Ask any of my closest friends and they'll tell you that I'm crazy about bread. It's not necessarily the consumption of bread that gets me going, it's the structure of its creation; the smell of the dough as you fold it into shape and the sound it makes when you tap the center after its time in the oven. Last summer, I helped out on a few early morning shifts at a bakery in Maine and found myself shedding some tears over the shear wonder of bread. Perhaps that's a tad bit dramatic and nerdy, but it was 2 am and I felt as though I was meeting a long lost lover in a field of daises and sunbeams. Magic in its truest form.
I believe in bread. I believe in its power to heal through fermentation, herbs and, yes, moderation. While I think our resistance to gluten is valid ( especially Celiac Disease ), I also believe it's a call to start making your own bread at home or seek out a baker who uses quality ingredients and cares about what they're producing. There is too much bread in our everyday lives that is made with unnecessary and toxic ingredients in order to increase shelf life. All this grossly formed bread is bound to make people sick! We also need to address our individual intake of bread and recognize when it's time to take a break. Too much bread can take its toll on anyone's digestive system and recognizing that it is important for our own well being.
So what can we do to make sure we have good bread at home? Keep your own sourdough starter, use quality flours ( if you're in New England, I recommend Maine Grains ), add herbs to the dough, or top it with some sauteed dandelion greens, saurkraut and Greek yogurt. I admit that due to my ever wandering lifestyle, I haven't been able to make my own starter, but I incorporate whatever medicinal herbs I have on hand or in some cases, I add flower essences. Flower essences are herbal infusions, typically made with the flowering part of a plant. They capture the energetic qualities of the plant that focus on aiding the emotional aspect of healing. They are gentle yet powerful and a great way to add some extra oomph to your bread. The essence that I'm using here is Self-Heal, Prunella vulgaris, a plant whose name bares the action. The medieval herbalist, Gerard once said, "The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water, doth join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward". An incredible ally for healing deeply rooted internal wounds associated with with grief, sadness, hopelessness and anger. I add the flower essence to to most of my herbal formulations and my water whenever possible.
Last spring, while living in Oakland, CA, I found myself spritzing loaves with flower essences and incorporating herbs not typically found in bread. I don't know what directed me to that, perhaps my need to feel rooted while living in an urban scape, but I know it helped. For me, baking bread is the foundation of a well lived life. The act of spending time in a kitchen, shaping, kneading and peeking under the cloth as the dough rises, brings me such joy and a sense of accomplishment. It's a good check in and provides me a moment of purpose if I'm having a somewhat senseless week.
3 cups white flour (or bread flour)
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tbs yeast
1 1/2 tbs salt
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 heaping tbs honey
3 cups lukewarm water
optional : 6 - 8 drops flower essence of your choice
Note: this makes a BIG loaf so make sure your pan is on the larger end or halve the dough and make two loaves.
Combine water and honey till honey has dissolved, drop in your flower essence, add your yeast and let stand for 2 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients. Strip thyme leaves from stem and stir into flour mixture. Add your water and yeast and stir until sticky. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 4 hours ( I often leave mine overnight and bake in the morning ) in a warm spot. Flour your hands and surface and knead the dough till slightly stiff. Oil your pan ( I like using a large cast iron pan, but anything will do ) and place your lil dough ball in the center, giving it more time to rise as the oven preheats to 450. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. You can also tell if a bread is done if there's a hollow sound when tapped.
Eat warm slathered with ghee, herbed butter or dandelion jelly