French Bread and Living With Intention

Monday, February 3, 2014

I've been trying to write this post for a week now and it's been a real struggle. I'm such an advocate for being vulnerable until the time comes for me to actually BE vulnerable. (Practice what you preach, whydoncha!?)

I've struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. To some, this comes as a complete surprise and to others it's glaringly obvious. I've talked about anxiety on this blog a few times but I'm always hesitant to bust out the term depression because it means a million different things to a million different people. For some it means a crippling disease that prevents them from getting out of bed in the morning. For some it means a loss of appetite and for others it means eating uncontrollably. Some will deal with it for a short amount of time and others will battle it every single day of their lives. It meant something unique to my grandmother and it meant something unique to my mother and it means something unique for me. I'm lucky to not be as crippled by it as both of them were.  For me what it boils down to is this: "happy" is simply not my natural state. If I want to feel happy then I need to be intentional about doing things (including surrounding myself with people) that make me happy.  If I don't make it happen then it's not going to happen. Funny how the simplest concepts are often the ones that take us the longest to learn.

This brings me to a couple weeks ago. I was having a really, really hard day. I couldn't concentrate at work and I was feeling overcome with feelings of worthlessness. I went home, crawled into bed, and just laid there for a good two hours. I knew that I needed to take action to pull myself out of the slump I'd fallen into. I knew I needed to do something that would make me feel happier. So I decided to make bread.

It was something that had been on my list to do for a long time but I always put it off because it seemed like it would be too much work and take far too long. But on that day that was precisely what I needed. To knead and shape and wait... And knead and shape and wait some more.

Here's where I make a cheesy (but totally true) metaphor about bread and life.

Making bread requires intentionality. You can't just randomly decide to whip it up. You need to set aside a few hours and make a commitment to be present. You have to be watchful. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty. But if you put in the time and the effort you are left with a beautiful product that you can be proud of and that can be shared with others. It's tedious, but like most hard things in life it's so worth it.

I should note that I don't think making bread cures depression. I don't think all my future woes can be remedied by a slice of bread (or piece of cheese or tub scoop of ice cream. Trust me I've tried it all). But I do think that life should be lived with intention. We all get caught up in the trap of going too fast and doing too much and trying to be everything to everyone. We all get stuck on autopilot sometimes and that's okay. But every now and the we need to take the time to slow down and do things with intention. And I think making bread is a great place to start.

French BreadFrom The Cooking Channel
Makes 2 Loaves

  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 1/2 Cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 3 1/2 to 4 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Olive oil, for greasing bowl
  • Cornmeal, for dusting pan
  • 4 ice cubes

  1. Combine the yeast, warm water (check the packet for required temperature; usually it should be around 110 degrees) and honey in a bowl.  Let sit for 5-7 minutes or until mixture has begun to foam.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.  slowly add the yeast mixture.  Gradually add up to a cup of warm water until the mixture forms a ball.  Do not let it get sticky- if you accidentally add too much water just add a bit more flour to balance it out.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic; about 4 minutes.  Form into a ball and place into a greased bowl, turning to coat.  Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place, free from drafts, for 30 minutes or until doubled in size. (I put mine in my turned-off oven)
  4. Once dough has risen, return to the floured surface.  Punch it down and divide it in half.  Roll each half into a flat rectangle with a rolling pin, then shape into a loaf by folding the sides into the middle "hot dog style."  pinch the seam and repeat, stretching the loaf lengthwise as you go.  You should end up with a loaf that is about 2 inches wide and 12-14 inches long.  Don't worry if it's not perfect; it will be delicious no matter what. Score the tops of the loaves with diagonal slits, about 1/2 inch deep.
  5. Place the loaves on a cookie sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and position your racks with one in the middle and one on the very bottom.  Place a non-glass, oven-safe dish on the bottom rack.  Once your loaves have risen place the cookie sheet on the middle rack and quickly throw 4 ice cubes in the bottom dish and close the oven door.  (The steam will make for a nice, crispy crust)  Bake the baguettes until golden, about 15 minutes.

Serving suggestions:
With goat cheese and fig jam
With creamy butternut squash soup
With ricotta & honey
With Guinness beef stew
With carrot apple ginger soup


  1. This is a beautifully written post. And I think you're on to something when it comes to how making a loaf of bread helped you on that day. Making bread requires intention, and commitment, but it's also a product that you can create out of just a few ingredients--ingredients that aren't tasty in themselves but you can take them and make them something delicious. And that kind of productivity is something that can bring joy, hopefully.

    1. Thank you so much for that encouragement, Rachel. And that is an excellent point; making something delicious out of not-so- tasty ingredients is a great feeling!

  2. This is definitely a surprise to me! I wouldn't have even guessed that you had anxiety and depression. I have anxiety too, and it totally sucks. Mine is pretty much a type of social anxiety, but I'm working on it and getting better at it. Wish you the best with both!

    1. It is something that SO many people struggle with; once I started talking about it I was shocked at how many people admitted to struggling with it as well. I guess we don't always know the inner battles people are fighting, huh? Wishing you the best with your journey as well! <3

  3. thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts into words. they are encouragement to me. i can easily fall into thinking very negatively about myself, my life, etc. it's really hard to snap out of something like that. usually, i have to realize what i'm doing and work to get to a better place in my head. working with my hands always helps. or reaching out to a friend and realizing there is a world beyond myself. thank you.

    1. Thanks for that affirmation, Lacey- your comment is an encouragement to ME! I think these types of things are lifelong struggles, but ones that can be made much easier by learning & instilling good habits. Reaching out to friends is a great one! Thanks for sharing <3