Bigfoot and The Beautiful Bread, Part 3

Last week I baked bread at home for the first time since I arrived in Santa Fe - this town that sits at 7000 feet. You see making yeasted doughs at this high altitude is an intimidating task at best, a terror-inducing time-waster at worst. As I mentioned, that ugly and critical Bigfoot told me it was impossible. I think "flat and disgusting" were the exact words. But the aim is to prove the thing wrong. So gathering myself and my ingredients for the classic Oatmeal Bread from More-with-Less, I did just that. This Oatmeal Bread was the first bread I ever baked years ago, and has become my go-to. It is straightforward and genuine, lightly sweetened. Add a few oats on top and the thing is stunning.

On that baking day - Without music. Without a machine. Quietly and meditatively, I measured and stirred and kneaded. Refusing to simply rely on the recipe, I instead channeled the instincts of my grandmother, thought on the words of Willem and the advice of Robert.  How should the dough feel? I looked intently, touched, smelled, tasted - I added honey and salt, cut back on flour. It was one visceral motion after another.

A bread dough is a living thing really. You press it with your fingertips and it recedes. You move it and twist it - it gasps, exhales, and lets you in. The seemingly simple ball of water and wheat and honey evolves underneath your touch into a deeply complex flavored prize. It meanwhile feeds our urge to touch something nurturing. The dough tells us the sweet stories about the water and wheat and honey, how much they love each other, and where their fate lies.

I actually became so meditative on that story-telling dough that as I placed it in the oven, the oats looking pleased and poised on top, I realized I was supposed to have “shaped into 2 loaves”. No matter... I had one giant loaf of beautiful, nurturing bread. Perfectly flavored, it was an affectionate silk. The day was a lovely one and the house smelled like home for the moment.
Not a Bigfoot in sight.

Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from More-with-Less 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine in a large bowl:

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons honey

Pour over:

2 cups boiling water

Stir boiling water in to combine and melt butter.


1 pkg dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast

1/2 cups warm water

When batter is cooled to lukewarm, add yeast.

Stir in:

4 to 5 cups white flour
Note: Stir in flour 1 cup at a time, stopping when the dough can be formed into a ball, and is no longer excessively sticky. It can be slightly sticky as you'll continue adding a bit of flour as you knead. You do NOT want a tight-feeling dough, which too much flour will certainly do.

When the dough can be formed into a ball, but before it feels tight, turn onto a lightly-floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled - about one hour. Punch down and let rise again. 
Shape into 1 giant loaf by folding the edges in towards the center to create one seam. Brush the top with water and roll the top surface in a layer of rolled oats. Place in a greased large bread pan and let rise another 15 minutes. You'll know it is ready when you push your finger into the loaf and an indent remains. With a straight razor or knife, cut 3-4 diagonal slits across the top.
Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is dark golden brown. (60-70 minutes at 7000 feet). Cool on rack completely before serving. Makes superb toast and will keep for several days. 

Enjoy! (and Take That Bigfoot!) 


Bigfoot and Bread, Part 2

Here in Part 2 of 3...  I'd like to introduce you to my Bigfoot, my inner critic, that I spoke of and find so annoying. Today I'm aiming to shut it down. Why do that here? you ask. Fair question. Well, part of my aim with this here blog was to show, with almost complete transparency, the process of writing a cookbook. What would transparency be without showing the maddening, doubtful parts of it.

So as I said in Part 1, this particular post is the product of a writing exercise I took on in which I projected the voice of that Bigfoot onto paper - to see how it felt, to view its humor and to rob it of its power over the work. Deep down I don't believe these things... I couldn't keep writing, much less get out of bed, if I did. And I hope this transparency inspires a shutting down of your own inner critic, allowing your creative self to open and flourish...

Yes, I do organize cookbooks incessantly. 

You will organize your books for days – 
even the weird ones like “Wok Cookery from 1988” 
You will make lists on silly little overpriced French notepads.
But  you will check off nothing.
You will pin inspirational quotes on walls, pretty pictures in frames.
Turn on the internet, and then alphabetize the cookbooks.
You will look at bank accounts and worry about the weather.
You will call your sister. 
But not write.
So you will take a bath.
You will sit in your bathtub, paralyzed
thinking heat will make words come easy like sweat beads or razor burn.
But you’ll just be sweaty and razor-burned in a bathtub.  

You will feed those birds. Again.

You will want to write a book.
You will want to bake bread... at 7000 feet.
You’ll just watch the thing, the dough, rise and fall like a baby’s belly and then
sit flat, dense and disgusting.

You will sharpen pencils, move rugs, organize the cookbooks again.
You will straighten knives and forks.
Wash your hair. Put earrings on.
Make an omelet
Then read about making an omelet
Then watch a video about making an omelet.
All the while feeling guilty about your failures with omelets.
So you will check your Facebook.

You will never writing anything interesting because you won’t remember how you did it before, 
not that it was good before anyway.
You will ultimately fail because you have no good ideas. 
Boring. Been done. Said before.
You will make the wrong choice.
You will only ever make bad baked beans and big mistakes.
You will never write with humor, only mediocre melancholy.
And you will always believe they are better than you.
Probably because they are. They can all make omelets after all.

The Bigfoot will succeed and grow your fear in his garden. 
You will feast from this garden and not even see the irony in that meal. 
Because all irony will be lost on you.

You’ll regret the exertion till the day you die, (which will actually be sooner than you think.)
Also you will never have children. Even if you do you’ll be hated by them so you’ll die alone anyway.
Surrounded by your organized, alphabetized cookbooks. 

Proof of bread's beauty at 7000 feet, created by Norma. Photo courtesy of Jen Reyneri


Bigfoot and Bread, Part 1

So I have this voice inside my head, and he's really annoying me.  After the recent food writer's retreat I attended with Cook & Scribble, I've taken to calling him Bigfoot. Despite the name, it is not the kind of voice to be concerned about. Not yet anyway. 

Because you probably have this voice too. It's one we all have... some of us just give him odd hairy names. But you'd recognize him anywhere - that assaultive one who stands in the background of your work, letting you know how terrible, boring and ridiculous that work is. Day after day, it gnaws at your creative self and can stop you in our tracks, having convinced you that failure is inevitable. It's beyond annoying really - Bigfoot is potentially paralyzing. 

photos courtesy of Jen Reyneri
In said food writing retreat, Molly O'neill and Shauna Ahern (two literary powerhouses I would trust any word with) wisely encouraged us to separate Bigfoot's voice from the creative self. The creative is flexible, curious, bold and expressive, and to flourish must be encouraged in spite of Bigfoot. In Natalie Goldberg’s instructive book, Writing Down the Bones, she advises not only separation of the two, but also suggests writing down what exactly Bigfoot whispers in the creative's sensitive ear. Perhaps getting to know him and his voice enables us to better ignore him. “Sit down whenever you need to and write what the editor is saying; give it full voice," Goldberg says.

So I’ve started doing just that - Writing down what that annoying voice in my brain is yelling. The first and most intense time I did so was on an airplane a couple weeks ago. I must have looked like a seriously mad woman as I scrawled, furiously letting it all come streaming out on the page.

What came onto the page was fascinating enough that I thought it worthy of sharing - it started with petty criticisms regarding my avoidance of the task of writing, simple, mundane stuff. But Bigfoot quickly grew louder with ridiculous crap about how I’m surely going to die an early death - childless, bookless, broke and alone. Apparently with the inability to bake bread. (The actual words of the hairy beast I'll post on Wednesday).

With great relief I saw that Bigfoot was actually quite humorous, laughable, and devoid of some its power. After that flight and first writing, I walked through DFW airport, Terminal A, as if a big hairy weight had been lifted. My creator had free reign for the moment, and every passing person seemed to deserve a poem.

So this series of posts deviates from the traditional.
Part 2 - That entry from the plane where Bigfoot assaults my baking ability.
Part 3 - The baking of bread! Something I'd not done at home in Santa Fe... where the altitude changes the game of yeast and flour.

It is not about being Mennonite. It is about being human. And the creative process, the things that stop us from moving forward – in writing, cooking, teaching, or accounting. Perhaps it’ll give you your own realization of the poems every person deserves.

Bread rising in Santa Fe during... not mine. Mine to come.