Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter and Faith Stories

Once again, the season of Lent is with us. It is about to culminate in Good Friday and Easter. It’s the faith story of Jesus, the big foundational faith story for Christianity. Are we thinking about it as a people?  When many of us think about Jesus, we think about him being born, dying and rising. Some of us think about the life he lived between birth and death, as recorded in the New Testament. A lot of other people don’t think much about him at all. I suggest that his faith story might remind us of our own faith stories.

Last week at a gathering at church, I was assigned to tell my faith story. I thought about it a lot and concluded that it is easier to tell someone else’s faith story than my own. My father’s story is much more interesting than mine, as is my brother David’s. I am proud of both of them.  They both taught me that a faith story is not just that person’s story, but rather the story of their communities of faith. They both wrestled with God a bit. My father joined the Episcopal Church in suburban Chicago and then moved to Sturgeon Bay, where he found a more high church manifestation. He complained about it and took the Bishop to lunch to try to resolve the dilemma of how to make the church match his image of it. My brother left the Episcopal Church when he disagreed with it, and he became a pastor in the Assemblies of God. Both were and are faithful people of God, in death and life. Things fall apart and come together, all in the tent of God.

My story was hard to tell, partly because it involved unhappiness and partly because it was hard to tell without telling the story of us, Rick and me. My story is our story. My father’s story involved my mother, and my brother’s story involved his wife. My story was about realizing in the middle of the night that God was real, my husband and I could straighten out the mess we had created, and our stories were intertwined. We don’t live faith alone. In all three stories in my family, the church has been there to support, assist and shape us. The church has its own sinful story, but it still shows us the God who holds us in his hands.

We all live with the challenges of the world around us. We come together at Easter with many faith stories, some happy and some not so happy. Stories of lost or no faith come, too. Easter has a big umbrella. It’s an umbrella that covers us and still lets the sun shine in.

Some people prefer an Easter that is about a rabbit that gives away colored eggs. That’s a different story.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bread Making

I raised my family on home made bread. It all started when Rick said to me shortly after our wedding, “Will you make bread like my mother’s bread?” Fortunately, I had enjoyed his mother’s bread several times on visits to the Whitt farm before she died in 1962, and it was outstanding. In a world of Wonder Bread, her bread was firm with just a bit more salt than commercial breads of the day. As the kids were growing up we referred to commercial breads as phony plastic bread.

I had never made breads other than biscuits and muffins, and those accomplishments were due to my home economics teacher when I was in junior high school. Thanks again, Mrs. Robertson. My mother wasn’t a bread maker and I don’t think my grandmothers were, either. So I did the next best thing. I opened the tried and true cookbook given to me by my mother, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 8th ed., 1948.

I had no photos like the ones in today’s cookbooks, no DVD, no internet baking experts, no real knowledge about bread making. After all, it was the 1960s. What I had were the texture and the taste in my memory as a guide. I had tried to make rye bread once before with disastrous results due to not understanding that yeast requires warmth to do its magic. So I tossed out that failure and started anew.

My bread was a success because my cookbook was a success (also, I could read). The bread chapter presented a tutorial on flours and leavening, liquids and flavors. The recipe for white bread went on for a page and a half. How could I fail? Best of all, it looked and tasted a lot like my mother-in-law’s bread.

My bread was simple, in contrast to the excellent bread that my daughter, Mary, makes and has described in her culinary blog, Mary’s Food Journal. Mary uses more ingredients including powdered buttermilk, which I think had not yet been invented when my cookbook entered the world. Mary’s rising process (the bread rising, not Mary rising) requires a lot of time. She is truly a woman for today. I noticed on her blog that the hands of the person pictured kneading that bread are those of her husband and not Mary, so it is a team effort. Our bread making experiences say a lot about the way we approach food. Our daily bread is our daily life.

Bread making is about process. People who want results without process can buy bread.  My daughter-in-law Sherry uses a bread machine, and that's okay. Results can come in various ways. I think that there is something like this in the Bible. Remember Moses? When the Hebrews were out in the wilderness on their forty year journey away from Egypt, they ate manna, a food that came to them from heaven. Was it bread? Maybe. It was about results, not the process of making the food. And did they complain about it? Did they want pizza? Moses was the complaint department, I think. It’s no wonder he retreated up onto a mountain, where he got the Ten Commandments.  So if we complain about our results-driven diet today, we can think about those Hebrews who were lost in the wilderness and benefiting from the celestial supermarket product of manna.
Here is the wonderful process-driven bread that I made for a lot of years, shortened from the aforementioned page and a half. Today I rarely eat bread, but it is part of the family story. The nutrition part of bread is not part of this essay. You can read about that somewhere else.

White Bread

1 cup scalded milk                              2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup hot water                                   1 package dry yeast
2 tablespoons butter and/or oil              ¼ cup lukewarm water
2 ½ teaspoons salt                              6 cups all purpose flour (approx.)

Mix together milk, hot water, sugar, butter and salt. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water and add to liquid mixture. Stir in 3 cups flour and mix thoroughly. Add remaining flour gradually, using just enough to prevent stickiness. Knead it on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Put the dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover it with a dish towel or some other loose cover. Set it in a warm place to rise until it is double in bulk, about an hour. When it is doubled, punch it down, turning it over and over. Don’t skimp on this or you might cause a yeasty or sour taste.

Divide the dough into parts to equal two or more loaves, depending on desired size. For me this makes two standard size loaves. Knead the pieces and shape them into loaves. I flatten the dough a bit, roll it up and tuck the ends under so that the seams don’t show. Place them into two greased loaf pans (about 9x5 inches). If you are making round or oblong loaves, place them on a greased cookie sheet. Cover them with a dish towel and let them rise again until double in bulk, about an hour. Bake the loaves at 375 degrees 40 to 60 minutes until they are brown and make a thumping noise when you rap on them. Turn them out of the pans immediately.

That’s my bread, without the dissertation about what happens if the dough rises too long or not long enough, the rising temperature is too high or too low, or the oven is too hot. Bread making is an experiment.