Slices of Life: When time slows down
Taking the time to knead the bread, to stand in one place for 10 minutes and create something that can be enjoyed by others is perhaps not noble, but it is worthwhile.
As of this writing, at least 251 million people in at least 30 states, 81 counties, 15 cities and one U.S. territory are living the reality of a stay at home directive.
A month ago, hardly any of us had contemplated the concept of a stay at home directive. I’d never even heard the term. Now I’m living it.
Most of us got a few days notice before being asked to self-quarantine (another term that’s relatively new to me). So like lots of others, I stocked up. On yeast.
Many foods can last on the shelf or fridge for two weeks, but not bread. My family likes bread. So while others were grabbing toilet paper, I grabbed some yeast. There was plenty of it on the shelves. I guess I have my own unique way of approaching preparedness.
On day two, I decided to make some bread for dinner. We still had some of the regular stuff, but I was at home, with nothing much to do and it was either bread or the laundry. Netflix bingeing was scheduled for later.
For years (decades) bread intimidated me. I never knew if the water was too hot or not hot enough for the yeast’s liking. The process was mysterious and I failed multiple times. But then, I stumbled upon a kitchen gadget that I should have had from the beginning of time: an instant read thermometer.
Now I approach bread making with the skills and tools of a scientific professional. I heat the water to exactly the exact temperature. Add a little sugar to promote yeast growth and then toss in the yeast to let it ferment.
Bread is one of those foods that seems mysterious until you discover how simple it really is. Water. Sugar. Yeast. Flour. Salt. Olive oil (optional). Herbs (also optional). Of course there are various recipes with various ingredients, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
After stirring together the ingredients, it’s time to knead the dough. Again, different recipes call for different kneading times, but I like the nice round number of 10 minutes.
Kneading the bread involves stretching the dough and then turning it upon itself, rotating the mound and then stretching again — and so on. It’s a repetitive task that doesn’t take much thought. It’s almost as if time stands still — or at the very least slows down.
As I stood in my kitchen kneading, I could feel the dough taking shape. A well-kneaded ball of dough feels good in one’s hands. It’s soft and smooth and malleable. It’s stood the test of time.
While I watched the minutes click by on the clock, it occurred to me that slowing down is not a bad thing. Taking the time to knead the bread, to stand in one place for 10 minutes and create something that can be enjoyed by others is perhaps not noble, but it is worthwhile.
Many of us have had our lives slowed down due to COVID-19. We are directed — or at least highly encouraged — to stay home unless we have to go to work or to acquire items for basic needs.
In this, we have been given the gift of time to spend with our families. We’ve been given the gift of sleeping in. The gift of bingeing a favorite TV series. The gift of kneading bread for the people we love. The gift of following the directive because it is for the good of others in addition to ourselves. That is a cause that is not only worthwhile, but also noble.
We can do this.
J ill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.