Bake in the sanity

We’ve entered fearful times that are now driven by reality. Social media, the refuge of the fake, still has only two offerings for those who can’t raise their eyes and look at what is happening all around them.

  1. I’m fine and nothing has changed and I’m still doing that badass ride/race/job.
  2. Look at all the stuff I have because I was a smart shopper and beat everyone to the punch.

You and I both know that 1. and 2. above are bunkum. No one is fine. Everything has changed. You won’t be doing that badass ride in April because it will be canceled. Likewise, no matter how much you’ve hoarded, we depend on the global supply chain for goods, services, food, and water. You’ll eventually run out and, like the rest of us, will have to start thinking realistically not about how you’ll snag five pallets of water, but what you’ll have for dinner tonight because there’s not much to choose from.

It’s not end times. It’s not even midway-to-end-times. What it is, is fast change that none of us is prepared for and that none of us has adapted to. Yet!

What follows is some simple advice about how to do more than navigate, but rather to thrive in an uncertain moment.

First, quit checking the online news and market reports. Look at them once in the morning and once in the evening if you have to, but know that the more you look, the unhappier you will be. This is doubly true for #socmed. The stream of terrible media verbiage is designed to make you sad. “Downward spiral, “tanked,” “plunged,” “collapsed,” “plummet,” “fall through the floor,” “tumble,” “crater,” are words I pulled out of a single morning news story. Writers choose these words to heighten your anxiety and fear so that you’ll keep reading their garbage, and you have to deny them that power by refusing to read what they’ve written.

Second, if you can do it without coming into contact with others, take a walk, or sit on a bench. The air, sounds, and sights are real and reassuring. If you’re in SoCal, for goodness sake look at the ocean. You’ll reflect that however bad this is, it isn’t the Black Death of medieval times or even the great crash of 1929. You’ll feel stronger and more relaxed, more optimistic and confident about tomorrow.

Third, make something. Before I explain, it’s crucial to understand where the panic buying and hoarding is coming from and what it’s a response to. People have the fear of starvation deep within their genes and their social fabric. Uncertainty and shock begin a cycle of running to the store, which becomes worse because the stores run out of food, which more intensively triggers the fear-of-starvation response, which causes more people to run to the store.

It’s true that you can’t hoard enough food to not run out, but there is also therapy in being around other frightened people. I see at the supermarket so many people talking animatedly and engaging each other. That never happens in normal life, and I try to ignore that this is precisely the behavior that spreads contagion.

But in order to get at the root at the fear of running out, you have to move your focus from what you’re going to run out of and shift it to “What can I do that will allay my fear of running out?” What I’m going to say will sound silly to some, but if you try it, you’ll see that it works. What I propose is that you bake a loaf of bread.

People who read this will fall into two categories. “I don’t know how,” and “I know how to do that.” What follows is mainly for the first category, but applicable to the second as well. At the outset, baking a loaf of bread creates edible food with your own hands. When the hot loaf comes out of the oven, filling the kitchen with the smell of fresh bread, all of your food anxiety will evaporate. Baking a loaf of bread takes the fear of starvation and converts it into a tangible anti-starvation weapon, and fills you with the confidence that you can never get from toilet paper, water, cleaning supplies, or alcohol–and yes, those are the things that people cleared first off the shelves.

These two things, delicious homemade food and the confidence that you’re in control of tomorrow, will go a long, long way to taking your eye off the fearball that the media is pitching at you with might and main. As importantly, the upcoming quarantine is going to heighten binge drinking, binge eating, and will cause an uptick in domestic violence and child abuse. People are not used to being cooped up, frightened and angry. Having a time-consuming, healthy way to focus your indoor energy on delicious, homemade bread will help on every level.

Even better, the ingredients for bread, even if you don’t have them at this moment, are going to reappear on the shelves, and all of them are still available online: Flour, salt, and yeast. Best of all? You can make it with tap water. When your diet is made of fast food, frozen food, “prepared” food, “deli” food, restaurant food, and things that require you to do little more than use the microwave, you are at the mercy of the panic buyers. Being able to bake bread–and EVERYONE CAN BAKE BREAD–allows you to take a breath, shrug, and remind yourself that as long as the plumbing and the oven work, you have it covered.

For people who have never baked a hearty country boule, there is of course the thrill you will get at having made one. And if you’re stuck inside with your family, you’ll find that the act of baking is communal. You won’t be nervously twitching from one bad news story to the next; maybe you’ll even turn off your TV. Okay, that’s a stretch.

But if you and the people under your roof turn to and bake a loaf of bread or two together, you’ll find even more of the stress dissipate. Gaining a skill that staves off the fear-of-starvation gene is how people survived for millennia. Hunting, gathering, and human agriculture as opposed to the industrial kind, are what created human communities, culture, language, art, music, poetry, and civilization.

This profound but simple act among people living together will instantly bring forth the time-honored traditions of learning, talking, laughing, mentoring, experimenting, and will culminate in the ultimate expression of human commonality: breaking bread together.

Nor are the benefits limited to people who live with others. Baking by yourself has most of the same benefits, and since you can rarely eat all the bread you bake, it leads to that other great human innovation, the act of sharing with friends, neighbors, strangers. People were made, you see, to be with one another especially in times of struggle, because it is through union that we commune.

As with anything else, beginning a baking journey leads to trial and failure and success, endlessly repeated. You’ll discover, as I have, the endless information available online about how to bake a better loaf. You’ll meet people who share your curiosity. You’ll find an outlet for your unhealthy anxiety over starvation and you’ll be able to do it in a way that doesn’t fixate on terrible diet, compulsive shopping, or worst of all, fighting for parking at Costco.

How simple is this one-stop fix-all? Check out this recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 500 along with a Dutch oven
  • 1 1/2 cups of hot tap water
  • 3/4 tbsp of salt
  • 1/3 tbsp of instant yeast
  • Mix the above well in a large mixing bowl
  • Add 3 cups of flour
  • Mix the above well
  • Let the dough rise for one hour; cover bowl with plastic wrap; no need to knead
  • Set the oven 500
  • Put the dough on parchment paper, shaping it into a blobby oblong shape for another 30 minutes to let it rise again
  • Set the dough inside the Dutch oven
  • Spray the dough and the inside lid of the Dutch oven with water
  • Bake for 30 minutes

Here are a few words to the wise: Don’t use a bread machine. The purpose of baking isn’t to mechanize or speed up the process, it’s to use your hands and brain to make food. It’s okay if your bread is a flop. That gives you a chance to try again, right away.

What you’ll also find if you’re new to baking, is that when this crisis recedes you’ll be armed with a skill and a passion that carries over into times of tranquillity. The bread will never stop tasting good, and the smell will never stop calming your inner beast.

Anyway, hope this helps. As much as it seems like a brave new world, it’s mostly the same old thing repackaged in a shiny, new scare tactic. As Bob Rodgers used to sign off on all his columns, “Enjoy your world. It’s a great place to be!”


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Flour, yeast, water, salt!

19 thoughts on “Bake in the sanity”

  1. People are complaining about no pasta in stores.
    If you can get eggs and flour you have the makings of pasta. My mom used to make her own pasta. No fancy pasta machine, she did it all by hand. Best pasta I ever had, to this day.

    1. You don’t even need the eggs. We make it all the time and it is the best, all you need is a rolling pin.

  2. Coincidentally, we bought a 50-pound bag of pinto beans just before the feces struck the air-circulator. We already had 10 pounds or so of rice. Picked up 15 pounds of flour yesterday, so we are golden. We get the best water in the USA right out of the tap. All we need is some of that SoCal weather here in fly-over country.

    1. Some grains, some beans, some water, a little salt. You can go a long way on that. 30,000 years or so …

  3. So prompted in part by this post, I rode my townie up to our beloved bakery here (named Bread, their motto is “Bikes not bombs”) for a well-made loaf, and they were pretty well wiped out of stock by lunch time, thanks I guess to all the hoarders and the preppers. But the nice girl at the counter kindly offered me the loaf-end leftovers from their sandwich making, which turned out to be five ends of fresh, excellent Campagna, for a dollar total. Thanks for the suggestion Seth!

  4. Mark Lacaillade

    Thanks for the inspiration – I baked my first loaf yesterday and it turned out great

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