I am trying to adjust to my new normal. As a public employee in Wisconsin, transitioning from a teacher contract to an employee handbook, life has become very uncertain. People expect change to happen at work each year. But this school year, the wide variety of changes feel like a roller coaster ride with mainly a series of plunges and I am not a thrill seeker.
So, to give myself a feeling of control, and financial as well as mental stability in this time of cuts and uncertainty, I put myself on a strict monthly budget and took a second job at night.
Looking for a positive spin to this new need for frugality, I decided to resurrect the motto of my grandparents “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
Dad grew up on a Depression era farm in North Dakota. He didn’t know he was poor until he was an adult and was informed so by people who had money. While his family was not rich in dollars, they were rich in food, family support and laughter. One of my fondest memories of my ‘granny’ is spending time in her kitchen as she created the most incredible baked goods.
I have longed to recreate the homemade bread that I can still taste if I close my eyes. I remember watching Granny hold a huge loaf of bread against her chest as she walked around the dinner table slicing portions for all of us to savor fresh from the oven. And I have thought, I can make my own bread. It will be delightful and… save money.
Finding a bread recipe that is equal to my memories has been a challenge. And, the flops I have created in my kitchen over the last few months have been disappointing.
Recently, I found a recipe for no-knead bread that was intriguing. Unfortunately, the recipe (adapted from Jim Lahey) called for a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic). I went to my cupboards and like Old Mother Hubbard my cupboards were bare and did not hold a covered pot that could withstand 450 degrees in the oven. So, I went shopping. With my coupons, I purchased a cast iron pot for $71.43. Seriously. That was more than I planned (certainly not in my budget) but I really wanted to make this bread!
Following a recipe I found on The New York Times website for No-Knead Bread, I set to work. I mixed up my ingredients and then waited for 18 hours. As my dough did its thing, I was reminded of all of the dough Granny had in various stages of proofing in covered bowls in her pantry all those years ago. I always thought it was weird (and slightly unsanitary) that she let dough sit out for what seemed like days.
As one day turned into the next, my dough was finally ready. I flipped it into my heated pot and baked my bread with fingers crossed. The smell of baking bread infiltrated every corner of our home. I could hardly wait to taste my first slice and when I did, I closed my eyes and savored.
I finally realize the secret of bread, which I wish I had learned from my experiences long ago…Great bread takes time. And, as it turns out, a little bit of money.
I plan to stir up my fifth batch of bread dough this morning. Each time I bake a loaf, I divide my number of baked loaves by my original $75 investment (the cast iron pan + ingredients). Today’s loaf will bring my cost down to $15 a loaf. Makes me smile.