Homemade Bread

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

Is there anything better than a fresh, warm slice of homemade bread?

My interest in baking homemade bread began when I was about twelve years old. I loved being in the kitchen, but for some reason bread baking had seemed like an unattainable skill only the most advanced bakers could achieve. However, in a lecture on nutrition at cross country camp, my coach briefly mentioned homemade bread and the health benefits therein.

As soon as I got home I pulled out cook books, asked Mama to buy yeast at the store, and began mixing and kneading all sorts of concoctions. Some loaves turned out flat and dense while others came out pungent and salty. I made lighter bread with white flour, heavy bricks with wheat flour, savory bread flavored with potato flakes and sweet bread swirled with cinnamon, sugar, and butter. I also boiled bagels, shaped rolls, and filled, rolled, and sliced cinnamon buns.

My family lovingly tested each batch of bread, advising me on which recipes to keep and which ones to discard.

Eventually I settled on a recipe from Sue Gregg’s cookbook that everyone in my family declared a winner. It used whole wheat flour, had good flavor, and wasn’t a dense brick. I made the recipe a few more times, and not much later, for Mama and Daddy’s twentieth wedding anniversary Daddy gave Mama a Bosch mixer and grain mill.

Mama took over the bread baking for a while, perfecting the recipe even further. Eventually she had a perfect bread dough that made the best, fluffy, delicious loaves for sandwiches and toast, a thin and crunchy pizza crust, or sweet cinnamon rolls or monkey bread. The dough could be shaped into hamburger buns or dinner rolls, folded into calzones or swirled with cinnamon and raisins for sweet bread.

Mama taught me how to make her magical dough one day for our Home Ec. lesson in homeschool, and I slowly took over the bread baking for our family. When I went to college, Mama said no one made any homemade bread until I did when I came home for my fall break.

I only baked bread in college once, and it was to give to the cute boy I was dating who had several papers to write and was getting very little sleep (later we got married and Sam still loves it when I make that same flatbread to go with lentil soup).

Once I discovered what the Romanian word for yeast was and found it at the market, I began baking bread again after we got married and moved to Romania. I loved kneading the dough on my tiny kitchen counter, usually while listening to an audio book. I would serve the warm bread, sliced, with butter alongside, to the guests we often had in our apartment.

When Mae was a baby, I was still in school online to complete my Bachelor’s degree, we were settling into a new house and new jobs for Sam, I did not bake bread. But I missed it. I remember at times when I was overwhelmed with books to read, papers to write, and assignments to submit, I would daydream about how wonderful it would be to be done with school.

I would just be a wife and mother, that’s all. I would take care of Sam and Mae, clean the house, and bake bread. Baking bread was always in my daydream for some reason, and I think about it now every time I pull a fresh loaf out of the oven.

I have countless memories tied up with baking bread, and right now I am thankful to be a wife and mother who gets to bake bread.

Delicious Bread Dough

This is the recipe Mama perfected that I still love to use for everything! I have tried many different recipes, but if I ever need a no-fail dough for something this is the recipe I go back to again and again.

2 cups warm water
213 cup honey
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 TBS yeast
1 TBS salt
2 Tbs. ground flax
8-10 cups or more of whole wheat flour (I prefer to grind the wheat in the NutriMill, but any flour will work)

Mix warm water, honey, applesauce, and 2 cups flour in a stand mixer on a low speed.  Add yeast and salt, and continue to mix.  Then set the timer for 10 minutes and add flour until the dough is not sticky and it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Continue to let the dough mix until the 10 minutes is up.

Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, or about 1.5-2 hours.

Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Let rise in greased loaf pans in a warm place until doubled in size, or about an hour.

Bake the loaves of bread for at 350 F for 30 minutes.  

You can also use this dough to make pizza crusts, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, hamburger buns, or anything else you may need dough for. The possibilities are almost endless!

Friends, Festivity, and Fellowship at the Coke 10k

Loud music reverberates from speakers, attempting to overpower the lesser noises of runner small-talk, the pounding shoes from warm-ups and dynamic stretching, and the overall din of athletes preparing themselves to race.

The crowd of people gathered under a banner with “START” blazoned across in bold letters are a sea of colors and characters. From the professional looking elites with cut muscles and the simplest of attires to avoid any extra distractions, to the enthusiastic beginner decked out in all the latest running gear, with gels, water bottle backpacks, and phone bands to contain the necessary musical inspiration, to young kids dressed in their race shirt with faces filled with excitement and nervous anticipation.

What is it that draws all these people together of all ages, places, and walks of life? For some maybe it’s the thrill of competition or the satisfaction of achievement. Perhaps for others, it’s just an easy way to get in their quota of exercise for the week. It may be a forced event by a coach or parent for other runners. But for most people, I think it is the connection.

That’s why I love it, anyway.

I started running the Coke 10k when I was eight years old. Clay had gotten too old for t-ball so he and Daddy began to run, and I did not want to be left out. We ran a local 5k to get our feet wet; then we started to anticipate the Coke race. We had watched Daddy finish in years past, and he always took turns giving his finisher’s medal to different children. I still remember the feeling of awe when I considered the accomplishment of running a 10k. Six-point-two miles.

So in 2006, our family began our tradition of running the Coke 10k. Every year we looked forward to lining up at that start line with all the other fellow runners and running the familiar course throughout Corinth, lined with friends, family, and enthusiastic supporters. Music plays along the route and volunteers are always eager to hand you a cup of water, a cold towel, or give you a smile and word of encouragement.

The finish line emcee announces the names of the finishers as they cross the line, letting you know you are known, and you have completed the course.

Year after year we made our way back to that start line. Friends and family began to join us, and the tradition grew. We ran in the rain. We ran in the heat. We ran in the cold. We drove through the whole night to get from FC graduation on Friday night to the Coke 10k start line on Saturday morning. Our friends from Florida began joining us, and our Coke 10k tradition family grew even more.

The only year I missed the race was last year when I was six months pregnant and in Romania.  But the only thing that stopped me was being over five-thousand miles away. I certainly would have waddled my way along the course if I were there.

Perhaps missing for the first time in twelve years built up my anticipation even more for this year. Or maybe it was knowing I would get to share this tradition for the first time with my daughter. It could be because this race has been my fitness goal ever since I was pregnant. I knew my postpartum running goal would be to run the Coke race without walking and maybe even try for a good time. Perhaps it was just everything wrapped up in this family tradition that boosted my spirits and filled me with excitement.

The morning of the race I was nervous. I hadn’t run a competitive race in almost two years, and two years ago I was at my peak fitness. I was also excited and confident. I was not able to train as much as I would have liked, but I felt like I could still get somewhere close to my previous capability.

Sam offered to run with me and pace me, and Mama pushed Mae in the stroller. We started strong, and I felt like I would be able to keep up the pace, but as the miles went on my confidence began to fade and disappear. By the last mile, Sam asked me if I wanted to try to pick it up, but I didn’t want to. And I was okay with it.

I finished nine minutes slower than I did two years ago. Before, I would have been incredibly disappointed. I would have been discouraged with my lack of training and lack of discipline during the race. Instead, I was happy to be in this stage of life, with a precious baby and little time or energy to train. And I was delighted to be with my family and dear friends.

We were all dirty, sweaty, and exhausted. But we were together. I am thankful for the Coke 10k for bringing us together. And I already can’t wait for next year.