Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kneading (or thinking by feeling)

Life has been nutty as of late--full of meetings, teaching, many EXTRAS needing done. Moments in the studio have been just that--moments here and there. I do become down when life is so crazy that the slowness of an afternoon deep in thought with piles of paper and paint (or of just 20 minutes) is a hard won challenge. But in the midst of my sort-of-sadness are some lovely encounters.

For one, I DID make six loaves of bread in the last week and a half. (Hmmmm, you are saying, now just what are those extras you speak of...?) A pile of left-over mashed potatoes from a dinner with friends encouraged my barrage of bread making--potato bread making to be exact. (Yes, that potato bread you buy in the store whose crumb is so very soft and whose color is that lovely tinge of egg-yellow--AND from which one can make the most glorious french toast, or any toast for that matter.) The bread is easy and excellent, and just right toasted with butter and jam on cold school mornings. I made all that bread to use up our potatoes, to stave off the sudden voracious appetite our house developed for potato bread in the last week, AND to experience the pure delight of kneading bread dough--so welcome amidst the craze of now.

Just after all the ingredients (mashed potatoes, honey, egg, yeast, salt, milk, flour) come together and are turned out onto the flour-dusted counter, there is a lovely moment of stillness. And I begin to knead. Invariably, like when beginning a standing drawing, I shift my feet about three feet apart so I am firmly planted--so I can control the weight of my body, moving that directed weight into the dough--lightly, but firmly. Kneading is lovely for many reasons. The first--kneading requires one puts aside "head thinking" for a moment and really pay attention to how something feels, how that feeling evolves and changes, and when the feeling is just right. I must feel (not think) my way to the instant when just enough flour has made it's way through the mound of dough. The recipe I followed suggested at least 10 minutes, but I found the dough soft and pliable and FULL after about 5, and I was thrilled to trust feel or touch over an external, more substantiated (in some ways) directive.

Kneading is also lovely because it is repetitive and meditative--but in a way that engages the fullness or length of one's body. I did not learn how to knead in a bakery or my kitchen or from a cook book, but in a ceramics studio--when I was a sophomore in college. In order to insure all the air bubbles were pushed from any given lump of clay, we kneaded the clay--I actually forget the correct clay term for the movement. I loved the action--a perpetual rhythm of pulling the clay back toward my body and then pushing back out with the whole of me. I recall very little of what I made in ceramics save for the fact that it was very heavy and very brown--but I remember kneading my clay in the quiet of an evening--somehow intuiting even then that THIS is important--THIS action I'll carry with me.


Anonymous said...

Oooh, homemade bread - there is nothing better! We rarely have mashed potatoes left over, so I've never made that type of potato bread (I have made potato bread with instant flakes though). In fact, I keep wanting to make gnocchi if we ever had mashed potatoes left over. :}

I know many people who find kneading bread very comforting, but I have a sensory issue with sticky dough, so I make no-knead breads or use a mixer or bread-machine to mix the dough.

Ellen Campbell said...

I find such rhythmic motions meditative...like knitting is for me.