Recently I saw the documentary How to Cook Your Life, the subject of which is Edward Espe Brown, author of the Tassajara Bread Book. I started making bread when I was about 13 but stopped after awhile for reasons I don’t remember. Then in college, I found a copy of the Tassajara Bread Book. Those years were very difficult for me, for a variety of reasons, and there was never any shortage of drama. But somehow I got interested in bread baking again, and the Tassajara Bread Book was my bible. I baked for myself, for friends, or sometimes just to have something to do. Bread making was something to pace my life by. If I knew a batch of dough needed an hour and a half to rise, then another hour after that, then half an hour to bake, I had three pieces of time during which I could face anything, knowing that at the end of it, I could come back to this simplest and most grounding of things – warm, fresh bread.
Edward Brown begins the How to Cook Your Life documentary with a statement, in front of a cooking class at a zen monastery, that he is anxious. How can I be anxious after 30 years of practicing zen, he asks? Well, I’m human. He talks about a visit to an aunt when he was 10, how his aunt made fresh bread, and how he compared it to the store bought bread he had, to that point, grown up with. He wonders, what’s happened to our culture that we eat like this? He decided then, at age 10, that he would learn to make bread, and that he would teach other people. It seems like a very simple thing, but for me, and I’m sure for many other people, the effect of that decision has been quite profound.
It has me thinking about all the other simple, basic things I’ve learned for which I’m intensely grateful : How to write. How to swim. How to pray.