Sunday, December 6, 2009

Creatures of Habit. With a Purpose.

This is the bowl I always rise the bread dough in, and the cloth I always use to cover it.
Somehow, it matters.

For most of my sophomore year in college, I was completely broke. Oh, I had a job ... as a lunchtime waitress at a hole-in-the-wall Filipino restaurant, where we were paid in cash weekly and the health code seemed all but nonexistent. While I wasn't desperate - I had good friends and the support of my family - I was determined to make it on my own, and the chances of success often seemed pretty grim. I even found myself selling my books - my beloved books!! - to buy groceries. And yet, somehow, there was always in my budget, a little money every week for three flowers (inexpensive daisies, one for me and each of my roommates) and an Italian soda (Irish cream, no whipped cream, and please whatever you do, don't stir it). Always. When my cupboards were bare and I wondered how on earth I was going to make it, there was need for this small indulgence, this ritual I had every week. It gave me something tangible to look forward to; it gave me a small but vital sense of stability when I needed it most. It made a big difference in how I thought about my situation.

I survived, I graduated, and I got a "real" job. I even bought back most of my favorite books. These days I have a comfortable home where the pantry is full. But in times of want or in times of plenty, I find that I still need simple rituals. Though the circumstances and the flowers are different (I really prefer dahlias over daisies), there is still beauty and necessity in daily, meaningful rituals. They give shape to my days at home, and more purpose to almost every act.

The difference, I believe, between a ritual and just something you do all the time, is intent. How much lovelier it is to bake our weekly bread loaves when I take the time to knead the dough with mindfulness; when I think about the wheat fields and the grain mill and the family the bread will feed. How much nicer it is to hang out our laundry in the summertime when I don't try to rush, and spend a few seconds now and again to really feel the sun on my face and appreciate its warmth. It works for everything. From washing the dishes to making your bed (yes, every morning, it makes a big difference trust me!) to ... well, everything!

Try it, I dare you! Find some way this week to make your daily tasks into rituals, and see if it doesn't improve your outlook. Whether you're a starving college student or a working professional or a busy mama. And then come back and tell me about it! I can't wait to hear your stories.

Our Daily Bread - makes 2 loaves

1 Tbsp (or 1 packet) yeast
1 Tbsp sugar or honey
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup flax seed meal
1-2/3 cup whole wheat flour
4-5 cups bread flour

Combine yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl. Pour in warm water and leave it for about 10 minutes. Add salt and oil, then flax and flours. Mix well until dough is uniform and slightly sticky (add flour as needed). Remove from bowl and knead on a clean surface for a while - the time matters less than how you feel about kneading. Lightly oil your favorite bowl and place bread dough in it, turning once. Cover with a lovely cloth and let rise for about an hour, until dough is double in size. Divide in half and knead again. Shape into loaves, and place them in oiled loaf pans. Cover again and let rise for about 30 minutes. Bake in 350-degree oven for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Turn out onto cooling racks within about 5 minutes.


  1. So I have been resisting to comment on our blog posts here, but this time I have to say, I can hear your voice in my head saying "always" whey I read this. Love it. Love it.

  2. I love this idea to think of things as rituals instead of routine. I just read 29 Gifts which shares the idea of giving something every day to help focus on others. The main lesson I realized from it was that the key is to give with real intent & sincere love. As a mother of 4, I am giving all day, but sometimes i feel so drained & resentful because I feel like i "have" to do it. If I change my thoughts & give from the heart I feel rejuvenated & happier.