When I arrived in the kitchen last Monday, my coworker Charles said he left a gift for me on the spice shelf. It was these beautiful block prints, made by Vermont artist/activist Jabari Jones, who is donating the proceeds from the prints to the Vermont Black Lives Matter organization.
They are postcard sized prints, each with a proverb about bread.
I've been thinking of how to display them, and of the timeliness of the gift, as I try to work on this post about bread at BCS.
Community Bread started just about a year ago, after I decided to get everyone to try making all of our own bread at school together. But really it all started with the bread poem, another gift from a coworker, right around the holidays in 2015.
If I could work the oven
I'd like to cook a bread
big enough to extinguish the hunger
of everyone, all the people
who have nothing to eat.
A bread bigger than the sun,
A bread like this
I would give to feed
all of India and Chile
the poor, the children,
the old, and the baby birds.
That would be a day to memorize:
A day without hunger!
The most beautiful day in all of history.
The caption from my Instagram post of the poem:
I immediately loved the very first line of the poem, because it got to the heart of how I felt about cooking for others. To me, "If I could work the oven" meant "If I could figure out this problem of hungry people, of getting everyone enough, if I had that power, this is what I would do." Of course, in my heart, I would bake a magical bread that would erase the problem on a global scale.
In reality, in the kitchen, what could I do to work that oven? School lunch had already come so far, with our self-designed menus and everything made from scratch. But we were still buying not-so-great processed bread for sandwiches, or to eat with soup or stew, or for toast in the morning. I did my best within our budget, but it wasn't ideal. For about the millionth time since starting the job, I imagined baking bread, lots of bread, in the school kitchen.
I was (and still am) a complete novice bread baker, though I loved the process with all my heart and was eager to learn more. I knew our staff was full of baking enthusiasts and I knew that each classroom enjoyed baking with kids regularly or at least once in a while. So I had an idea. I would bake as many loaves as I could every Monday and Tuesday, and any classroom that wanted to could bake as well. Together, we'd come up with bread for everyone for the week.
I thought that would be a powerful thing for a kid who was coming from a food insecure situation, to learn how to bake bread, this building block of basic nutrition, and share it with their friends and teachers at mealtimes.
Bread is elemental. It's literally a symbol of nourishment, of "we have enough". Our goal has always been to fill BCS with this feeling. We want kids to know it's a place where, regardless of what the world is like outside, their needs will be met. Their bellies will be filled. Thinking this over I realized, this was it. This was how to work the oven. We could teach kids the skill of bread baking, while teaching them that they can take care of each other. That's what communities do. That's how we get everyone fed.
I presented the idea to my amazing coworkers at our winter In-Service and we all baked focaccia and talked about what we find therapeutic in cooking and baking. Community Bread at BCS was born.
Focaccia with Friends - BCS recipe
Sprinkle 3 tsp dry yeast and 1 tsp sugar over 2 1/2 cups warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for a minute or two, then gently whisk in 1 cup of unbleached flour. Let this sit for five minutes or so, then add 2 1/2 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp honey, and 2 Tbsp olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Start adding flour a cup at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon, and then eventually using your hands, until it forms a shaggy ball. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes, dusting with flour when necessary to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and springy. Clean and dry the bowl, then swirl it with olive oil. Add the dough and roll it around to oil the whole surface. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400
Uncover the dough, and using a sharp knife, divide in half. Do not punch it down! Lightly brush two rimmed baking sheets with oil. Turn out half of the dough onto each tray. Use your hands to press it into a rectangle, reaching the edges of the pan if you can. Use your fingers to make indentations every 2 inches or so. Lightly brush the top of the dough with oil, and sprinkle with salt and any herbs you like.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.