By Josh Kodish
Friday: a day every teacher looks forward to. The well-deserved reward for a long week on your feet doing the unglamorous, often thankless, always demanding task of educating young minds. Actually, if it were as noble as that sentence makes it sound, maybe I wouldn't feel as mentally and physically exhausted by the time the last bell of the week finally sounds and the last student finally walks out.
And, so... Friday. An evening to come home, collapse, do nothing. Or, you could even do something, as long as it's not work, and as long as you are in bed early and sleep-in late. Yet, what do I do on most Friday nights? I start working again as soon as I get home, and stay up all night, straight through until 6am Saturday morning... baking.
No, not meth. Nor am I on meth. In a way, that would make more sense than the truth of the situation. In truth, I am baking bread. Slow rising, all natural, sourdough bread. The ancient staff of life that has sustained generations. The food staple that I personally (sorry, gluten haters) could never live without. The hobby that is taking over my life!
Looking back, I can see that my baking destiny was inevitable. This is not a new obsession, as I was teethed (literally) on bagels and brought up with a deep love of all kinds of bread; from Wonder to rye, from hot dog buns to sourdough baguettes, from tortillas to naan. If it's bread, wrapped in bread, contains bread, or is a baked good of any kind, I am there. I am a carb-aholic from way back. I love it all, and, over the years, have dabbled in baking it all. My dad always dabbled, too. There were baking videos made of me "assisting" in the kitchen when I was eight-years-old. It's also a big part of my culture. The foundation of Jewish cuisine seems to be carbs built on a layer of carbs held in place by more carbs. The Jewish deli is in my DNA.
In the last few years, however, this long-held obsession grew like a well-proofed dough in a hot oven (see what I did there?), rising to the point of bursting at the seams. No longer was I happy merely as a consumer and occasional amateur baker. I needed something more serious, something nerdier. So, I started a starter. A stinky, bubbly, goopy sourdough starter I named Morty. Yes, I gave him a name and fed him regularly like a child. Yes, I wrote about him in the online dating profile that (strangely, luckily) attracted my now wife. I started to think of myself as, if not quite a father, at least a professional nurturer. Every few days I would take Morty out, feed him, encourage him, watch him grow, and use him to make old-world style crusty country loaves.
Ever since then, I have only fallen deeper down the rabbit hole of artisan baking as I try to perfect my craft. Morty has been alive for over three years now, and for the past two years (thanks to my wife's inspiration and urging to follow my passion... again, crazy lucky) I have been staying up every Friday night mixing, shaping, and baking about 28-32 loaves to sell at the local farmers market on Saturday morning. I might get about an hour of sleep before I have to go to the market, and the house will be a flour-dusted mess in my wake. An entire room in our not-large duplex is occupied by a 20 qt. mixer and professional, stainless steel kitchen prep tables. When I am not baking (and not at the day job... ok, sometimes even at the day job), I am daydreaming about it, blogging about it, or reading about it. I am officially part of the online artisan bread-nerd community.
Is it passion or psychosis that compels me to do it? My wife might be tolerating it now, but will she like having her house turned into a bakery every week from now on, until death do us part? Will this hobby grow out of the house and lead me into a new career? Is there actually much difference between passion and psychosis?
These are the questions I'm asking myself as I try to make a baking business plan for the future. I don't have the answers. But, there is one thing I have learned from my time as a semi-professional hobbyist. There is nothing so fulfilling as making something with your own two hands and then knowing that other people appreciate your work and benefit from it in some way. And if they pay you for it, so much the better! It is a very direct, uncomplicated pleasure, unique in a world of complications. It is very special and humbling to know that my bread is part of someone's meal, someone's family.
Knowing the bread, born of my long night's labor, will be enjoyed by others keeps me going on the Friday nights when a part of me would rather be on the couch doing nothing. I feel like I am finally catching on to this wisdom that craftsmen and women must have known for thousands of years. More than that, I need to bake in order to refocus and restore my creative energies; in order to work the stress of the week away. In other words, as soon as my hands hit dough, a smile hits my face.