In My Bones

Is there anyone who does not love homemade bread? If so, I have not met that person, have you?

As a young mother of two toddlers in the early 60s, I was gifted with a kind neighbor who taught me to make white bread, the only kind we ate back then. I loved my new skill for two reasons: my bread tasted so much better than Wonder Bread and, for as long as I was an at-home mom, I was proud to be able to make all our bread. Then life led me onto unexpected paths outside my home and I lost that precious time for several years.

In the late 70s, I remarried, a Catskill Mountain dairy farmer, a decision that brought two more toddlers and my unrelenting quest to learn how to make and preserve all our food from scratch. Microwaves had just hit the market but Cuisinart hadn’t invented bread machines yet, so the bread maker was—well—me. I thrived for more than a decade pursuing this lifestyle I loved until the farm economy nose-dived and I needed to return to work off the farm. Once again, I shelved my precious lifestyle mission.

Now, in retirement, I’ve embraced that wonderful quest again. I prefer, as much as possible, to be intimately acquainted with each ingredient I use and know where it came from. Recently I was kneading a batch of whole-grained bread for stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey and reflecting how many ways we can make delicious breads today. First, of course, are the bread-making machines on our kitchen counters. Mine is an unexpectedly acquired stainless rectangle that takes a lot of counter space bur does a decent job if I’m short on time.  Second is a recent quick way to make no-knead yeast dough: put all ingredients into a bowl, stir briskly until mixed, and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Whenever you want bread or pizza dough, you simply scoop out a ball of the dough and bake it.

Then there’s the old-fashioned way I learned five decades ago. As I kneaded the large stuffing dough ball, I decided this would always be my favorite method. I loved the feel of the gingerbread colored dough moving back and forth beneath my palms and of the many bits of cracked wheat that dimpled the ball. The sound of the dough sliding on the lightly floured breadboard beneath my hands also whispered promises of mouth-watering moments later on.

When just enough flour had been kneaded in, the dough lost all stickiness and felt cool, smooth, and pliable. Then I rolled it in my oiled bread bowl and covered it with a towel with these embroidered words, “Thank you for friends between us, food before us, Your presence among us.” As I began another task I smiled as I thought about the silent magical task that dough ball was about to begin to double its size in the dark beneath the towel.

My thoughts slid back to long-ago maple syrup seasons on the farm. On an unknown day in late winter, as the nights stayed cool, but the days began to warm, I’d step outside into a warm moistness in the air and know intuitively that sap had begun to run in the maple trees. The time had arrived to tap the trees and boil the sap into delectable maple syrup.  No one told me; the knowledge had, over the years, simply become stored in my bones.

Later, as my baking bread filled my small house with an aroma that no bread machine could duplicate, I understood that the act of making bread the old-fashioned way was for me as visceral as knowing when the sap had begun to flow. It was a silent, mysterious, and exquisite act of tapping into ancient wisdom.

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in Family, Gratitude, Health, In the Kitchen, Simplicity. Bookmark the permalink.

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