Mindful Monday: baking bread for a clear head

By Brenna O’Dea

Summer is heating up fast, so here is your weekly reminder to SLOW DOWN. We all know that feeling. June will be here before we know it…July 4th rolls around and we cannot believe how quickly it is all flying by…and soon enough we will be unpacking those vacation bags and packing up lunch boxes again. Summer, please slow down!! We all wish for it hard, but can we really make it happen? YES. For at least a few hours, you can. It all starts in the kitchen. It starts with baking bread.

This Mindful Monday is dedicated to dough. Baking is about so much more than flour, sugar, and eggs. Take it from the hard workers at Greyston Bakery in New York, working in collaboration with a local Zen Community. Wrangling your rowdy ones after school certainly requires your full attention, and so does baking bread. Even if you only have one or two hours on a slow Sunday afternoon, take the time, do some baking, do some breathing. If the kitchen is not your usual territory, and the idea of putting a cup of flour in your toddler’s accident prone hands makes you tense up rather than rest easy, flip through some pages from the book, Making Bread Together, for some guidance on how to have plenty of fun and minimize the mess. While you wait for the dough to rise, chat with your little ones about their favorite foods to cook and eat, and what they are excited about this summer. Challenge them to focus on kneading the dough for a few minutes at a time, not while multitasking or watching something on a tablet propped up on the kitchen counter, just pause, do some work with your hands, and talk about your days with each other. Here are some sweet and savory ideas for how to take your next loaf to the next level, a more mindful level.

Sweet

This Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread is…well…sinful. It is quite a project to complete, so make sure you are ready for a full (and flavorful!) morning in the kitchen before you dive into this baby. The trickiest part is layering each piece of dough into the pan properly to get that perfect pull-apart effect…and waiting for the bread to cool when you take it out of the oven is pretty tough too. Luckily, this stuff is best eaten HOT and of course, with your hands. There’s just something about baking the bread, and breaking the bread, all on your own (and of course with some loved ones) that is so much more satisfying than the store bought stuff. There will be mornings when you are in super speed mode and a quick croissant from the local bakery sounds far better than anything with “homemade” in the title. But for those slow summer mornings, ya know, the ones where you wake before your under-two-crew and magically find yourself full of energy from an unexplainable source, channel that energy into something good, something yummy. This recipe takes some time and it is quite methodical. Rolling and cutting the dough, sprinkling on the cinnamon and sugar in just the right amounts. Plenty of jobs that are perfect for little hands and restless minds. Not to mention the result is pretty damn delicious.

Sour

If you are feeling skeptical about sourdough, you are not alone. Many bakers, young and old, view sourdough as the ultimate test, the best of all the breads, that illusive loaf that you just cannot get quite right…at least not the first time. But worry not! Baking some sourdough is the perfect rainy day activity. It is the one you can pull out of your back pocket when the kids are sick of sitting inside staring at screens all day. This one requires patience. All baking requires some, this one just a bit more, but hey, raising your little rascals has probably already pushed you beyond where you thought your patience could go, so this should be a piece of cake (or a slice of bread). Check out these helpful tips for your first sourdough excursion. We know the whole “let it sit for at least 30 minutes or for up to four hours” might sound painfully long and boring, but remember, you don’t have to sit around in the kitchen checking on the stuff every five minutes, your bowl ain’t goin’ anywhere. Prep the dough for rising, play outside for a little while, then get back inside for the next steps. Build baking into your day, make it a fun family activity instead of another chore to check off your to do list.

Sandwich

School lunches have gone away…but summer camp snacks are here to stay. Your little ones might even be HUNGRIER than normal during these hot summer months. Hours of swimming and steal the bacon can do that to ya. Do kids still play that game? Am I still hip? Probably not. Well, whether your youngsters are busy with baseball or ballet, get ready to fuel them up with good food. This super easy oatmeal sandwich bread will give their lunches a little extra taste of home and a lot of extra love. Light, fluffy, and full of fiber, it will keep them full for all that running around and around and around. Plus, so much of the hidden sugars in our diets come from things like store bought breads and crackers. We don’t always think to check those labels for the sweet stuff, but it can be there, causing our little ones to crash at the end of their long days and end up feeling cranky by dinner time. When you make your own, there is no question about what ingredients are inside each bite. You can even try sweetening breads with honey or molasses for something lower on the glycemic index and a bit more nutrient rich. And your kids might be the coolest kids in camp if they can brag to all their friends that their not only spread on the peanut butter and jelly all by themselves…they helped to bake the bread too!

So take it slow over the next few weeks as the weather begins to warm and our minds begin to buzz. Now more than ever we need to remember to CHILL OUT, literally and mentally. So make the most of these sunshine filled months, and the most of the rainy days too. Spend those days doing something doughy with your favorite little chefs. Some sticky fingers and flour covered noses will be well worth it when you end the day with a clear mind and a mouthful of love.

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