On Happiness (And... The Giveaway Winner!)

Are you happy? There are so many ways one could answer that short three word sentence. Generally speaking, I am not given to fits of depression and remain fairly constant in my state of genuine contentment and happiness. I would say especially since I "work in the private sector" (a.k.a. my home), much of the working world's stresses that I used to feel have been long gone - going on almost 5 years now. That is a luxury I never take lightly.

The funny thing about a generally contented person like myself is that sometimes I get almost overwhelmed by the world. I am sad that I no longer know cursive. I get frustrated at myself for taking too much time for the virtual world and not on my own real life world. My heart breaks that it seems everyone everywhere is angry at someone in government be it left or right. And in particular this week, the natural disaster that plagued Japan - the images are devastating, and make any true happiness I feel seem dim and guilty.

I think sometimes it could be easy for me to give in to the feeling of hopelessness. Take a look at this bread, for example:

It was one of two that I made from this recipe, desperately trying to nix the bad bread juju that I've been having lately. It looks lovely on the outside, but inside it was gummy and dense, no trace of airy sourdough holes. I ate some, but dried most of the loaves to use as bread crumbs, and all the while I tried not to feel sadness over bread of all things. But those crumbs will go on to make good things, even if the bread itself was lacking.

I am assured and reassured when I start to feel this way that God is in control of every situation even when I am not. Just when I start to feel like I can't see the silver linings of life, when even the things I thought I was good at - like bread - fail, little things pop up miraculously and make my days brighter.

I won't go to pieces. I promise.

One example is this mail I got from the Outpost this week. Actual mail, my name and address hand written in black ink. Even more than the fact that I got non-junk and non-bill mail, the content was exciting: several postcards with recipes on the back promoting a new magazine my co-op is publishing. I am excited about that, but even more that someone had the brilliant idea to wrap them up in butcher paper and create a UPC label for it. Little brushes of creativity that lightened my heart immediately.

The magazine is called Graze, and as you can see above, should be available for $1.99 starting at the end of the month at all three Milwaukee area locations.

Yesterday, I started yet another sourdough. I have been feeding my starter twice a day for the past several days, trying to coax those wild yeasts into better activity. I think all along, part of my problem has been allowing too many of them into my breads. Maybe, just like humans, they do their work a little better when they have to struggle a bit, when they are allowed as much time as they need to get the job done. This bread is based on the proportions of Lahey bread, using only 50 g. (about 1/4 cup) of starter and 250 g. water to 400 g. flour. (And, 1 generous teaspoon of salt if you are keeping track...) I let the first ferment go about 24 hours, and after shaping the second ferment went about 2 1/2 hours. I think because I had a phone call from E. and we were talking about Lahey bread, I lowered my oven temperature 25 degrees from normal, and the result was the bread that I dream about. The stuff that never fails to make me happy.

In a week where I felt saddened and virtually behind, I managed to catch up on my LIFEyear photos (which were taken and not posted). The haiku for day 290 came to me - I don't even remember how it popped into my mind. But it's true. And no matter if I never write another word into the virtual landscape, I am happy with these 17 syllables.

my heart’s beloved:
wild bread, formed into all things
lives and dies for me

That loaf puffed right up, crackly crisp exterior and creamy white nourishment within. Sustaining both to my mind as much as my self, and satisfying my desperate need to just make a good bread - one that meets my bread snobbery expectations. If that didn't make any trace of sadness melt away... It's a happy start to a new week.

When the bread was in the oven, I used the Random Number Generator to determine my Chili Cookbook winner. I thought it was was curious that I only had 4 comments to choose from, and each person I have met personally or virtually in a different way. These are all people that I haven't known for very long, and people that really do enrich my life - making little bright spots in their own unique ways.

I was first introduced to Neil at an Eat Local dinner. He's a like-minded, foodie type, who has a hand in all kinds of interesting things. He is a great writer and an adventurous soul, and I love learning a little bit more about him every time I run into him.

I met E. in Maine (not to be confused with my friend E. in Boston...) on flickr through her amazing fiber arts (this is just one example). She is also interested in lacto-fermentation, knitting and bread baking, so we have little chats from time to time, which I love.

Deena is a food blogger who writes Mostly Foodstuffs, one of my favorite things to read. She also writes for other publications and does public radio spots, and has a food sensibility that I admire to no end. I feel like I really know Deena through many of her dishes that I've made... most recently this awesome pizza.

And finally, we have my winner: Katie. Katie works at Loop Yarn Shop, and also writes the Loop Blog. She is one of those people that really light up when you talk to them, she just has a genuine kindness about her, and I always look forward to seeing her on the occasions that I'm at the yarn shop. I know you'll take up cooking someday, Katie... I'm sure of it! (Just like I know someday, I will knit a pair of socks.) I know where to find you, and I'll drop off your prize sometime soon!

It's shocking how easy it is to look on the bright side of life. The days are growing longer, and I can take a picture at 6 p.m. with decent lighting. I may not agree with you politically, but if I choose to feel glad that we all have our own opinions I feel instantly better. How terribly boring would life be if we all agreed? Disasters are the hardest things to find a bright side to, but if you look carefully, you can see them: little glimpses of humanity's bright side. Even the failure of bread can be chalked up to learning, and if not that - to the fact that I have so much to be thankful for if the worst of it is ruined carbohydrates. Of course, for me, it's always an immediate boost to happiness to have a proper bread around. There is just something about that Staff of Life, it's not something that is easily defined, but it is something that is always appreciated.