She stirred the gooey concoction that was her sourdough starter before pouring most of it into a large ceramic bowl. The little that clung to her finger after wiping the edge was too tempting not to taste. The sour flavor was first and foremost. The aftertaste was clean.
She set her crock aside and turned her attention to the beginning of the bread she was making. Flour and a little bit of water was all it needed. She mixed them in and turned her attention back to the remnant in the crock. She fed the leftover starter so that the wild yeasts she captured from the air would continue to thrive. Putting a lid on it, she now looked at the clock to see how much time she had before needing to tend the bread again. Only ten minutes more, plenty of time to check her email and facebook.
Unfortunately, she had nothing waiting in her inbox. Re reading the recipe would have to do. Finally, time came to knead the dough. Flouring her countertop and pouring out the dough, she sprinkled kosher salt and flour over the top of the shaggy dough and began to knead. She loved the rhythm of folding and pushing the dough. Over and over again, waiting for the just right texture and bounce. Her hands were covered with a thin layer of dough. It was close to being ready to rest. She let it sit for a moment while she washed her hands and the bowl.
The residual dough from the bowl became sticky with the hot water. It clung to her sponge, making it a doughy mass instead of a cleaning tool. When the last of it was wiped off her palms, she dried her hands and the bowl. She coated her palms once more with flour for a final round of kneading. Placing it in the dry warm bowl, she covered it with plastic wrap and decided to do some reading while she waited the requisite hour.
The book couldn’t keep her attention, she kept looking to the clock, wishing it would move faster. Maybe tea would help. The water kettle whistled and she turned off the flame. She got her favorite cup and put English Breakfast in the tea ball. Pouring the hot water into the cup, she dumped it out, put the tea ball in and more hot water to let it steep. While waiting for it to brew, she took the cup to the table and sat down. She played with the tea ball, bouncing it up and down in the cup until its color was to her liking. Pulling it out and setting it on a small plate in the center of the table, she poured some cream and a small spoonful of sugar. She loved the sound of sugar falling into tea. It was like a miniscule waterfall crashing into a great lake. The crystals rubbing against each other making a sound much larger than their teaspoon size.
She barely began her cup when the dough needed her again. Getting up, she floured the counter again and sprinkled some on the dough. She scraped it out with her pink spatula. Dusting the tips of her fingers, she pulled the dough into a rectangle and folded it up like a letter. She turned and folded until all the outside edges made up the inside. She put it back in the bowl and went back to her tea.
The tea had cooled almost too much, but she finished it anyway. Leaving the empty cup on the table, she went and laid down on the couch. Pulling a blanket over herself, the cat came and sat next to her feet. She quickly fell asleep. The cat stirred and woke her up. Looking at the clock, an hour had passed. She quickly sat up, sitting there for a second to get her thoughts together. Yes, the dough.
One last time, she dusted the counter, scraping the dough out she shaped it into a round, placed a towel over it and turned to wash the bowl it had been resting in. Drying it off and putting it away, she got her cloth covered basket out. It didn’t really need any more flour, years of use had embedded the fabric with it. Removing the towel from the dough, she shaped it into a tighter ball and gently placed it into the basket. The towel once again covered it. She had two hours now. Two hours to do as she pleased. Going upstairs, she found her socks and a light jacket. Putting them on, the dog suddenly took an interest in her. Walking back downstairs with the dog following her every step, she found her shoes and put them on. The leash was beside the door. Picking it up, the dog sat expectantly. She clicked it into the dog’s collar and they set off.
It wasn’t a very cold day. She probably didn’t need her jacket, but the wind would occasionally kick up and make her thankful she’d worn it. They walked their normal route. Past the house with the blue star, through the park, and then back up the side street that leads to her her house.
When they got back to the house she washed her hands and put the baking stone into the oven and turned it on. The flames turned the oven orange and then the blue flames took over and heated the space. She peeked at the dough to see how it was coming along. She couldn’t see any difference. She’d just have to trust it was going okay.
While she waited for the oven to heat up, she picked up her book and tried to read again. She made it to through a few pages before returning to the kitchen and pulling out the peel and semolina. The semolina spread out across the peel, eager to help move the loaf into the oven. Leaving the peel on the stove top and walking away, she checked the internet again. A few messages but not the one she was hoping for. The oven chimed its success at reaching 450 degrees. It reminded her to get the spray bottle. She found it in the bathroom. Not really sure why she kept it there, she made a mental note to find a place for it in the kitchen. She emptied the bottle and filled it with fresh water. Looking at the clock, she couldn’t wait any longer.
Taking the bread basket, she gently emptied the dough onto the peel. Finding her sharpest knife, she cut four lines into the top of the loaf, being careful not to deflate it. Opening the hot oven, she quickly flicked the dough from the peel to the stone. Putting the peel aside and grabbing the spray bottle, spritzed the entire oven until her glasses fogged and she closed the door to seal it in.
She turned to the countertop and picked up the bench scrapper from where it had been waiting. She scraped up the last bit of dried dough from the surface and dumped it into her hand, tossing it into the trash. She took a clean sponge and wiped it down following quickly with a dry towel. Placing her towels in their place, she opened the fridge and found salted butter and cheddar cheese. She put the butter on a small plate with a butter knife and got a small cutting board. Unwrapping the cheddar, she slided a few pieces so they would be ready when the bread was finished.
The scent from the oven grew more and more delicious. Only a few more minutes. She filled the tea kettle again, deciding to make a full pot this time. Earl Grey should pair nicely she thought while looking through the tins. She warmed her tea pot with hot tap water. Pouring it out just as the kettle sang. Turning off the heat to let it rest for just a second before pouring it over the tea leaves.
There was just enough time to check her email before having to take the loaf from the oven. There it was, the note she had been waiting for. Her friend for the past several years had said they would write last week and the note finally arrived in her email. She scanned it quickly. As she was going to read it again, the timer rang from the kitchen. Quickly, she got up from the table and made her way to the kitchen. Reaching to turn off the timer, she also opened the oven. The heat poured out and made tears start to well up.
Grabbing the pot holders she reached in and pulled out the beautiful loaf. Perfect to look at, crust golden brown,a nd a nice hollow sound when she tapped the underside. Just to be certain, she took its temperature with her insta-read thermometer. 200 and climbing, perfect. She let the bread rest on a wire rack and marveled at how beautiful it had turned out. Her mind lurched back to the email and she wondered what the inside of the loaf would hold.
Walking away, she poured herself a cup of tea and absentmindedly nibbled a piece of cheese. Her stomach growled, hungry for something more. Her hunger lead her back into the kitchen where she found her serrated bread knife and a cutting board. She placed the loaf on the board and nervously started to cut. The inside was gummy and cavernous. Tears rolled down her cheeks. The bitter ugly words from the email overwhelmed her. The tears continued to fall. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. The very hand that had kneaded this loaf, the hand that had welcomed and comforted her friend time and time again. So much time and effort by her hands. She knew in that moment that she could do two things. Either she could throw it all away and pretend the final result meant nothing to her, she could let the hard work and labor of love be enough with no real treat to show for it. Or she could eat it. Taking the bad, knowing it had nothing in it that could truly harm her. It just wouldn’t be what she had hoped for. Both decisions brought their own pain and reward. In her heart, she knew that she’d need to at least taste and see if she could abide by what had been done.