The mess in our apartment is like the moon. It waxes and wanes. During the morning hours, it expands; during the afternoon and evening hours, on a good day, it slowly disappears, the toys and clothes returning to their rightful places. Peace, at last. The next day, the clutter rises and fills the place again.
As a stay-at-home mom, I witness the mess in all of its stages. The constant disarray unsettles me and on some days I feel like I'm either thinking about cleaning it up or actually doing it all day long. My mother-in-law says that she found putting away her sons' toys therapeutic. I see what she means. Some people meditate; I pick up. Once it's neat, I can think again.
In his introduction to My Bread, Jim Lahey writes that he started baking because it let him escape from the feelings of insecurity that clouded other areas of his life. Baking and cooking transplant us to a methodical, controlled, worry-free space. Before taking up bread baking, Lahey was a sculptor working towards a degree in fine arts. Baking, sculpting, cleaning. We all find our oases of order in the midst of life's chaos.
I have found myself wanting to cook and bake more in the last year than I ever did before. As I read the introduction to Lahey's book, I wondered whether I, too, was questing after a certainty that was missing in my life. During my first pregnancy, a friend told me to think of my labor as the first of many times when I would feel out of control. As a parent, she said, I would need to get used to that feeling. She was right.
I had never made yeast bread before I checked out this book from the library. It seemed too hard, too labor-intensive. It made me worry. But Lahey convinced me that I could and should do it. His basic method is easy. It only requires planning ahead (twenty-four hours ahead, actually). I know, that's a lot of planning ahead for a busy person, but trust me, it's worth it. You will want to take a picture of the results and send it to your relatives and friends. I wouldn't have believed it possible except that Lahey assured me that his method would turn out a beautiful, tasty loaf every time, and it did.
What a nice thing to be certain of.
Here is the link to Mark Bittman's 2006 New York Times article featuring Lahey's bread recipe: Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread