“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough” ~ Meister Eckhart
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The sofa where I sit is illuminated by a faint light from the kitchen stove. It’s late, and the puppies snore softly on their pillows at my feet. By my side: a good book, a cup of tea, a handful of popcorn. From high on his perch, a kitty keeps watch over us all
Down the hall, I hear the faint rustling of my husband as he winds down with a glass of wine and a crossword puzzle. Soft jazz still plays throughout the house, and the dishwasher hums faintly. Another day draws to a close as I remind myself
“What moments are you especially grateful for?”
I reach for my gratitude journal
Looking back through the entries, what strikes me most is how simple each of the memories are. A moment shared with a friend. A phone call with my grandson. A meal with my husband. An encounter with nature. The kinds of moments available to most of us all the time, but also the very moments that are so easy to miss in our
busy, wired, and distracted lives
I’ve come to believe that gratitude is possible, no matter the season
It takes practice, of course, to peer at our current circumstances and think of the whole as a gift. It takes practice to remind ourselves that perfection isn’t just around the corner, that arrivals don’t exist, that a better set of circumstances don’t necessarily lead to a better life
That it’s all about linguistics
A warm spring day, with open windows for the kitties, to sit in, and curtains blowing in the breeze for them to hide under
How nice it is to put on my walking shoes, and simply head out the door. For the thoughts that arrive during the moments of mental quiet
Board games on the living room floor
Finding a stack of old church cookbooks at Goodwill, filled with handwritten notes in the margins and chocolate fingerprints in the cake sections
My son, who told me the story of two strangers that survived a plane crash. Both of their faces were badly burned, and their bodies deeply scarred. But the women were grateful for their lives. They bonded over their shared gratitude, over their belief that the scars made them beautiful. They became the best of friends
Cardamom lip balm
Sally, who shares with Harry, hates the vacuum about as much as she hates tags, and smiles with her whole face
Harry, who kisses on queue, dreams of toys, forgets all of his commands, but always remembers to snuggle
My husband, for holding my hand on hard days, through grief, loss, and sometimes generally bad decisions. For the late-night pancakes and early morning teas
The first seeds planted in the garden
Bare toes and a new pedicure
Oatmeal for breakfast with everything on it: sea salt, a pinch brown sugar, raisins, walnuts, a sliced pear, a handful of half-thawed blueberries we picked last summer from the berry patch
Chasing your shadow
Last night’s thunderstorm
Friends who leave flowers and a note of kindness on the windshield of the car while you’re inside the grocery
Taking the long way home, just because
A mantel filled with the kindest, heartfelt sympathy cards
Quiet and peaceful evenings
Banana Birthday cake from a century-old cookbook
Friends in your kitchen and the importance of a village
Homemade sourdough bread with sweet cream butter and a drizzle of honey
Children that call seeking advice. Maybe just this, the simple life instructions they already seem to have learned: Be kind. Pay attention. Do what needs to be done. And remember that the little things; the small moments, they
aren’t so little after all
I remember vividly the weeks leading up to her first loaf
The first rumblings of what would become her signature breads began around Christmas time, while we sipped a glass of wine in front of the fire, thumbing our way through her latest cookbook. Not long after, I stood in her kitchen and bore witness to the beginning of her sourdough starter
After a week or so, she and her newborn starter began taking on the world like a boss. Dog-eared pages, post-it notes, bookmarks, torn pages, and highlighted passages peppered the book. On their front porch, flour began showing up in mass, along with bread proofing baskets, mixing bowls and tubs of every shape and sort
Baking schedule taped to the fridge? No need, it was committed to memory
Fast forward a few bakes, a few “aha” moments, along with many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with fresh sourdough. Her husband began to wonder if she’d descended into a full baking obsession. She’ll tell you there’s something ancient about performing the whole process, something magical about mixing together such simple and humble ingredients that will eventually produce something beautiful
It’s such a simple thing, really, and yet brings so much joy to all of her friends and neighbors (trust me .. we know!)
No two loaves are ever the same.
My favorite? A seeded, whole-grain flour version. What you end up with is a rustic, elbows-on-the-table style of crusted loaf that’s littered with seeds. Once it’s out of the oven, topped with your best butter, it’s a little piece of heaven. Or, let a slab of it sit under a broiler topped with some melty cheese, either Gruyère or goat cheese does the trick
Beyond that, a few other things I’ve made:
I like it in the morning slathered with a bit of farmers cheese and a drizzle of honey. For lunch (like today) alongside a bowl of soup. Dinner? An open-faced sandwich with dill butter, a bit of sautéed kale and a fried egg. Remains of a two-day-old loaf? Cubed, tossed in a bit of garlic butter and toasted into croutons. And dare I tell you that this bread was made for fondue? Because it was
When you ask her the secret, she’ll tell you
“Stay with the process, learn to work with the ingredients, and enjoy the adventure.”
(Sounds a heck of a lot like life)
— — —
~ Adapted slightly from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Simply the Best Sourdough Bread
- For the Starter:
- White bread flour 1,135 grams
- Whole-wheat flour 1,135 grams
- Water lukewarm, 455 grams
- Water 78 degrees, 150 grams per feeding
- For the Leaven:
- Water 78 degrees, 200 grams
- For the Dough:
- Water 80 degrees, 750 grams
- Leaven 200 grams
- White bread flour 900 grams
- Whole-wheat flour 100 grams
- Salt 20 grams
- Make the Starter: Mix white bread flour with whole-wheat flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315 grams flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crust may form over the top. Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.
- With each feeding, remove 75 grams; discard remainder of starter. Feed with 150 grams reserved flour blend and 150 grams warm water. Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments predictably (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it's time to make the leaven
- Make the Leaven: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. Feed with 200 grams reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven's readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it's ready to use.
- Make the Dough: Pour 700 grams warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200 grams leaven. Stir to disperse. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list), and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50 grams warm water.
- Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation), to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Robertson tries to maintain the dough at 78 degrees to 82 degrees to accomplish the bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.)
- Instead of kneading, Robertson develops the dough through a series of "folds" in the container during bulk fermentation. Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.
- Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using scraper and 1 hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.
- Dust tops of rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the round shape. Flip rounds floured side down.
- Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Using the dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature (75 degrees to 80 degrees), covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.
- Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest position, and warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval Dutch oven (or a heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid).
- Turn out 1 round into heated Dutch oven (it may stick to towel slightly). Score top twice using a razor blade or a sharp knife. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.
- Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.
- To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500 degrees, wipe out Dutch oven with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Repeat steps 11 through 13.