For people that know ‘what goes on in my kitchen’ the fact that I had never made bread from scratch before coming to Croatia might come as a bit of a surprise. But in the 74 days I have been here I have taught myself how-to one-double-rising-round-loaf at a time with yeast cakes, honey or crystalised brown sugar, pink Tibetan sea salt, millet, golden flaxseed, dark chia seeds, hemp hearts, stone ground, organic rye and whole wheat flours and a bit of conventional white flour by hand. Some loaves are better than others. I was recently taught that it takes a ratio of two yeast cakes to every kilo of dry weight – but without a scale this remains elusive and, thus, the reason why though tasty I often don’t get much rise as the millet and other seeds are disproportionately heavy.
Making bread is elemental. It is an exercise in patience. It is something I never imagined I would enjoy doing. It is all this and more. The bread has become an extension of my life philosophy that what comes from my hand in the kitchen is to offer a hug for the insides. What I absolutely love is the response to this bread… the eye closing inhalation of the scent accompanied by a beatific smile, the unbridled sighs of contentment which issue forth from the tasters of my efforts, the epic praise that comes from the loaf disappearing in one sitting of a meal (if I want some for my brunch I must set aside my portion so that I can slather fig or apricot preserves on toasted slices to accompany farm fresh eggs, thick, flavourful Croatian bacon, tea and lemonade made from organic Dalmatian lemons).
As an American here to determine if this could be the right thing for me as a permanent relocation there is so much I am utterly clueless about – this is good (it challenges me to adapt, to be more sensitive, to listen more acutely) and bad (faux pas are inevitable, but learning to express Molim te and Oprosti, pardon me and sorry, and genuinely meaning it helps). In the United States I rarely eat bread – largely because of additives, sugars, and the carbohydrates I don’t need or crave. Culturally, I didn’t understand what bread meant in Croatia – believe me, it’s not just bread. Perhaps it is a cellular level lack of awareness (I am trying desperately to overcome) resulting from being born in a country that hasn’t experienced war on its soil in more than a 150 years, a country whose population represents a mere 5% of the worlds’ yet creates more than half of all global waste, a country where a single American will consumes 53 times more goods and services than someone in China, a country disconnected from ourselves as individuals and those we supposedly care for because we are always too busy to be deliberate in our thoughts and actions. This is why I am very consciously here in Croatia, to continue to strip away the superfluous, to be humbled, to expand, to be genuinely grateful for and to live with much less.
I learned the cultural nuance of bread from the tender explanation offered by Megi Yerkovich at Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch a couple mornings’ after arriving here two weeks ago. I had made a loaf of ‘my bread’ to share which we had enjoyed with dinner the night before. Independent of that loaf, Megi explained that across the Balkan region (she is Bosnian) hospitality comes down to two critical points, no matter how little you might have you must have an extra cup in the house to share tea or coffee with a visitor and to have bread to offer them; “Therefore eat of what Allāh has given you, lawful and good (things), and give thanks for Allāh’s favor if Him do you serve” (Qu’ran 016.114) and the lesson of the Widow’s Mite (Gospels of Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) as each possible kind of nourishment. My eyes filled with tears at the acknowledgment that, once again, the universe chose to guide me to the precise place and time to offer me knowledge that would expand who I am – in this human life.
I am happy to share the slice I set aside for myself and make you a cup of ginger root tea, come sit with me and tell me who you are, what you hope for, enjoy what I have to offer – it is yours. Namaste.
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