More than once during the decade of my twenties, attempting various economies, I tried to learn to make my own bread. Then as now when seeking a new skill, I “looked it up” … first in Irma Rombauer’s joyous great chronicle of cookery. I had a good teacher and an auspicious setting, an enamel-topped kitchen table in a 200-year-old Indiana farmhouse. But my loaves, alas, all turned out dry and hard as brown bricks. (I know now that I took it too seriously. I think my anxieties stunted the yeast.)
A couple years later, after relocating to a graduate school dorm in Chicago, I picked up a copy of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery from a bookstore’s remainder table. “This might make good light reading before I fall asleep nights,” I thought, “when I can’t handle any more Hegel.”
I devoured Ms. David’s amazing book—half history, half cookbook, and all celebration—as if it were bread. And learned from her the critical secret, the deft touch: don’t worry. Yeast are resilient. All they need is time, plenty of time. Cut the amount in the recipe in half, and let the dough rise all night.
Suddenly, the magic worked for me. I could make bread! And bread I made: hearty chewy rolls that sustained me and amazed and fed my grateful friends. Which (rolls and friends) were honored guests at the rehearsal dinner before the wedding Nimue graciously consented to appear at with me.
A year later, we moved to a tiny town downstate, where I was called as minister of a congregation that gathered for dinners with religious frequency and vigor. I knew I couldn’t fry chicken that was safe to eat, and my scalloped potatoes turned out tough as shoe leather, but hey, I could bake happy little loaves that even farmwives hailed. “Our preacher makes homemade bread,” they bragged to the Methodists.
And come our first Christmas there, the church-folk honored my craft by giving us a bread machine.
It was generous—bread machines were new-fangled and expensive then. I said all the right words of thanks. In truth, I was grateful for my congregants and their gift. But I thought to myself, a machine? Weren’t the kneading with one’s hands, the patient proofing, and finally the watchful baking the point? I predicted to Nimue, “We’ll never use this beyond a time or two.”
I was so, so wrong.
I can make better bread than the bread machine. But in our busy lives that seek to balance many goods as we pursue the Good, the machine makes acceptably good bread much more often than we would by hand. Over twenty years, it cranked out hundreds, possibly thousands of batches. Twice we replaced the pan (the shaft at the bottom is a weak link). The bread machine kneaded on … till now.
The mandrel about the main drive shaft has worn enough that it binds. Repair parts are unavailable. I took it apart, but without recourse to a machine shop, I couldn’t see a practical way to fix it. Our faithful bread machine is, in a term that says much about “consumer goods,” B.E.R. … Beyond the cost of Economical Repair. To the electronics recycling dropoff at the landfill it shall go.
Perhaps I should turn in my minimalist merit badge. My fingers and arms remember how to mix and knead bread. But they cheerfully helped me pick out a used bread machine at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. (Cost: $6 and an hour of scrubbing.)
The new (used) bread machine is smaller and fussier than the old. We’re still growing accustomed to it. But it’s making bread, and we’re eating it. It may not be best, but it’s better than buying bread in a plastic shroud.
shedding style: recycle, replace
destination: local electronics recycling dropoff
Comments welcome … what compromises do you find yourself accepting in order to enjoy a “less is more” life?