I planned a relaxing and laid-back family spring break trip recently, but we never made it to our Raleigh-Durham, NC destination because I ended up needing (unexpected) emergency surgery. This was a almost four weeks ago and we made it as far as our (approximate) mid-way point - Richmond, VA - for a lunch stop about 2 1/2 hours in to our drive and ordered food at The Black Sheep, where the sandwiches looked so so good. Too bad we weren't able to stick around long enough for our sammies to arrive.
I was taken to the nearby VCU Medical Center ER, where I endured many tests and, 7 hours later, was released and told I would need surgery. Mike drove us the 2 1/2 hours back home, where we arrived around midnight, and he called the doctor on call to schedule an appointment for the next day. After being checked out by my doctor, she said I needed emergency surgery that day. I ended up having one of my ovaries removed and sent off to a lab and the other one scraped of tissue and sent off as well. Ick. I know. My doctor wanted to have an oncological gynecologist in the operating room with her in case things looks bad and necessitated a complete hysterectomy but that doctor wasn't available that day.
The GREAT news was that we heard word from the test results about a week later that it was not cancer (!!), as the ER had feared when the CAT scan showed a large mass (9cm x 6cm x 5cm) on my right ovary. The surgery fell two days before my 40th birthday so I don't remember much of this milestone and party plans have been postponed.
While I can't say that this was a great experience, I can say that this provided some welcome recalibrating. During recovering, I pretty much remained in horizontal position, passing the time reading and sleeping (and taking pain medicine, until I realized this was causing bad headaches and spaciness so I nixed that and dealt with the pain... and I'm happy I did!). My husband took charge and made sure my medical care was excellent and that I rested comfortably at home with everything I needed. My kids were great and always asking if there was anything they could do to help and if I needed anything. Friends and family rallied with calls and texts and balloons and flowers and a fruit basket.
My reading material centered almost solely on baking bread(*). I've become obsessed, folks. It's true.
I wasn't able to bake for the first two and half weeks after my surgery but I continued reading about bread and aimed to feel well enough to stand upright long enough to restart my sourdough starter. Once that was accomplished, my goal was to be able to lift the flour container (which I wasn't allowed to lift for a few weeks) and mix this revived mother/starter with flour, water, and salt to create... homemade magic.
In the meantime, I read tales of millers launching local real bread movements, working with farmers and bakers to create the finest ingredients and products available. I read of people quitting their corporate jobs to open up a small bakery. I read about farmers bringing back ancient forms of wheat and other grains to craft a more flavorful loaf of bread. I read about different formulae and techniques for creating various kinds of bread, from large miche in the tradition of Lionel Poilâne to flatbreads made in the streets of small African Villages. I felt inspired to learn as much as I could about creating my own breads, experimenting with high hydration, low hydration, autolyse vs. no autolyse, mixing by machine vs. folds by hand during bulk fermentation (and sometimes a combination of both), room-temperature final fermentation vs. cold final fermentation, and different shaping and scoring techniques. My focus has been on baking from the "real bread" movement... time-honored, traditional bread that is made without commercial yeast, additives, or chemicals. Bread that is naturally leavened using a sourdough starter that is cared for and cultivated every day (or week, or however often you wish to bake).
Very slowly, my ability to stand returned, even though I was a bit hunched over from some healing incisions in my abdomen at first. Gradually I was able to be more upright and stand for longer lengths of time and reached my goal of baking bread again. One loaf after another, as each day turned into the next, bread-baking evolved into the best recovery plan by giving me something to be excited about and work towards, despite my pain and the confusion of my new diagnosis, endometriosis. My breaducation begin.
I was able to feed my family again. This was good because my teenage daughter had a little tantrum after about a week because there was no good homemade food to eat (and she was sort of used to this thing now). I cried at the time because I really wanted to be able to cook for my family but was unable to. Now that I am better and some time has passed (and my husband gave me some much needed love and our daughter, a much-needed talk on patience and compassion), I'm able to smile at it and realize that this was her way of expressing her worry for me, her desire for me to heal, and also that what I do matters to her. Sometimes it takes something going away for us to truly appreciate what it means to us.
Roasted Garlic Potato Bread
Roasted Garlic Potato Bread Crumb Shot
I'm happy to stay that thanks to some good books and an amazing group of home bakers and baking professionals on Instagram, I am learning more than I ever imagined about the scientific process of bread, the differences that slight variations yield in a final loaf, and feeling a part of a great community of generous spirits.
I'm moving beyond the Tartine Bread and Tartine 3 method and experimenting with other methods out there. I've even created, along with an Instagram friend based in London, a bake-along and invite anyone interested to join us. More about that in an upcoming post.
Meyer Lemon Rosemary Compagne
Over the past week, I have baked a variety of delicious loaves of bread, many of which were made as my way of saying thank you to the many friends and family that helped out during my recovery. There was my friend who sat with me on the entire first day that my husband had to leave me because he was starting a new job just a few days after my surgery. He wanted to postpone his start date but I would hear nothing of it. This friend read by my bedside while I mostly slept. She also brought me lunch and took my kids to their evening activities on more than one occasion, bought balloons for me to give to Mike to celebrate his first day on the new job, and picked out a birthday card for my hubby (and cake!!) so that a few days later we would be able to celebrate his 45th birthday. I couldn't have done it without her.
There was the friend who checked in on me, brought me lunch on the second day after Mike was at his new job because I still couldn't get up and go downstairs comfortable to make my own lunch, and sat and talked with me when I was still out of breath and couldn't complete a sentence without stopping to pause and breathe. There was my neighbor who drove Ryan home from elementary school that whole first week back after spring break. There was one friend that went out of her way to take one child to Hebrew School, another who took the other child to dance and back for two nights.
I don't think I've ever felt as loved or as part of a community. I am so grateful for all of these people and many others that offered to help. Almost all of these people have been thanked with a homemade loaf of bread, that I craft with love and my passion for baking, and out of the desire to express some of that magic that comes from sharing food with those we love.
And, of course, to show to my family... that I'm on the road to recovery. Something about which we can all rejoice.
Dough for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
Each day, I feel a little better and one day I maybe I'll even start a micro-bakery and offer a subscription service where people can buy bread in a community-supported bread setup, much like a CSA, with which many are more familiar. I read about a few such startups in my recovery bread readings.
Finished Oatmeal Sandwich Loaves (which Mike said makes great grilled cheese sandwiches)
Scary medical situations like this always have a way of providing clarity, and I've definitely found this to be true. My passion for what I love has become stronger, I've eliminated what isn't essential, and my meals have become simpler... and for a few weeks they were smaller in portion size too because my abdomen area couldn't handle more than a little bit of food at a time.
Apieceofbread's Table Loaf
I'm happy to say that as my energy returns I will continue my plans here of creating and sharing nutritious and delicious recipes using the bounty of fresh vegetables and fruits from the earth, because now more than ever, I feel the importance of nourishing my body from the inside out. I'm under doctor's orders to not exercise for 6 weeks and I've been finding that the daily meditations that I began in January have become essential for keeping a calm mind and grounded centeredness about myself in the midst of this challenging time.
In the last day or two, I've felt better sitting up, so I've made a few changes to this blog and it is now much more user-friendly on all mobile devices. This is something that I've wanted to do for a while now so I hope you enjoy it.
* In addition to all things bread, I read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.