By Amanda Cleary Eastep
The man’s tattooed arms were up to the elbows in bread dough.
I could so relate. Not to the guy’s past, to his former gang life in Los Angeles, but to that feeling of fists sinking into soft dough and spirit reposing on a whiff of yeast.
He is one of the thousands of gang members who has found hope in the sacred work of baking bread at Homeboy Bakery in L.A. I was watching him from my comfy white bread living room, but I understood his pleasure in the task.
I love baking bread almost as much as I love gardening. Dirt under my fingernails like wet flour. Musty earth smells that also signal a kind of fermentation. A slowness surpassing even bread’s in finally producing the fruits of our shared labor.
Baking bread forces me to slow my pace–slow stirring, slow kneading, slow rising. Breathe in, breathe out, bake at 350 degrees.
Today I bought the book Out of the House of Bread, Satisfying your hunger for God with the spiritual disciplines, by Preston Yancey.
I haven’t started reading it and have no idea what it’s about beyond the subtitle and the gorgeous cover photo of floured hands accepting/offering up the most basic and needed sustenance.
I’m kind of pissed, because I wish I would have written it. I had thought of writing a book about my love of baking bread and the lessons I learn every time I form a loaf (like, How to eat an entire loaf in one day and blame it on your kids).
I have contemplated God making man out of bread dough instead of dirt. But then Adam would have eaten himself before he even made it to the forbidden fruit.
I imagine him as a nice pumpernickel.
That was an exotic bread when I was a kid. Our small town grocery had Wonder Bread–which had the nutritional value of a piece of wide-ruled notebook paper–Butternut Wheat, and Beefsteak Rye.
People tend to like things sterile, wrapped up neatly, and twist-tied. Plastic gloves separate us from the lunchmeat lady’s morning routines, and pink hand sanitizer keeps us smelling like watermelon vodka.
But baking bread begs skin on dough…knuckles, sweat, and love.
“We have no eggs you know,” my daughter said as I buried my hands into the dough, flour dusting my wrists.
This picture wouldn’t make a pretty book cover. The harsh light slanting through the kitchen window makes the 20-degree weather look warm, like it’s almost time to plant lettuce.
Yet my hand is still going about the same work as the man in L.A. and in our grasp is the same bread of life.
Flour, yeast, salt and warm water. No eggs.
I reminded my daughter of the basic ingredients. Kind of the elemental water, earth, air and fire.
Baking bread reminds me how basic we are, too. And how miraculous. That we are full of potential…
that we can rise in the presence of both patient waiting and heat…
that we can nourish others.
Two of my favorite bread recipes
GRIT’s Homemade No-Knead Bread Recipes (although sometimes you really just need to knead)
Amish White Bread from Scratch This with Sandy