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Body, Mind & Spirit Connections: The magic of making bread


By Pat Larsen

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a female named Pat Larsen
Pat Larsen

There’s a magical element inherent in the process of becoming a bread baker.

The journey for me began at the age of 4, in my grandmother’s kitchen in old Brooklyn. I knew it was going to be a bread-baking day when I was encouraged to finish up my breakfast cereal quickly so the preparations could begin to create the dough. 

As a young, impatient child, I knew the day ahead would be a long one, but I loved every moment because it meant spending time with my grandma and getting to play with the gooey concoction of flour and water that made up the delicious treat that we’d later dip in olive oil scented with basil and a dash of salt. 

So, in truth, this column is not entirely about that mixture of the flour and the yeast with water in just the right proportions. I will not be sharing any sacred family recipes because there were none written down when it came to bread baking. Nor is it about the kneading that I would watch my grandma undertake as she nuanced the springy dough into this perfect, smooth creation that would spring to life with some nurturing and time wrapped in a warm cloth on the kitchen counter.

Although there is a heart-warming metaphor built in there regarding the effort it takes, as I’m sure you’ve detected. 

This column is about the passing on of the traditions that became the foundations of the person that I have become today.

Sure, I can say a lot about the negative aspects of society at this point and the direction that young people have seemed to take or not take, for that matter. But I’m going to refrain. We’ve beat that dead and dying horse to death.

This is about a rekindling of that flame within us as the present-day grandparents and the kiddos (as they are affectionately referred to) that will lay the building blocks for the responsible, compassionate and focused adults down the road. LONG after we’re gone.

I recall being included in every aspect of the preparations as though my involvement was the most important ingredient. At least that’s how my grandma would explain it to me. I got to sprinkle the yeast, oh so slowly, over the warm water just like it was fairy dust.

Grandma would encourage me to talk to the yeast and tell it how important its job was to bring the bread to life. For a 4-year-old kid, that was pretty magical in itself. To this very day, as I make bread, most Tuesdays now, I direct that packet of yeast in the very same way that I did from back in the day.

So let’s get back to traditions and the laying of foundations not so easily accomplished in this day and age of endless distractions for these kids. There has to be some value placed on the time we spend with the younger generations. The reasons behind bread baking, let’s say, or defining the importance of sitting down when eating a meal together. 

While we’re at it, why not add organizing one’s room and making the bed every day as well to the important skills to demonstrate and encourage. Things that keep order in one’s life and skills that put value on sustaining our abilities to feed and care for ourselves have to be taught to kids or we lose out on an incredible opportunity to keep chaos at bay. 

So what does it mean and what are the implied but not actually spoken messages when we spend time with children? 

I’m going to simply speak from my personal experience of having eight grand kiddos. The kids recognize and accept strengths and vulnerabilities. Regardless of our efforts sometimes, even the best of ingredients can fail for reasons beyond our control.

Grandma would remind me that it was important not to let the rising bread dough “catch a cold” because that would stop it from rising to become a larger loaf of bread.

We each move at a slower pace, together, the children uncertain as to what comes next in the sequence of creating bread and me, in this case, tapping into my memory bank and using both my actions and my words to create the desired outcome. We accomplish this, together. A bond is created, knowing that we each played a part in the outcome. It’s just so satisfying and truly a blessing for both our hearts to share in this activity.

Of course, at the end of the day, when we would then gather with family to share in the meal and the bread, as the grandparents, and as my grandma did, all the credit gets given to the child. 

But there was that twinkle in my grandma’s eye that was forever more and to this very day, the building block, the very metaphor for all the ingredients that make up personal accomplishments that created not only the delicious bread but the achievement of focusing on a great outcome, together. 

Bread baking is but one of the ways we can encourage and teach by our own example. I’d love to hear about the ways you connect with your own grandkids and build those bonds that will last forever.

Pat Larsen is a dance fitness instructor specializing in senior, baby boomer and elder fitness. Programs relevant to this age group are offered at The Shamrock House in East Durham weekly for morning classes. Days and times vary in wintertime. Please call Pat at 518-275-8686 to chat about classes, programs that are offered, what clinical hypo-therapy could mean for you to solve some recurring issues or just to say hello.

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