite?
This is what the lockdown has made me realize: going back to basics is the grand prize. We have been programmed for so long to go after the newest and the most advanced technology but we are now learning that not all of it was necessary, especially when it comes to our food. The more we make it, the more we grow it ourselves, the better it is for our health and for our environment.
Baking my first bread was the height of achievement for me because it assures me that I will survive this crisis. I have lost so much: a steady income stream, physical contact with the outside world, confidence in the public health system, and some sense of control over my future. What I have left is my survival instinct, and when that kicked in, I knew I could do anything, including the basic process of making bread. No more chitchat, gotta act. And the rewards of taking action, in the midst of anxiety, were manifold.
On days that fruits or even vegetables might be scarce, I will have bread.
When all I want is to live, to be healthy and COVID-free, I will be because I have bread.
If I want to start a small business, which helps in a paralyzed global economy, I can sell bread.
I still have my big goals, and will still get to them at some point. But right now, I just need to keep moving forward, and the deep satisfaction I got from making a decent loaf of bread is a good sign that I will be fine.
“Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine then it’s not the end.” — Oscar Wilde
Everything will be fine, especially with bread.