I’m amazing at being impatient. It runs in my family—and humanity—so I have to practice. I have to practice waiting and pausing and extending kindness in the frustration that tags along.
In the last few years, baking bread has become one of my patience practices. I discovered my desperate need when I constantly undercooked things—cookies and cakes and brownies and sometimes chicken. My pre-baking days were a dangerous time to be my friend, or maybe it kept things exciting. Jury’s still out.
Enter flour, salt, yeast, and water.
Early on, I served my family and friends bricks disguised as bread—a tangible representation of my impatience. Most recipes say to let dough sit until doubled in size for about 1-2 hours. But who has time to let something sit for two hours? Often, I gave my dough 60 minutes and not a moment longer.
Over time, I failed and learned and tried again. One day, the process became therapeutic—mixing and kneading and proofing and pausing. Bread became less about reaching the end and more about the process of creating something delicious.
And, friend, delicious bread takes time—more time than my undercooked self knew.
Somewhere around week four of this coronavirus quarantine, I attempted sourdough—the longest process ever. I figured this was the perfect time to try and fail and try again. And I decided I needed another patience practice, because the virus has paused so much.
Stuck in the waiting, my impatience is showing up more and more. Most days I wake up antsy and ready to move to Chicago, even though Illinois leaders shut down the state until the end of May. This desire to move isn’t bad, but in my impatience, I try to take control. I grab what never belonged to me and demand that my plan, my timing, my will be done.
And so in the middle of all this impatience, I pulled out a bowl and mixed flour and water together and put the dough in the corner to sit. The next day, I repeated the process.
And the next day
and the next day
and the next day
and the next day
A bit of starter, some flour, a few ounces of water.
At first, the sourdough starter smelled like the very worst boy’s dorm—fermentation at its finest. Over time, though, it changed, and today, the starter smells sweet and yeasty and delicious.
After almost two weeks of feeding and cultivating my starter, I worked up the courage to bake a loaf. In case you wondered, from start to finish, sourdough loaves take about 48 hours plus two weeks to develop the starter.
My most ambitious patience practice yet.
This loaf required setting timer after timer, mixing and folding and putting the dough in the corner to rise time and time again. The process didn’t take much effort, but it took more time and attention than I’d ever given a single loaf of bread before.
And I think this is beautiful
By Sunday afternoon, I served my family a crunchy, chewy loaf of sourdough bread that exploded with flavor and called me back for one more slice, one more excuse to eat another bite.
Here’s the thing about bread—it’s a process, and in that process, flavor builds. Shortcuts can ruin it or result in a slice of something that tastes more like air than bread. As dough sits and proofs, richness grows, but this can’t happen this unless we are patient, unless I am patient.
And to me, that is the truth of this season. Waiting and waiting and waiting again.
In the waiting, richness builds, and flavor grows.
The process develops beauty and depth that I couldn’t produce on my own.
And the waiting will not be forever. Soon, life will embrace a new normal. We will go back to work and restaurants and movie theaters. We’ll complain about being busy and disconnected.
But for now, I will practice patience and gratitude for the richness of the waiting.