30 May 2010


Posted by annmcolford

I heard a report yesterday on NPR saying that 32 million Americans will hit the road over this Memorial Day weekend, according to the AAA. Some will take to the air, but most (about 85 percent) will be driving. That’s a 5 percent increase over last year, the report said, proving that at least some Americans (1.6 million, one presumes) are feeling more optimistic about their economic condition (and more willing to spend money on higher-priced gasoline).

Being the contrarian that I am, I’ve decided to avoid driving my car at all this weekend. So far I’ve made it two full days out of three. (I didn’t drive on Friday, either; so since the holiday weekend officially began at 6 pm on Friday—I’m not sure who decides such things—I’m already at 48 hours and counting, with 30 more hours to go.)

Lack of driving hasn’t curtailed my social activities, however. Yesterday morning, I met four women friends for coffee at the Rocket Bakery in Carnegie Square, downtown Spokane. We know each other from St. Ann’s Catholic Church, and we each have a long connection with the parish. Our faith journeys have taken us in some divergent directions, however, and we no longer see each other as regularly, so this visit was a chance to catch up.

I was the last one to arrive, and I had to wait in a fairly long line before placing my order (double Americano; espresso-hazelnut scone to share). When I sat down, one friend passed me a plate holding about half of a peanut butter cookie. “Here,” she said with a smile, “take some. This is our Eucharist.”

Eucharist is another name for the Catholic Mass and specifically refers to the part that re-enacts the Last Supper of Jesus—communion, or the breaking of bread among friends. Canon law defines exactly what can constitute “bread” for liturgical purposes, but I’m thinking that Jesus probably would have enjoyed a good peanut butter cookie, had such a recipe been available 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

Much of our conversation involved news of friends and family, but at one point we delved into a discussion of Eucharist, and what it means for us now. One friend said that she no longer takes communion on the increasingly rare occasions when she goes to church. “Not everyone is equally welcome at the table,” she explained, “so I choose to not take part.”

Since she’s not participating in Eucharist at church, she says she’s finding ways to bring Eucharist into her life in other places—really working at developing the relationships around food. More broadly, she has been thinking critically about her food: where it comes from, who grows it, how it’s grown, and how the money flows. “Cheap food isn’t really cheap,” she says. “It may be cheap to me, but there are hidden costs. And if somebody else is bearing the cost of my cheap food, then I’m not living according to my values.”

Some of those costs are environmental; some relate to health—either mine, or the health of those who grow, raise or manufacture the food. Sometimes it’s an issue of fair and just compensation. And sometimes it comes down to wanting a human connection, a relationship with the face behind the food.

I walked back home after the visit and spent some time puttering around the apartment before assembling a Caesar salad to share with another group of women friends and acquaintances at dinner. Then I walked up the hill to the late-afternoon gathering at a friend’s home, sharing munchies, wine, martinis and a lovely meal—followed by an extended game of Balderdash. (That’s the one where you’re presented with a word, and everyone has to make up a definition; then everyone votes for the definition they like, with points awarded accordingly. All of our definitions were devastatingly witty and clever. Why, yes, the wine flowed freely. Why do you ask?)

Today, as it turns out, I haven’t left the house, save for a quick walk around the ’hood—and that was partly by design, because I decided to bake a batch of “Country Bread,” the 12-hour (at least) recipe. I mixed up the sponge late last night, before bed, so it sat for nearly 12 hours before I even did the rest of the assembly and kneading. Then came a two-hour rise, then a one-hour rise (which was more like 90 minutes), then shaping into loaves, followed by another two-hour rise and, finally, close to an hour of baking. And an excruciating hour of letting the bread cool before tearing into it. (Just had the first piece, the heel, still slightly warm, with unsalted butter. Mmmm.)

It’s been awhile since I made this recipe last, and I was struck by how silky smooth the dough felt as I was kneading. This dough has a lovely, easy-to-handle texture that’s quite a contrast from the cracked-wheat bread and milk bread that I’ve been making of late.

Whole-wheat Country Bread

I’m not enough of a bread expert to understand why that is, but I’m guessing it has to do with the length of time the yeast works in the sponge. (And, perhaps, a different blend of flours.) The loaves cook up tender inside, with a fine crumb, and nicely crusty (but not crusty enough to wreak havoc with one’s mouth).

I was surprised to learn from Webster’s that the word “Eucharist” means “gratitude” in the original Greek. I’ve always thought of Eucharist as the original model for relationship food—gathering with others to share a humble meal and a common experience. Gratitude has been part of the meaning for me, I guess, but I’ve not placed gratefulness at the root of the experience before. Doing so broadens the definition for me.

Tonight, then, I had a simple dinner of leftover soup (thanks, Linda) and fresh-baked bread (with gratitude to the farmers, millers, truckers and retail workers who brought the ingredients to my neighborhood, and gratitude for the health and stamina to mix and knead the bread—and for the electricity to fire the oven). Although I ate the meal alone, everyone who contributed to it was on my mind and, in one way or another, gathered around my table.

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