I first started making bread in 2012. And I was terrible at it. My loaves, crafted lovingly with impatient, fumbling hands, resembled browned, misshapen hockey pucks. I didn’t know about the importance of a good crumb then, and either I didn’t know how sub-par they were or I didn’t care, I was just excited to learn.
Cut to now, this week, and I have made two loaves of bread that when I sliced into them, I almost wanted to cry a little.
So good. Such an even crumb. The starter, just right, rendered the perfect amount of sourness.
Bread is the only thing, I realize, that I can have this much loving patience with.
It’s been five years and a painfully slow and crawling process. I have made countless terrible loaves: overproofed, underproofed, too much salt, no salt at all, and have sat by, stupidly overjoyed as my poor friends chewed the inedible sponges, nodding in praise and approval.
But with the pounds and pounds of flour wasted, the starters I’ve mistreated and consequently killed, I’ve learned a lot. And here I am today, cultivating the most beautiful, healthy starter I have ever owned (her name is Madre) and whipping up no knead loaves with near-ease.
On Friday night, I pulled my bread out of the oven, the infallible smell filling Monica’s tiny kitchen, and as I slathered the a steaming slice with butter, I recognized how every questionable loaf has led up to this shiny, beautiful sacred one, and the even better ones to come.
I also realized that it’s a damn good metaphor that begs a very important question: why don’t I apply this attitude to other facets of my life?
Practice, in concept, is great. In theory, if you work hard at doing something consistently, you will eventually become better at it — maybe even good at it if you’re lucky.
But what no one ever tells us is that this process usually sucks. Failing sucks. I am the worst kind of perfectionist. I hate failure; in fact I hate it so much that sometimes I avoid doing things altogether. It stops me from creating and sharing recipes, it stops me from writing a possibly life-changing cover letter, it stops me from going for a run even though I am so damn happy every time I do.
But bread, my beautiful, pillowy carb-rich pal, reminds me that it is totally OKAY to not have a perfect loaf every time. If you did, like, cool, but that would be weird. And out of the ordinary. Yes, meeting your own standards can be gratifying, but without the practice, the process, that end wouldn’t even be possible.
And it’s funny what happens when you stop avoiding things and just pay attention, let yourself be there, even if it means failing or getting it wrong.