Back in the late 80s when my hubby was in the army, we lived in a small village in Germany which contained not just one, but two quaint bakeries. I knew I could always walk to one and pick up a loaf of freshly baked bread. I rarely did do that though. I used to make my own bread in those days. I was taught how to bake bread by Maria, my German landlady. She was solid woman who wore an apron around her waist and a kerchief on her snow white hair. She always had the biggest smile on her very round face and the first time I shook her hand, I was astounded by the broadness of her palm and the strength it contained. I’m not sure how old she was but I would say that she had to be in her sixties.
Maria taught me the basics-proofing the yeast, kneading, rising, baking and listening to your bread. She taught me how to make a starter but at this moment, I can’t remember that instruction. I think if I peel away some crusty layers of my brain, I might remember. All of these teachings were in German (mind you, my knowledge of the German language was in its rudimentary stage) so there were times I would stare at her in utter bewilderment as she would say, “Verstehst du?” (Do you understand?) I would nod my head, saying “Ja, Ich ferstehe” (Yes, I understand) but not really having a clue. Somehow, we spoke the universal language of baking and the end result would be a loaf of bread.
Eventually, I was able to bake my own loaf from start to finish without my landlady’s help. I remember her praising me, telling me that I was a good bread baker. She also told me "now that you can make bread, you will always eat". At least that is how I translated what she said to me. I think she was trying to use the same philosophy as the quote, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat forever.” I was young and at that time in my life, I didn’t really give it much thought. Looking back now, I realize that she had gone through WWII in Nazi Germany and most likely had seen and experienced many things during her young years. Food was scarce and rationed. I believe that Maria must have made bread to feed her family. I like to think that she was telling me that bread is a basic necessity of life. By baking bread, one sustains life.
Fast forward to life now… I live in the tri-state area where I can get the most awesome bread. There isn’t anywhere in the US where I can get a better loaf of Italian bread. I can also get a hearty Jewish rye or a “to die for” sourdough bread. Bread is everywhere. I haven’t baked bread since I lived in Germany. In the 90s, somebody gave me a bread machine but I never used it. I gave it away. I didn’t need to bake bread (especially not with a machine!) I was too busy.
Last year, I realized that life was getting too crazy. I took a hard look at my family and how we lived. We were too dependent on “things” and gadgets. I felt a very strong urge to simplify. So since my epiphany, I have been taking baby steps to create a more simple life. I started taking those first steps in my kitchen. Bread is being made in my kitchen these days with my hands while my Kitchen Aid takes a well deserved break on the shelf. Bread is simple. Bread is basic. Bread is life sustaining.