A while ago I loaded my little loveys in to the car before dawn so they could catch the early flight to spend a few days away, to see where Mommy was born and enjoy the chaotic thrill of nonrev travel. I kissed them all many times. "Alright already, you'll make us late!" said my smoochie. In my underwear and bare feet I ran alongside the car in goofy exaggerated strides, trying to get a laugh out of their groggy bodies. They sped up and turned the corner before I could see.
Then I was alone.
Not that I was entirely upset about that. I haven't had the house to myself for more than an afternoon for about three years.
Unfortunately, I had to work, but boy oh boy, would I get a bunch of stuff accomplished during those evenings alone. Uninterrupted yard work. Writing. I could read a book! Listen to my own music really, really loud. Get all my homework out of the way. Start rebuilding that computer. Code.
Believe it or not it came as a suprise coming home that evening to an empty house. No highspeed 40-pound missle attacking my legs in an explosion of gladness. No stories linked to battle scars in hidden forests. No hallway spin for a kiss before figuring out what's for dinner and did I remember we have a teacher's conference in an hour.
I walked circles through the house, wondering if I was in the right place. Openning and shutting the door to every room. Faint echoes of arguments and laughter and silence. Yes, the silence of a full home is richer than that of an empty house.
My list of stuff began smirking at me. I began one. Then another. And another. Each time I stopped before I even got started. It was like building a wall with paper bricks and spit.
I wound up doing nothing on my list. The first night I fell asleep watching The Matrix Reloaded. Woke up with a stiff neck and almost was late to work.
Vix called me on the second night, sounding exhausted. The boys apparently hadn't been their normal angelic selves, and she was ready to extend her trip to Tahiti. Solo.
"Sorry to dump on you. Ruin your evening and all."
"Don't worry about it."
After we hung up, the house expanded and to keep myself from walking ruts in the tile floors, I did the only thing I could do. I made bread.
What You'll Need
What You'll Do
Combine the yeast, water and whole wheat flour in a largeish bowl. Whip them together until it becomes smooth and pudding-like. This is called the sponge, and it is a dandy way to give a boost to the yeast, getting a leg up on the whole rising and flowering process. Cover the bowl and place it in a warm place for about an hour, although half an hour is OK if you are short on time (which you shouldn't be if you are making bread).
When time's up, drizzle the olive oil on the risen sponge. Add the salt and yogurt. Fold in the ingredients until they are fairly well incorporated.
Add the unbleached white flour a cup at a time, folding and flipping to incorporate it, all the time trying to keep the dough in one piece. Once it becomes a lumpish blob, pulling cleanly from the sides of the bowl, it is time to deliver the dough to the counter and knead it.
The dough will be somewhat wet and sticky, thanks to the yogurt. I switch back to whole wheat for kneading, but white would work as well. Resist the urge to add lots of flour at this point. Use just enough to dust the counter and the top of the dough in order to get a few turns in. Take a break. Peel the dough from your hands. Keep going. The dough will begin to take shape and push back as it builds its character.
Knead the dough 150 times, perhaps adding an extra 10 for good measure. By this time the dough should be smooth and have a little spring to it, but it will still be a little wet. This is fine. Pour a little oil in to the bottom of the bowl, put the dough in, and flip it over to coat. Cover the bowl and put it back in that warmish place it was in before.
After an hour, press, don't punch, the dough down. Cover it again. Wait about 45 minutes to an hour. Uncover the bowl, and allow the dough to gracefully fall from it.
Grease a loaf pan. Knead it a half-dozen times. Flatten in out in to a rough square and roll it up jellyroll style. Pull the ends under and pinch the bottom seam together.
Place the loaf in the pan seam side up, then turn it over and flatten it out with the back of your hands. Slice either one cut down the middle or several diagonally. Cover and let rise for 20 minutes while you are heating the oven to 425°.
Brush the top with egg wash or water, and place in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 375°. If you use water (it itends to give a more robust crust), brush it again after 20 minutes. Total baking time is one hour.
That's it. When done, take it out of the pan and place it on its side to cool for at least an hour before you dig in. It has a deep wheat, slight sourdough flavor, delicious all by itself, but it doesn't mind a bit of butter.
My sweeties all returned late the next night. In the morning they sat sleepy-faced at the breakfast table each with a slice of bread. RunningHammer and MaShone each had it toasted with butter and jelly. SweetFaceBoy ate his toasted also with butter only, the slice divided at a jaunty angle. Vix stood at the sink, trying an untoasted piece with a dab of butter before eating the rest plain.
"Hmm. Not your normal lead bread." Then a crumb-jewelled morning kiss.
Honestly, the bread is nothing fancy. But after time spent on the road eating heartless food made by strangers, it's good to have something waiting made by someone who loves you.