We all were surprised when Tom, a friend of mine at McMaster, started baking bread. We shouldn't have been surprised.
After all, Tom was often doing surprising things: climbing mountains, riding his bike to South America or smoking a pipe.
But when those loaves came out of the oven, all hot, steaming and fragrant, we ate it anyway.
* * *
I still remember coming home from school and being welcomed by the embracing smell of fresh-baked bread. If I got home before my siblings, I would claim the crust, smother it with butter and honey and head downstairs to watch Welcome Back Kotter, Three's Company, Hogan's Heroes and WKRP in Cincinnati.
By today's standards, I watched far too much television as a kid; it's no wonder that I can't remember anything. My hard drive is full of after-school comedies from the 1970s.
* * *
Once, some years later, when I was visiting my folks, I asked my mother to teach me how to bake bread. We followed her recipe from the Laura Secord cookbook for whole wheat bread. My first attempts yielded loaves that were more suitable for construction than eating. But she ate them anyway.
Ahh..... a mother's love.
* * *
In time, I found a better recipe in the Living More With Less cookbook that I've adapted through praxis: cut the whole wheat flour with some white flour that has more gluten, don't grease the bowl when you set the dough to rise, play Mozart not Bach while it rises, substitute vegetable oil with sunflower or hemp, roll out the dough before proofing it in stoneware pans, score the top with a sharp knife to release any excess gas....
That page is now stained with sunflower oil and increasingly illegible - the sign of a good recipe; but no worries, I have it memorized.
* * *
In 1996, Tom invited me to Alberta to facilitate a series of workshops on creation stewardship up in the mountains in Kananaskis Country. My sessions were interspersed with frozen dashes across rushing, ice-cold streams, steep climbs towards ever distant peaks, knee-crunching descents down bouldered valleys and, in my case, a sudden fall into a crevasse while crossing a glacier.
Probably the most dangerous workshop I've ever facilitated.
When we returned to the lodge for the final day, I lead a final session in which I taught the participants to bake bread. I supplied them with all the ingredients and some basic instructions, but then left them to plunge their hands into the dough.
As the bread was rising and baking, I shared my thoughts about what baking my own bread meant to me. How it helped me maintain a connection to real food and the land, the wonder of carbon-capturing the off-gas of living yeast, how breaking bread builds community..... I like to think that the reflection was all the more poignant since they still had dough stuck under their finger nails.
But the real miracle took place that night at the final banquet when we served their loaves. Each rookie baker proudly displayed what they had produced: some lumpy, some chewy, but all theirs. They then started asking for each other's loaves by name. "Hey, pass me John's loaf, I want to try that..." or "Hey, Sue, this one is really good...".
How do they know they know? Because they ate it.
* * *
Bread appears in different forms in most cultures: pita, tortilla, Italian, French, pumpernickel (a name reportedly coined by Napoleon when he derisively called it, "Pain pour Nicole" (his horse), chapati, matzo, challa, rye, Wonder....
The breaking of bread is a central symbol in the Christian tradition of hospitality, transcendence, and redemption.
But somehow I can't picture Jesus breaking Wonder Bread with his disciples. It would have had to been at least 12-grain --- preferably homemade by Martha.
* * *
I find creating a good learning design is a lot like making bread. It takes the right ingredients, care, patience, and a bit of brute force now and then as you mix it all up, knead the tasks to make them supple, fold the design back on itself, stretch it and fold it again. You can't rush it, as every draft needs to be punched down again and left to rise while you go for a bike ride.
But if the design rises well and you don't over or under facilitate it...well, it can be a transformative experience
Unless, of course, they don't tolerate gluten. Safety!
* * *
A single slice of Dempster's Whole Grain bread contains 130 calories; bagels, as much as 200.
By today's standards -- or at least as suggested by my increasingly-inadequate belt -- I eat far too much bread. I blame my mother for this.
* * *
I baked the communion bread for our wedding. Gary served it to 120 guests along with a bottle of South African red.
Everyone got a little bit, but more than enough. The first of a few miracles that day.
A second took place two hours later when the valve broke on the keg of beer that my brother and I had made for the wedding --another yeast partnership.
My cousin, who is an engineer, stole a rubber washer from the neighbour's garden hose and fixed the valve.
Not quite the miracle at Canaan, but he did save the party.
I can't remember if my bread was any good; I only got a small piece. But it was a good day.
* * *
From September to March, I bake bread twice a week. My kids enjoy their "Daddy Bread" smothered with butter and honey. They prefer it over Dempsters.
But I fear that my son is a Carbivore, as there are days he seems to eat nothing but bread, rice and noodles.
He also loves to watch videos.
Nothing surprising there, I guess.