Make baguettes, not war

Enough of all that.  

All that?  You know what I mean.  All that out there.  Enough of it.

Back to. . . bread.  When I can't figure out how this world works, I always go back to what I know. And one of the things I know and love is bread.  Also, uniquely, it's something that everyone loves, understands, and needs (in the "daily bread" sense).

What could be a more beautiful epitomization of bread than the baguette?

A dear and thoughtful friend sent me a baker's couche for my birthday - it's this wonderful linen cloth used to make those fabulously crusty baguettes.   Once your dough has been kneaded, risen once, and shaped into that baton-like shape we all know and love, you tuck the shaped dough into the folds of the couche for their final rise ("proof").  Something about the support of the folded linen and the yeasty, floury history of the cloth you never wash creates the perfect baguette.  
(Side note:  while a baker's couche is lovely, you can just as well use folded dishtowels for your proofing loaves - that was my go-to for a long time)

Thanks to the lovely folks at Saveur magazine, I discovered a four-hour baguette recipe that turns out three beautiful loaves, adapted for the at-home baker (those stunning 24-30 inch long traditional loaves don't fit in the home oven, nor do our ovens produce the steam required to delay crust formation long enough for the loaves to fully rise).

Adapted from Saveur magazine

1 1/2 cups (12 oz) tap water, heated to 115 degrees
1 tsp. active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl

1. Whisk together water and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add flour, and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add salt; transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven (I turn the oven light on to warm things up a bit). Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8″ x 6″ rectangle. Fold the 8″ sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center. Return dough, seam side down, to bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a roasting pan on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above with a baking stone.  Put a kettle of water on to boil.

4. Heat oven to 475°. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14″ rope. Thoroughly flour a couple of dishtowels, creased and folded for three loaves; place ropes, evenly spaced, in folds of the towels. Lift towels between ropes to form pleats, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.

5. Uncover; flatten towels to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor or knife, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4″ long. Slide/roll the loaves from the towels to a peel/rimless baking sheet and slide onto the pre-heated baking stone; use a spray bottle filled with water to briefly and thoroughly spritz the loaves (so we can get a beautiful rise and a gorgeous crust). Pour boiling water from the kettle into the pre-heated roasting pan (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms) and quickly close the oven door, retaining as much heat in the oven as possible (that initial blast of heat is important for the loaves to rise). Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, about 30 minutes; cool before serving (or don't, but beware, you will eat the whole loaf).

When I pulled the loaves out of the oven they were crackling.  Is there any better sound than that of a bread that is so bursting with yeast and heat that it is cracking and pushing against its own crust?

I'll be honest.  I had my doubts.  I did not think it was possible to achieve that perfect balance of crunchy crust and soft, chewy inside at home.  I thought it best left to the French (the jury's still out). But,  heavens, did I surprise myself.  There's nothing like tearing open a warm baguette, smearing it with a pat of butter - maybe a wedge of sharp cheese, a nice piece of apple, and a glass of your best wine.  Bliss.

P.S.  For the past few years, my sister and I have run the Bastille Day race here in Chicago.  I'll never forget the geriatric gentleman plodding along the course, with his baguette raised high, sporting a t-shirt with these words, "Make Baguettes, Not War!"  This makes total sense to me.


There must be a better way

About a month ago I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to vote in the upcoming election.  It was too much.  There was just so much hatred and disgust and fear surrounding it that I no longer wanted to be a part of it.  Tired of logging onto Facebook and reading yet another hastily written post blustering about one thing or another, so much of it rooted in fear.  I was ashamed for this nation. For how we have chosen to represent ourselves to the world and one another.

I have yet to reconcile my thoughts about it all.  We've mucked it all up so grandly.

I've been thinking and praying a lot about what it means to follow Jesus and be engaged.  Every time I think I've finally sorted it out, something or someone comes to mind that adds another layer.

God.  There must be a better way.

I read this essay recently that has helped me in my angst and apathy.  In it, the author* talks about the role of theology in political thought:

All political regimes are utopian.  Communist, socialist, fascist, monarchic, and democratic.  All of them.  They all make promises to be the ones who will deliver the goods.  They all promise that, without them, you are lost.  They all claim to have "arrived," to represent the culmination of the human drama, to be the true light, a city on a hill, that which bring you and all humanity true peace and security.

That is what eschatology means.

Eschatology means: "We have brought you to where things are as they should be.  You are at the place where you can now - finally - have reason to hope.  Trust in us.  Fear not."  Eschatology means the pinnacle of true humanity, where wrongs are righted, all is at peace, and the human drama comes to its fullest expression.

They all say that.

When we fear, or rage, or are depressed about politics, it means we have invested something of our deep selves into an "eschatology" - into a promise that all will be well, provided you come with us.

[We] should not adopt the rival eschatology that this or any political system or politician is of such fundamental importance that the thought of an election turning sour or the wrong laws being passed mean that all hope is lost.

...Regardless of where things play out politically, we know that no political system can actually deliver the goods, try as they might...  Our "citizenship is in heaven" - not "up there somewhere" but the kingdom of God come to earth in the crucified and risen messiah, which is never caught up in political systems, but stands ready to work with them or deeply critique them depending on what is happening at the moment.

This entire line of thought goes back to the Old Testament prophets.  They preached, harassed, and annoyed Israel's leaders not to fear the nations around them, nor to trust that any of them will make things right and give Israel lasting peace...  The prophets said, "hope is elsewhere."

All of this raging and sounding off and moaning is rooted in deep fear.  And it is this fear that our political authorities feed off of.  Do you remember what is more powerful than fear?  Hope.

There are a few thoughts that I surround myself with in these moments:

First, love always wins.

Second, from the poet Frank O'Hara:  "We fight for what we love, not are."

And thirdly, a gem from C.S. Lewis:  "If I discovered within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

*Big thanks to Peter Enns for these thoughtful words.  Read his complete essay here:  Dear Christian: If the thought of either Romney or Obama getting elected makes you fearful, angry, or depressed, you have what we call a theological problem.  On a personal note, I believe these things to be applicable and true for all of us, not just Christians.


These nightly demons

Hi from here.  It is officially October, folks.  And STUNNING.  I had the joy of driving up through Wisconsin this weekend and it was breathtaking.  The colors and the smells and the crisp, fresh air laced with the sunshine only autumn brings.  The perfect weekend to celebrate fall and the start of a new month.  I went to Trader Joe's and bought nearly every pumpkin/apple/autumn-y thing they had, I have a half bushel of apples to sort through, and a beautiful pumpkin to carve.  What a gift.

It's funny, even the brightest and most beautiful of seasons can bear its own ills.  Doubt and fear are powerful vices that can visit frequently in these long, dark nights.  I find it is in these most vulnerable of moments, when the eyes and ears are free of the spectacles of day, that my mind and heart swirl with questions and unease.  These nightly demons - I must dig deep in the light of day to pack warmth and confidence and hope around my heart, knowing that in the shadows, the woes persist.

I think of the Old Testament's Jacob and his wrestling with God.  Jacob is camped out, preparing to meet and make amends with his brother Esau, when a man (God) wrestles him through the night.  He emerges broken and bruised, with a hip that would always serve as a testament to his struggle. Immediately following their encounter, God gives Jacob a new name - Israel, it means he struggles with God.  I love that God brings Jacob to a place of weakness, in order to name him, in order to grant him a greater purpose, so that he might bear the thread of redemption and receive the grace of his brother.  The name Israel carries a story, it reveals the history of a struggle and a hope.

Hope.  It is uniquely and remarkably more powerful than fear.

This is what keeps me.  When I emerge from my own bout of loneliness, doubt, and disquiet, I remember Jacob's struggle with God and the gift of weakness.  It is such a pivotal part of Jacob's story and a decisive moment in his personal legend.  I hope the same is true for us all, and that we will have the foresight and wisdom to submit to a weakness that bears such promise.

Amidst all this struggle and autumn-living, I have been loving on the new Mumford & Sons album, Babel.  It is filled with both darkness and hope - which, I think, is where art stands.  There's this song on the album, "Ghosts That We Knew" - it speaks to the nightly demons and the hope that we cling to.

And you knelt beside my hope torn apart
But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we'll live a long life

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
Cause oh they gave me such a fright
But I will hold on with all of my might
Just promise me we'll be all right

But the ghosts that we knew made us black and blue
But we will live a long life
And the ghosts that we knew will flicker from view
And we'll live a long life