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In pursuit of sourdough

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I started baking recently and it has been a total disaster and I’m OK with that. I was inspired to try my hand at baking by several friends who encouraged me with pictures of delicious sourdough bread you could practically hear crackling and crunching through the image. I thought, “It’s bread; this is beginner stuff.” Incorrect.

I decided I’d need to take a few introductory steps on my journey toward homemade sourdough. I reached out to my friends, asking for a good first bake to get me on my way and one came back with a recipe entitled “Easy French Bread.” After collecting the ingredients, I carved out some time on a Tuesday morning to bake the so-called “Easy French Bread.”

Allow me to summarize my experience in double-speed: pour the yeast into warm water, mix the flour with some salt, wait for the yeast to bloom — hold on. Does this look right? Check the internet. Why doesn’t mine look like that? Check the internet again. Throw out the yeast. Start over. Same thing happens. Start over again. Throw the flour mixture into the yeast bowl and start mixing. The recipe says to use the dough hook on my electric mixer. I don’t have a dough hook because I don’t have a mixer. I mix it by hand with a spoon. The spoon breaks mid-mixing. Now I’m mixing it with my hands. It’s a mess, I’m a mess, the kitchen looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy got attacked by a bear, the “Easy French Bread” is all over everything and I hate baking and want to quit.

Truthfully, I did not like this part in the middle of the process when everything was a mess. But in reflecting on my experience I realized that the messy part is actually most of life. Most of the time we envision a pretty clear pathway toward our goal, a recipe for success, and then we get in the middle of it and it gets messy. In a lot of ways, I think the same is true of the spiritual life. We want to become holy, to grow closer to God, but in the mess of our own failures it can be hard to keep plugging away.

The key is the goal has to be good enough to be worth the mess. If you’ve never had crackly, warm, fresh baked sourdough bread, you won’t persevere through the “Easy French Bread” to learn the basics. If we don’t know how good God is, we won’t persevere to be united with him.

Two hours after beginning my first bake, I could barely believe what I was seeing: a loaf of bread. As soon as I opened the oven door, a delicious, homey smell immediately filled the kitchen. I have since made banana bread, yeast rolls and cinnamon buns, and am still working my way up to sourdough. Each time it has been a bit of a disaster and I’m OK with that. Because it’s worth it.

Witherow, who is from Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, is doing a pastoral year at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021