A couple weeks ago, right before the pandemic restrictions took hold, I stood in the bread aisle of our local grocery store and was surprised by the fact that the bread shelves were empty.
No stacks of English muffins, potato bread, hot dog rolls.
No stone ground wheat, rye or spelt.
I’d strolled down the aisle not even wondering whether or not my family’s most recent favorite, Dave’s Killer Bread (specifically the “21 Whole Grain and Seeds” one) would be there, if I’d have to substitute it with something else.
That’s how out of touch I was — worrying about food supplies. Usually I stay current with all possible worries. Maybe my meditation practice had finally kicked in. Standing there I wondered for a moment if all my sitting and breathing had actually made me unprepared.
My next thought, staring at the shelves was, aren’t people mostly gluten free? Had this pandemic relegated food sensitivities to the back burner? Or were people planning on making a lot of sandwiches now that kids were home from school?
And, then, there was a feeling of delight.
Because finally, one of my non-essential skills was on the brink of becoming essential after all. I was meeting my moment.
I knew how to bake bread, all kinds of bread, but usually didn’t because the time commitment often felt impractical, hard to justify, there was so much bread everywhere.
So, even though fresh baked bread is one of life’s most distinct sensory pleasures, my bread making had slowly come to a halt over the years because my practicality won out and I lost initiative. Was homemade bread even worth it?
It was like my down cycles of knitting when I couldn’t deny buying a sweater was cheaper and more efficient. Time saving. Never mind not nearly as pleasurable as finishing one that you made on your own; that yarn in hand made long car drives satisfying and sealed in memories otherwise forgettable. I’d learned this long ago in a distinct knitting phase — working with my hands tuned my brain to the moment. Stitches marked miles in a way nothing else did. I remembered the conversations in the car.
I left the bread aisle for the flour one, grateful for my important mission. And it was there that I saw, without any feeling of delight, only one remaining two-pound sack of sprouted wheat flour. All the other flour was gone. All the white, whole wheat, rye; even all the whole wheat pastry flour. Even the millet and spelt.
People were serious.
I hadn’t even gone to the store to stock up. I went because I gotten the official news that all my kids were returning home and planning to stay for the foreseeable future. I’d make them a welcome home lasagna, just needed some ricotta. It was only while I was there that I decided to grab a loaf of bread.
A casual, just in case loaf. Not a stockpile.
My sprouted loaf came out fine, but in my imagination tasted on a bit the old side. If no one wanted the sprouted wheat flour, even in these times, who knows how long it had sat there. Could have been a year or more, I reasoned.
Shortly thereafter I collected a bit of sourdough starter from my reliable friend who has consistently stayed impractical with her bread baking for the past two decades. Within the week I was back to my own rituals of sourdough bread baking, my home within a home. Even though, by that point, conventional bread had reappeared on the store shelves, I continued unabated.
Because, now, the pleasure — even just the smell — of daily fresh bread softens days with grim statistics, of scary news. It has anchored me in a new routine, its slow rise mirroring a new, unfamiliar pace. I’ve become determined to provide myself the simple pleasure of seeing my grown children’s faces when another fresh boule appears in the center of our kitchen table, still warm. For one reliable moment, things are good. And that feels like the most essential thing of all.