Wednesday, October 1, 2008

bread womb cave fire

I. When I was pregnant part of my nesting obsession was a sudden, passionate need to teach myself to bake. This was either some archetypal goddess thing or maybe was related to unbelievable sugar cravings. Still pregnant, I made chocolate chip cookies by the hundreds and then nursing my newborn Birdy I made oatmeal cookies. (Do you know oatmeal is a galactagogue? I could tell a huge difference. Muffin top bra-spill difference.)

Last Fall I made my first loaves of bread (immortalized by Bu's photo at right) and I fell in love with the process. Part of it was the rhythmic zen of kneading, which I'll always secretly refer to as wedging given my love of ceramics. These parallel rituals- working the air pockets out of clay, and working dough to elasticity and smoothness- along with a childhood memory of baker's clay married bread and clay in my mind. When I was little, my Aunt Pea made these beautiful little folksy "cookie dough" Christmas tree ornaments. The "clay" is difficult, and it puffs up a little, so it lends itself to simple, cute shapes. She'd paint one, then brush it with a blackish brown and wipe that away to antique it, then shellac it. They looked sort of like ceramic and sort of like a very soft wood.

When the Bird was still nursing to sleep, I'd daydream for a long time while I nuzzled her close, and I created a thousand bodies of art in my head that I'll never have time to create. (When I do find time, I'll have moved on- my brain moves ahead through works I've never explored. That makes me sad, like little zygotes of ideas just discarded...) One of the themes I imagined was this installation thing with baker's clay. I mused and tasted ideas in my mind, swirling together the ideas of clay and creation and myth with flour and baking and women and family, the home, economy, class ideas... I never could really weave it all together, but I still wonder if I'll work with these concepts sometime.

One image that stands out and stays with me is a plain, canvas apron with a beautiful anatomical drawing of a uterus and ovaries embroidered in a rich, deep red. I'm in love with this item, enough to want to make it. I saw it as part of that multimedia piece about bread-clay-bakers-women, and I don't know if those ideas will ever stick together, but I really want that apron. I want to wear it when I bake my bread and cookies, and let it just be a question and a prettiness about there being something satisfying on a primal level about baking for my family, while at the same time mocking and critiquing the woman-in-kitchen history.

It's sort of Judy Chicago retro , though. Maybe it doesn't say much now. Maybe it's more important that the bread is about slowness, and self-reliance, and quiet reflective work. Maybe it's just creating food from simple matter (soft, lovely flour) in my home and not grabbing processed, soulless food from a sliding window or a microwave oven.

It was part of my largest obsession, art I need to dig into solidly- art asking this: What is human? I need to ask that, to discover for myself where my species lives now, contextually . I need to locate us between fire and circuitry, between hunt-gather and eating by TV light. I need to reach backward and find ritual that connects me, and my baking feels that way-  Old. Simple. Slow.

II. It's Demeter. It's me being that archetype, and how quickly I burst out of Persephone into DemeterMotherhood. Defining myself always as a daughter or mother and now starting to see the lack of a self-core in both these stories. I can't live full and real and deep while I define myself completely in relation to those I've lost and birthed and married.

My definition of self simply and truly is Artist. Has been since fingerpaints and mudpies. I have to find small ways to remember and celebrate this self. Baker, mother, are facets of that making-creating self; that's why they feel so innately right.


  1. Awesome post. I love to bake and knead and cook. Have you tried pizza dough yet? It's my current obsession. Best results with bread flour or other high-protein flour.

    And I love the apron. Gives new meaning to "having a bun in the oven" :-)

  2. Oh and I love the photo. Beautiful.

  3. I love this post. You made me remember my first year of marriage where I was so happy to have my own little place and decorate it according to the seasons and make lentil soup, simmering all day in the crock pot. I had subscribed to a CSA and I got all these great vegetables and I'd make delicious dinners. I really miss cooking sometimes and I think I'm going to take this weekend and do some cooking.

    Every year at Christmas time I am forced to bake. I almost love the obligation because its not something I slow down enough to do on my own. My grandma, mom and I and now also my SIL all make different types of cookies - 4-5 kinds each. Then we bring them together and make these elaborate beautiful cookie trays to give out as gifts. Its amazing to me the number of people who rarely have delicious homemade cookies. I always had them growing up. Like a staple.

    I have a book I want to give to you that you will love. It's about "cottage witchcraft" or "kitchen witchery" - I love those terms. It kind of takes the notion of the kitchen being a woman's space and makes it a little subversive.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    PS: Go with your gut on that art project. Perhaps it will take a year, but it sounds amazing.

  4. @Jase Thanks:) That's actually my next plan. I saw this incredible pizza dough in a veggie cookbook I have that is really thin, then you fold the edges back over the top a little, it looks so amazing. NOM NOM NOM

    My favorite baking mastery lately has been pie crust- damn! I meant to post my trick. Will do that soon soon soon:)

  5. @Laura I refer to myself as a kitchen witch a lot! As much as I'm like a quasi-science geek scholarly rational metaphor thinky thinky Wiccan, I really groove on the folk spells and cooking up potions in a pot on my stove:) (Not a cauldron. Although, I would still totally love to have a big-ass real iron cauldron)

    So, in summary, Books!!!11!1!1 YISS PLZ and THX!!

    The art thing... I am thinking of something with the "what is human" question, but I don't know where it's going. I think I need to have a woodsy vision quest or run away by myself to Pittsburgh and lock myself in your guest room to sketch and write for a few days:)