On bread and sacrifice (and staying inspired)

by piecurious

Following your dreams (however numerous and varied they may be) seems inevitably to involve sacrifice.  Whenever I mention to someone my recent decision not to continue on in academia after finishing my Master’s Degree in order to explore my love of baking more professionally, I am frequently met with praise for being “courageous” and often I am told I am “lucky”.  “Good for you!” people commonly remark, “You’re lucky to get to do what you love!”

Starting fresh - signs of life in new sourdough starters

What this suggests to me is (a) many people aren’t “doing what they love” (a general and familiar phrase which seems to encompass all of those activities we continually strive to find time for outside of our “real lives”), because (b) many people believe that doing what they love involves some sort of sacrifice—a sacrifice they have decided they are unwilling to make.  Regardless of what you hold most valuable—be it your family, leisure time, money, etc., “doing what you love” is likely to interfere with one of these things, at least at the beginning.  Or so it would seem.

Mise en place - getting ready to build the dough

Take baking, for example.  A recent article appearing on the BBC Food Blog titled “The glamorous life of an artisan baker” discusses some of the “hurdles” associated with pursuing a passion for baking artisan bread.  Long hours and little money get the most recognition and I think it’s pretty safe to say these hurdles are common for most activities falling under the “doing what you love” category, be it visual art, creative writing, music, etc.—activities we might perhaps more appropriately call “crafts”.

In the little time I have spent pursuing (what I hope to be) my craft, I have become intimately familiar with the effort it takes to leap over these hurdles.  Working as a bread baker, I experienced a slew of shifts that began at 8pm and sometimes didn’t finish until 9am, only to repeat the following day. I had only enough time in between to eat and sleep. All that for minimum wage, which, I might add, isn’t a lot when you’ve got a hefty history of student debt behind you.

Yet, I found myself entirely unwilling to sacrifice the other activities from which I derived joy—friends, family, and running, not to mention relaxing on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea without immediately falling asleep.   Needless to say, sleep was the first daily activity to be axed from my to-do list, which inevitably lead me to a point of utter exhaustion.

Perseverance - necessary when working with wet doughs

The realization struck that regardless of how passionate you may be, the path you take in order to “do what you love” must nevertheless be satisfying, rewarding and worth the sacrifices you are making.  Rather than being an educational journey in which I felt myself able to advance, learn and grow as a bread baker, I found the position I had taken up baking in a professional environment simply meant producing a product on a scale that actually inhibited this type of learning experience.  So I made the difficult decision to leave bread baking and have since taken up another position preparing and baking other baked goods, such as quick breads and pies.  And while I would be lying to you and myself if I said that I did not achingly miss evenings rolling out baguettes and dusting rustic boules in fragrant sesame seeds, the position I am in now not only offers educational growth and direct access to expertise, but also affords me the time to pursue bread baking at home.  A compromise that is both necessary and welcome at this infant point in my baking career.

Not perfection, but success nonetheless.

One thing I have discovered about “doing what you love” is the absolute need to stay inspired.  Remaining confident and dedicated in the face of sacrifice and perhaps seemingly more instantly gratifying opportunities can be difficult.  Starting fresh (a positive way of saying starting at the bottom) and learning a new craft can be a confidence and ego deflating experience, particularly on those days you make ridiculous mistakes that cost other people money. It is easy to feel lost and confused—to look around you (and at your bank account statement) dejectedly, asking yourself what on earth you are doing—when studying for that PhD looks pretty comfy right now.  The best way to combat these feelings and to find the strength to continue on is to surround yourself with things you find inspiring—things that reignite your confidence and passion and make those sacrifices seem like they aren’t sacrifices at all.

So I’ll leave you with a few things that keep me inspired and maybe they’ll inspire you too, or at least make you revisit or seek out the things that inspire you.

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Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery and Tartine Bread  Chad Robertson is renowned for the unique naturally leavened sourdough bread he produces at his bakery Tartine in San Francisco.  His passion and dedication to the bread he produces is inspiring, and has allowed him to create a product of such quality that it has enabled him to overcome the dreaded baker’s night shift—Robertson’s bread is available at 5pm rather than in the morning!  Recently, he released a visually stunning book on how to produce his famous country bread Tartine BreadThe photos you see above are of my first attempt at making a Tartine loaf.   You can read a brief article about him and his wife and their “Tartine empire” here, and a great interview with Robertson here.

Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads I’ve only recently discovered Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my personal copy in the mail.  The book details a ‘new’ technique of coaxing out the flavours of whole grains through a combination of using grain mashes, pre-ferments and wild starters.  The recipes look unbelievably wholesome and creative, and invite you into a whole new world of bread and bread exploration.

Will Write For Food by Diane Jacob Jacob provides exceptionally helpful information and insight on pursuing food writing either as a hobby or career in her book Will Write For Food.  Without downplaying the difficulties involved in undertaking food writing, her advice is always encouraging.  She draws upon the work and knowledge of some of the most prominent food writers and bloggers, and the book is filled with numerous resources for all types of food writing. My motivation to write always experiences a revival when I read this book.

Where Women Cook I purchased this magazine during the dreary month of February on a whim after spying it through a bookshop window.  It comes with the hefty price tag of $21 and I was baffled and reprimanded myself repeatedly for purchasing it.  But it is filled with such inspiring stories alongside lovely photographs of women pursuing their passions for cooking and baking, which made the price tag seemed inconsequential.  This magazine provided a lot of the impetus behind my taking up a position in a bakery.

Kinfolk Magazine A visually enchanting and eloquently written magazine dedicated to exploring the pleasure that underlies entertaining for small gatherings.  A sense of community and belonging seems to emanate from every word and image.  The corresponding journal offers short passages, delightful imagery and videos, such as this charming featurette on Meg Ray, owner of Miette, a pastry shop in San Francisco.

Molly Wizenberg of Orangette I read Molly’s book A Homemade Life before becoming a frequent reader of her blog Orangette. As humans we cannot help but compare ourselves to others and to seek out affirmation in the decisions that others have made. The similarities I sense between our personalities and some of the life decisions we’ve made, not to mention the dedication and success that Molly has experienced remain a constant source of inspiration for me.

Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons Her photography is simple, yet breathtaking.  But it is her words that I find most awe-inspiring, if not delicious.  Tara is able to evoke images, sensations and even tastes through the printed word.  She brings food alive with her descriptive expertise.  Such depth and nuance, you can almost taste what you see in her photographs.  An artist with words, her blog Seven Spoons sets the bar for food blogging, in my opinion.

Ashley Rodriquez of Not Without Salt I have only recently discovered Not Without Salt.  Like Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons, Ashley Rodriguez has seemingly mastered the art of food blogging and expressive food writing.  Each post is candid and eloquent.  And as is proven by the comments left at the end of every post, her words and stories inevitably touch you personally—leading you to reflect on your own life and feelings, but with the security that extends from the feeling of shared experience. It’s a privilege to read each post.