Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Does It All Happen for A Reason? (or, Sometimes The Bread Just Doesn’t Rise)

Despite our digital age and mentality, equally in vogue is that new age sensibility that has found its way to wireless company and insurance commercials to bumper stickers. You know – the ‘everything happens for a reason’ mantra that I, and other people tend to tout when things go awry. No one ever says this when things go well. They just say: wow, great news. But when things are less than positive, that is the party line of those of us with some sort of faith and pretence or reality of a good attitude. As someone who is fertile with misadventures, my friends often ask me:
‘What did you learn from that’ or “What was your Lesson from all this?” This usually uttered on the occasions I report some sting or another, from copyright violations to burnt brioche to the ups and downs of romance at mid-life.
“Nothing’ is what I want to answer or “Nothing yet’. Because if you must know, I haven’t. I am not always sure it is about some sort of life lesson and if it is, if it all can be neatly applied at the Next Step of the Next Section of wherever you are going. Moreover, and this is really cogent, maybe there is a grandiose-ness about trying to make conclusions with such proximity to whatever the event was that made you crank up the “Everything happens for a reason’ recording. And more than this, it is not, and I mean this nicely, it is not always about you or us. We are no more (as even greater events are) but a minute stitch in our own lives; never mind, the bigger picture of the bigger work on the loom of life, as spun by forces beyond anyone’s reckoning.
I do believe things happen for a reason for the most part but lately, I have having more difficulty embracing as I used to. That is a big admission for someone who has spent the last half of the last decade sucking back Decaf, Mocha Caramelatto Lites at the Starbucks ensconced in my local Barnes and Noble bookstore. It is also where I have inhaled a ton of Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, UTNE magazine, and umpteen books on compassion. If not for In Style and Us magazines to break up the depth, I might not have had any sort of balance.

I think what made me question the ‘everything happens for a reason’ was not the bad things happen to good people sometimes, or Katrina, copyright violations of recipes or anything more striking than an email I received a few weeks ago from a motivational speaker. He wrote about baking and also shared with me some recent epiphanies he had had that led him to become a life coach. He helps people learn from their unhealed parts of themselves and shortcut to personal and professional life success. He was euphoric, having found his calling and a new philosophy to why things happen to each of us. It was his belief that we invite people and events into our lives, as difficult as many are, to teach us lessons we need to heal and grow from. Lack of self-esteem is a prime symptom and indication of where healing is needed.

This is big stuff. It is also pretty cool until I began to think of various natural disasters among other horrors. I am not sure anyone invited Katrina into their living rooms. Once there, I am not sure a lack of self-esteem was the trigger for a hurricane. Stuff happens. Some we can control and some comes as the will of the wind. From such stuff, one can heal or grow or evolve and good things can and will take root. But suggesting that we are responsible for all negative things or they are some karmic and psychic result of unfinished business is edgy thinking. It resonates for me at times and other times, it has as sense of negative accountability to it. It places blame on victims (if you are swindled, are you at fault for not being vigilant or were you in the way of the path of someone with their own unfinished healing?). It also presumes we alone, are the cause and effect and negates the broader interplay, for which we are but a boutonniere on life’s suit. It is also cold comfort to tell a child, they invited abuse into their life to teach them a lesson they needed to learn from a past life or future test of their mettle. At what age, are we then accountable for ‘inviting’ unwanted spiritual guests into our ‘homes’? These are big philosophies with much to offer. Whereas I have no significant tweaking to offer, as I am formulating so much of this myself as I go along, I do sense the karma connection, as popularized by many new age writers, needs a bit of tempering.
My view, at this point in time, is that we are all born to stories in progress. I think we are only are fooling ourselves thinking we are a beginning and an end in some marvelous, wholly personal venture. It’s more like we step into a narrative that has been started long ago and simply take up our place and pace in it. We are each of us is a player in this incredible, unfolding life drama; part of the cast comprised of a multitude of actors, each one representing a distillation of nature, nurture, genes, history, and circumstance. In turn, each player offers a segment of a story with ten-fold permutations, depending on who is telling it. So this on-going tale of us is like those apple peelings that have neither beginning nor end but twist this way or delicately coil and rewind, creating a special tapestry, those colors, at close view, are not always even describable. Like the best of complex embroideries, the best view of the design is from a stance somewhat afar. If you stare too close, like a Seurat painting, it is hard to see the overall work. Like the best of embroideries, the beauty is in its complexity - not its perfection. Looking for lessons is wise but it’s best to allow for some retrospect before applying the all-conclusive life lesson bumper sticker or simply having some humility about our part of the greater mosaic.
Now, what I do like about the ‘everything happens for a reason’ thing is that, it comes from a positive place. Mining for gold out of the darkness is not a bad way to make a life. Using it, like peelings of vegetables to make a better soup stock, or old bread dough as the makings of an incredible sourdough, is brilliant. Ascribing meaning is what we do and how we thrive. Taking strength from difficulty so we are better able to surf another wave of it, is wise. Seeing how change, even negative or how pain – can make us more beautiful, stronger, more authentic is something that gives ‘everything happens for a reason’ its reason. But it is retrospect and human resilience that does that as much as it is about meanings, myths and a spirituality beyond the Mind, Body, Spirit section at the bookstore. If there is a reason, it might reveal way down the line . Moreover, and more often, it is not the neat and compact reason we like to presume or impose on it - like a sheet of Saran wrap, on a jiggly pudding simply to contain it and be able to label it.
So, yes, everything happens for a reason is right ...albeit in retrospect. It is also simply true that things happen, good and bad because they are all changes and without change, nothing moves or grows.

Better to just learn what you can and move on. If we must look back, let us find a safe perch to have the restrospective coffee break and make our assessments then.

Personally, I do prefer to think stuff happens for a reason because it is a tent peg of comfort that buys me some calm. Meanwhile, I can dance on the spot until I heal from the ‘immediate’ lesson at hand.

In the end, it's what we do with this stuff, and how it affects the next rites of passage we face, that becomes larger bumper sticker. I don’t know, in the midst of pain, if it serves me to think I erred three life times ago or I am picking up the tab on someone else’s karma.

Things happen for a reason or in a season or for the sheer mystery of it all, whether in joy or whether in sorrow.
As always, and as you would expect from a baker who writes, the perfect recipe to bake when you don't know why stuff happened but need to move on. Might as well bake. When you figure it out, you'll still have toast.
Marcy Goldman
Baker & Writer

Outstanding French Country Bread

A lot of breads are called French Country bread, the name is based as much on the type of dough used and method, as well as the rustic boule shape. This is one version of a French country bread. If you only bake one bread in your life, chose this one. This slightly sour bread is a nice foray into almost sourdough bread, offering something for both veteran and novice bakers. It calls for a poolish, which is a young starter, created of flour, water and a touch of yeast which is left to froth 8-16 hours. (After that point, if you wanted to allow it to mature into a starter, you would feed it flour and water, at regular intervals, and once mature, use it or refrigerate it). This bread has a great crust, holey interior, that is both moist and rustic. It is amazing plain, or toasted, as a sandwich bread or simply cut and served with a hunk of cheese. I most often make the dough for this bread in a bread machine and continue by hand through baking it in a traditional oven.

8 to 16 hours ahead
Sponge or Poolish Starter
1 cup water, preferably spring water
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour or organic white bread flour
2 tablespoons organic whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons organic rye flour

(all of) starter
1 cup water, preferably spring water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon malt powder or syrup (optional - see home brewing supply or health food stores)
1/2 teaspoon yeast
3 3/4 to 4 cups unbleached bread flour

The night before or up to 16 hours before: In a small bowl, stir together the water and yeast and let yeast dissolve by briskly whisking.

With a whisk or medium wood spoon, stir in bread flour, whole wheat and rye flour to make a thick mixture. It should be like a thickened, gloppy pudding.

Cover bowl lightly with plastic wrap (leaving a small air space) and let stand at room temperature 8 to 16 hours.

For the dough, first, stir down starter. Add remaining ingredients while holding back about 1/2 cup of the flour. Knead until dough is smooth and resilient. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Insert bowl in a large plastic bag and let rise about 45 minutes.
After the rise, gently deflate dough (whether it is in the machine or in a bowl) and form into a ball. Gently place it, seam side down, on doubled up baking sheets. Line the top sheet with parchment.
Spray dough lightly with a non-stick vegetable spray. Insert entire baking sheet inside a large plastic garbage bag (this is your "proofing tent"). Let dough rise until ball is puffy (40% to 55% larger).

Preheat oven to 475 F.
Slash loaf with a sharp knife before baking. Spray with water (plant atomizer) and dust with flour. If dough deflates when you slash it, it rose too much. The heat of the oven should help it spring back. Atomize oven with a few squirts of water and place baking sheets on lowest rack of oven. Spray oven interior every five minutes for the first 15 minutes. When 20 minutes remain, reduce heat to 425 F. to finish baking. Loaf should be well browned after 25-35 minutes. Cool well on rack before slicing. Store, cut side down, on a counter (do not cover).
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(c) Marcy Goldman Recipe, from Love Notes From Wheatland © 2007

1 comment:

MANAL AL-ALEM Recipes منال العالم said...

Dear Marcy,
Thanks for your great recipes.I read your page since you started, I do love cooking like you, am a TV chef in Arabic TV chanels.I may startd participate in your recipe archive this period starting for 3 months, I hope I will find time to enjoy cooking your recipes. Thanks agagin and congratulaiton for new blog.