I have been doing a couple of yoga practices lately that encourage you to play, to follow what feels right for you today and engage in self practice. I have been surprised by how uncomfortable and difficult they have felt. Surprised, as I consider myself someone who loves being playful, being able to dance and move freely, I’ve always thought of myself as intuitive. Why was I finding this space to do my own thing so difficult, even in a room where no one was watching and no one was going judge?
Mulling it over, I realised I felt vulnerable. I wanted the safety net of what I was supposed to do to support me. I’d associated intuition with a surety and confident inner knowledge, whereas what I was feeling was a fragile uncertainty, a sensation of edging into something unknown and uncomfortable, yet very real. I am starting to see that actually it is harder, sometimes much harder, to shift into a place where we can really listen to intuition, particularly when we get out of the habit.
And yet it is so valuable.
I think part of its value is because everything changes. We are all (and maybe women in particular) engaged in a continual process of birthing and dying. As I look around me, everything is, from the plants in my windowsill to the fruit in the fruit bowl. Right now every single day feels different, and I feel different in that different day. This may seem a nonsensically obvious thing to say, but it seems rather revelatory for my daily life at the moment.
Whilst form and structure is vastly important, my sense right now is that it needs to be balanced by this sometimes-vulnerable, intuitive sensitivity, this wholehearted openness to what the present moment is offering. And like the postures in a yoga class, this inward openness takes practice and work. However it’s a very different kind of work, it feels like a unique sensitivity to the alchemical combination of the self and each single moment.
Arrrghhhh, what a lot of words; in the end it is something we experience when we shut up and really listen.
Today I am making bread. I am a total novice, it’s the second loaf I have made in four years and a wonderful new practice, although hard and pretty sweaty work.
Andy gave me a list of ingredients and the basic process and let me get on with it. He is an advocate of using recipes as inspiration but not following them to wrote. I started to experience what he was talking about today.
Bread is alive, this is obvious each time I come into contact yeast or culture. The dough stretches and resists under my palms, the smell of the yeast, the way it moves and changes, there is nothing inert and regimented here. I get the sense we are two living beings interacting in this ancient sacred dance of bread; rising, breaking, nourishing life!
I start experiencing that feeling of vulnerability again. The dough feels different than the last batch, and rightly so, I am using a new bag of flour, the kitchen is a little cooler maybe, my hands are stiffer. So I try to feel into what is going on, what the dough requires, how we can work together. I realise with a small jolt that this is simply what my mother and grandmother would do when cooking, combining their knowledge and experience with a finely honed intuition.
I found this maddening when trying to learn things from them.
(‘Mum, how much salt?’ ‘Enough’…)
Until I discovered the best way to learn was to do something with them, ‘trust your taste, what does it need?’ And although they often referred to recipe books, the familiar page scrawled, stained and a little sticky, they would collaborate with the ingredients, adding more or less, modifying and shifting to taste.
Moving (yoga) and making bread are time consuming, somewhat sweaty but ultimately very satisfying practices that I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment. They both feel like an invitation to make use of this deep resource of intuition, which is waiting patiently for me to jump in and explore.
An invitation to explore – ancient grain bread
This is a recipe Andy adapted from the mighty Stephanie Alexander’s ‘The Cooks Companion’. It has 3 proves, but will happily sit and rise while you do other things.
We’ve been making it with rye and Khorasan flour, an ancient and very tasty grain originally from Iran. I’m sure it would be ace with spelt, whole wheat or brown. These rich dark flours give it a beautiful taste, particularly combined with the honey and seeds
- 400 g khorasan flour
- 100g rye flour
- 7g yeast (I’ve been using Dove Farm quick yeast)
- ½ tablespoon of pouring salt
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of runny honey
- 300 ml of warm water – about body temperature
- If you like, a handful of seeds
- A large baking bowl or proving basket
- Some grease proof paper
- A good flat baking tray
- A cooling rack
- Combine the dry ingredients in a big baking bowl
- Add in the honey
- Pour in the water bit by bit with your non-writing hand and whilst you combine the ingredients with your writing hand until everything comes together as a firm dough. You may not need all the water, you may need a little more. Add in the olive oil and see what it feels like before you add any more water.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface (put the baking bowl aside) and knead for a good 10 minutes using the balls of your palms to fold and knead over and again. It’s a good old workout, I tend to end up bouncing from hip to hip to keep my body from being overly stiff. Do it to music if you like.
- Form the dough into a smooth ball, tuck and smooth the edges and cracks under the base of it to avoid it splitting when it rises.
- Scrape any bits of flour from the baking bowl and wipe a small lug of olive oil around the curves of the bowl.
- Put the dough in the bowl, cover with a clean, dry tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for about 90 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Take the dough out and knock it back – knead for about 2 minutes on a floured surface then reshape as before and put it back in the bowl or basket for the 2nd Leave for another 30 minutes to an hour.
- Turn the oven to 220 degrees and put your baking tray in. If you like you can put a shallow dish of water in the oven to help the crust form.
- Shape your loaf if needs be – a like a fat baguette style or a pointy batard (yep you did read that right) there is some great online tutorials, but once again you want the whole thing to be as crack free as possible. You can brush a little more oil over and press some seeds on the top, You can score the top which lets some steam out when the loaf cooks – this seems to work quite well.
- Leave the beautifully shaped loaf on its grease-proof paper another 30 minutes so the oven can get roaring hot.
- Carefully place onto the hot tray and shut the door immediately to keep the heat in.
- Bake for 15 mins and then take out and do the tap test – the bread when cooked should make a satisfying hollow knock and should be golden brown in colour. Give it another 5 minutes and another 5 again if needs be.
- Once your happy with it, leave to cool on a rack and exercise patience for 20 mins or so before cutting and devouring…