I once tried pruning one of those little juniper trees. I basically turned it into a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I like those sand pits with the little rakes that sit on top of desks, but my little recycled desk hasn’t enough room for my coffee cup. Pretty much everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had a fish tank or a fish pond just to sit and watch and decompress, but the pond is frozen solid under a blanket of unlikely snow and I didn’t get around to putting fish in it when I built it in October anyway.
The point? I like having a way to what I call, “zen out.”
For two decades Happy Hour was my favorite method, but thanks to 53 months and counting of sobriety I need a more permanent plan. So imagine my surprise when I rediscovered a truly wonderful way to zen out… and then eat something truly wonderful when I’m done.
I’m talking dough. I’ve truly rediscovered dough lately, and its like rediscovering my high-school pen pal twenty years later and realizing I’ve known my soul mate all along. There’s something about working with dough that settles me. I like the process of combining. I like the elusiveness of it, how each batch takes on a personality of its own. I like the multitude of outcomes — pizza crust, pie crust, cookies, coconut bread or my soul mate’s favorite, peanut butter banana bread– that each distinct batch of dough can become.
I mostly like kneading the dough. My mind floats into a peaceful nothingness as I work the dough around and around in my hands. The process reminds me a bit of what I loved so much about wine (besides the more obvious reasons). It’s alive. It changes and keeps changing until eventually it declines and decays unless consumed. It’s art with a shelf life, sort of like us humans when you get right down to it.
I’m constantly in pursuit of the perfect dough. I pursue it knowing it will never come. But I still find myself mesmerized when I watch the process, like when I cut in butter to certain types of dough and it transforms from powder to crumbles to cohesiveness.
I like the liveliness of how dough responds to touch.
I like how it then leaps to life when left alone.
When I was a kid one of my all-time favorite foods was Nonie’s fried bread. The dough would rise all night and then she’d fry it up in olive oil for breakfast. We’d put ricotta cheese and her raspberry freezer jam (sooooo EFFin deliciouussss!) on it. Next to Nonie’s raviolis, nothing is better.
When I grew up, I decided to start making it for myself.
“How do you make the dough Nonie?” I asked.
“Eh.. just get the frozen dough. It’s easier,” she said.
I took it at face value, even though from the age of 15 I was working with dough every night, spinning it above my head as I hand-tossed pizzas. I never really put two and two together that fried bread and pizza used the same dough. I bought the frozen dough in the orange bag that hasn’t changed once in 30 years and made fried bread for my kids as they grew up. They got older and I passed on the same message to them. Get the frozen dough, it’s easier.
Only now do I realize how much better something can be even if its not easier. I’m not just talking taste, because for fried bread, those frozen dough balls are really good– even if not so great for pizza. I’m talking about missing out on the process.
Nonie had a right to tap-out from making dough. She was retired and had spent a lifetime making ravioli dough six days a week for the restaurant her and my grandfather and my mom and my aunts and uncles all helped run. (I still have the proud burn scars on my foot from the restaurant kitchen when Nonie was babysitting me). They made raviolis by the thousands; the recipe from her says the serving size is 1,000 raviolis. For her dough was work. Hard work.
But for me its the opposite. Dough is a timeout from the work. It dirties my hands so I can’t pick up the cell phone or bang the keyboard. I lets my mind get lost and take a break. It zens me out like few things can.
Today in the mail a thick, heavy envelope arrived. I opened it up and found a clear white bag with no label. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. My 00 flour from Italy arrived. The silky fine powder is like the orchid of my zen garden, truly exceptional. I’m going to wait until a particularly anxious day before I break it out and make my own pasta from it….
Oops, drifted off there for a moment. Anyway, there’s plenty of flour in my zen garden, and I couldn’t be more pleased.