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Why I won't give up my day job to become a baker. Ever.

Yesterday we ran out of bread. That surprised me because we don't tend to eat that much bread in my family, and we spread what bread eating we do across a plethora of products (Kashi waffles, bagels, English muffins, etc.). However, apparently this past week saw a big run on the bread and we ran out, on a week I don't have a shopping trip planned.*

Of course I didn't even have stale crusts left over from the previous weeks because of the Ginormous Seagull Feeding Disaster.**

That's fine, though, because you can't keep a good woman down.

I rooted in the pantry and found a box of bread mix. Excellent, I thought, I'll just whip up some homemade bread. The kids can help and we'll have an Activity! Some Fun! The house will smell delicious and we'll have bread for the week!

I got the kids set up at their table with "helping" tasks (mixing flour and water) and set to it. Yeast and warm water, check, waiting, mixing bread ingredients, check. Waiting. Mixing yeast and dough, check. Kneading, waiting, rising, kneading, waiting, rising. Transferring to bread pan. Waiting. Finally, cooking.

So, a project begun at 8 a.m. was finally complete somewhere near 5 p.m.ish.

A few things occurred to me during this project:

1. The bread ingredients cost roughly double what I pay for a loaf of bread at the store, and I buy the good-ish one (real wheat that's really whole, no corn syrup or sugar added, etc. You know, the sort Moms Who Try to Be Good to Compensate for All the Ways They Secretly Suspect They Are Not-So-Good get).

2. Wow, that was a lot of work and time.

3. It didn't feel terribly enlightening or fun.

No insights into current dilemmas came to me as I kneaded, nor did my veneer of patience deepen (putting more space between me, the kids, the rest of the world and the thick, choking underlying miasma of frustration just under that thin and fragile patience). The kids gained no additional lessons in patience, either. Persistence asked every two minutes for basically eight hours if we had bread yet, and that was in between our Power Struggle of the Day about tidying up her cars. Saint Patience piously chimed in, every two minutes and 22 seconds, "You have to be patient. It will be finished when it's finished, Persistence. Right, Mommy?"

The kids are tag-teaming me with a Good Cop/Bad Cop routine. I ought to be grateful for my own very, very good child who has allied herself with me, but I'm not. I don't think that's healthy. Much better the kids ally against me. Plus, no six year old is this good. That child is going to pop soon.

Best of all would be if we could achieve some sort of balance, here. Spread the misbehaving and attitude around. There is no joy in having to gently discipline a well-intentioned child. There is no joy in having to frequently discipline a boundary testing child.

There is, apparently, no joy in making bread either, because the most important thing I learned yesterday while making bread is that I suck at making bread. Which pretty much topped off the day.

I pulled the bread from the oven, and first noticed it had not risen and filled the pan as the instructions on the box promised it would. While the kids leapt around me begging for a slice, I re-read the instructions and thought back through the day. I had done everything right, followed every solid instruction and it turned out badly, anyway.

When I sliced it, I discovered that the bread had a consistency roughly double that of concrete. Yes, concrete is lighter, fluffier and more porous than this bread. I'm not exaggerating.

The children were disappointed. Persistence, honest to a fault, said, "Ooohh YUCK, this bread is YUCKY!"

Saint Patience, so sensitive to the struggle I am having parenting this stage of Persistence's, and always so sensitive to every person's feelings in the world, my sweet little empath, said loyally, "It's heavy but I like it with jam," and proceeded to choke down an entire slice, God love her.

I sat down, feeling defeated and disappointed, largely in myself, which lead to a full scale pity party, which I had been on the verge of all day long due to the ongoing struggles with a chronic case of the threes. And summer. I also blame summer.

Patience patted my shoulder, but that just made it worse because seriously, a six year old does not need to be worrying about a grown-up.

Persistence followed suit. That caused Guilt to crush down on me. What a day she and I had had. In fact, what a time in general she and I are having. Not the sort of good time you want to write a postcard about, though (although blog posts are fair fodder, apparently).

I've followed the suggestions of four experts, one grandmother, multiple friends, advice from books, my own gut and every single idea I can come up with, and despite trying to do everything right? We're still working through the same troubles.

I took another bite of my bread. It didn't taste that bad, actually. I thought of this delicious fruit spread my mother got for me (peach mango, yum). I thought that might taste good on it. I was right.

And then the metaphor that probably occurred to you five paragraphs ago came to me: as with the bread, sometimes you do everything right and it doesn't turn out as expected, in fact, it might very well seem ruined. But. With a little thought, you can salvage it and make it into something that's a little bit of all right.

I hugged my children, who, like me, are doing their best.

I stood back up, and said, "Hey, who wants to go on a Bear Hunt?" They giggled excitedly, competing with their hands---who can be highest---and their voices---who can be loudest---to say, "Me, me, I do I do!"

So, even with a challenging day, spread a little fun on top, and it can be a bit of all right.

* The lack of planned shopping trip is due to the utility bill we got that was more than double what we expected/budgeted for. That's because our power company took the opportunity to slip through another Republican loophole and hike our rate from 12 cents to 20 cents per kWh. With no notice. I'm not being paranoid. It truly is due to a proposal the Republicans made and enacted. It's also due to deregulation, which, by the way, does not work in the consumer's favor. Businesses, especially utility companies, are not in this to do the consumer any favors or play fair. They are in it to make as much money as possible, and I'm to understand this means gouging me royally. Hence, no groceries for this week.

** Nearly two weeks ago, during a particularly whiny day, I loaded the kids into the bike and we went down to the waterfront. The kids ripped and threw the ends of four loaves of bread into the air and water trying to attract the flock of seagulls that usually plague the park at that spot. Of course there wasn't a seagull or duck in sight. And the whining re-commenced. With a topping of lecturing about waste and litter (because we threw the bread into the water and Nobody Ate It). I just love it when my words are misapplied and come back to haunt me.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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Anonymous said…
I have yet to gain any great wisdom from anything connected to being the house's wife, but perhaps it burns calories?

Deregulation. When has allowing people's baser instincts where money is concerned ever helped consumers?
SciFi Dad said…
It's not just moms who experience this. Every time I bring my car in for an oil change I feel like "less" of a man because I don't do it myself, even though the reality is between the oil, filter, and disposal fees it's actually cheaper to get them to do it.

Great post.
the dragonfly said…
I can't bake bread either. Except in my bread machine, that usually works. But even easy stuff, like soda bread, turns out hard on the outside and doughy in the center. *sigh*

Nice post. :)
Melissa said…
Sci-fi: My husband, the uber car geek who is restoring a car, takes his daily driver in for oil changes for precisely that reason. No reason to feel "less".

Julie: Making good bread is actually hard and so few people realize that. Kind of like parenting. So you mess up a few times, just try it again, and you'll get it eventually. Besides, I never had luck with those mixes, either. Kind of like parenting books. Use the recipe in Joy of Cooking. :)

Oh, and the utility bills? OMG, with the TWENTY DAYS of +100 heat we've had here in Austin, I'm not looking forward to mine. I upped my temps to 80 just to take the edge off of it. It's gonna be a doozy....

But on the aggregate, you guys really did have a good day. Hang in there. BlogHer is soon.
crazymumma said…
oh Julie. How do you take me from laughing to nodding sagely to myself all in one post?
S said…
How I wish, especially during these looooooooooong days of summer, that we were next-door neighbors.
Mad said…
Uh oh. You stopped me at "box of bread mix." WTF is that? last I heard bread was made from water, yeast and flour. They sell that as a mix? Oh my.
Anonymous said…
I'm emailing you a recipe I promise is fun and foolproof, though not good in emergencies because you let it rise overnight.

Bread here is about $4.00 a loaf. Crazy. I might have to start farming.
Anonymous said…
Be grateful you have a child like Patience. We also have an empath for a child, and while it may seem strange, there were times when that capability was a major comfort. It also helped keep him out of trouble during those years he was susceptible to such. I just hope he continues down the path as an adult.

Magpie said…
bread takes practice. but it is a completely learnable skill. do it once a week, and you'll get it right.

shall i send you some recipes?
I feel your pain and share the same baking gene. Our neighbor, Jennifer, is a terrific baker and routinely brings us cookies. I burn cookies, even ones from a mix and cookies from scratch are, well, frequently inedible. I am not kidding!! So when I said, "let's bake cookies" the other day, one of my children said: "Can we ask Jennifer to do it?"
Kyla said…
You MADE bread? You rockstar, you.
jeanie said…
Honey, I couldn't even get my breadmaker to make edible bread!!

Pikelets are fun - they almost always turn out, they only use basic ingredients, they can be made in less than 30 minutes, they taste great with jam - and they don't teach you any valuable life lessons.

Oh yes, deregulation has a lot to answer for - increased competition my ass!
Bread is only around $3.50 for the whole wheat fancy kind. I'd have stopped at the store.

Yeah, I love the Republican argument that "The Market" will fix everything. You mean how The Market for insurance has raped and pillaged the American people or how The Market practically has porn on commercials during family television or how The Market created the Mortgage Crisis by giving loans to people they knew couldn't afford it. Who do I fear more than The Government? The Market.
le35 said…
Julie, I'm so proud of you for finding the bright side. That's one of my goals lately, working on optimism. Anyway, with the bread thing, it's really cheaper from the store unless you have a bread maker, and those turn out alright for me.
Jennifer S said…
I am so with you re: the utility bills. It's been 110+ every day lately, and I'm bracing myself.

Everything is better with jam, even the metaphorical kind. Hang in there.
Oh Julie, it sounded like such a rough moment when you sat there defeated and deflated. I wish I could've helped out. I pride myself on being a rocking bread baker...though the cost equation bothers me to no end.

Glad something good came out of it at the end...

Christine said…
um, anything mad with yeast freaks me out!
Ally said…
Good job finding the metaphor to apply to parenting amidst a tough day! And hooray for you, baking bread! If you ever want to try again, there are many good bread recipes in the cookbook "Simply in Season." I make bread at least once a week now, ever since buying that cookbook last fall. And before that I'd never made bread successfully. Just sayin.' I think you had crappy recipes or something. Or mix? I don't know what that was but perhaps it was the mixes fault and not yours! Anyway, thanks for sharing your good insight. I hate the threes as well and wish you the best as you trudge through them looking for some jam to cover their bitter taste.
painted maypole said…
i bet some lemonade would go nicely with that bread

(my mother always says I do a good job of making lemonade out of lemons)

and ACK! on the bill. Crap. our bills are already outrageously high. if that happens to us we'll be bankrupt in no time.
we_be_toys said…
Oy, what a saga for a loaf of bread! And what clever children you have! You gotta love those three year old power struggles, and the good cop/ bad cop job they're pulling on you. My boys are also fans of the divide and conquer school of Driving Your Mother Mad In Three Easy Hours. I'm glad you were able to rally and find the jammy lining!
Aliki2006 said…
I think you'll have better success with minimalist ingredients--I make a bread with just flour, yeast, and sugar, and water and it usually is pretty good. I did try a mix once, with disastrous results.

Hugs to you on those bills--I feel your pain.
Jess Riley said…
When I first looked at those loaves, I thought they were little tins of eye shadow. (I need to stop looking at this computer screen...)

I have been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed your creative strawberry recipe on a recent blog comment. And here you are, making bread!! I am in awe.
Emily said…
You have an impeccable way of connecting things and discerning important lessons from bread boxes.

Thanks for sharing.
Karen Jensen said…
I'm glad you guys had a successful bear hunt. We had a power dept. raise, too. I wonder how folks on fixed incomes are going to make it. It is hard enough on the rest of us.
Anonymous said…
I am never inspired to bake in the summer. But in the autumn and winter, you can't stop me. Still...our oven is the question is moot. Or, if you're Joey Tribbiani, it's "moo".

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