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By Keren Abramson

This piece was written by Keren who is a graduate of our Self-Reg Foundations program.

Introduction: 

A trip to Los Angeles to visit my younger son and his family was cancelled on March 18, 2020 due to the Canadian Government’s immediate COVID-19 lockdown measures, I immediately decided to: 1. start drinking coffee ‘black’ and 2. begin making bread – challah to be exact – every Friday. Over a thousand challahs in and still counting it has proven to be, as it turns out, a Self-Reg practice.

Now, 3 years later, my older son and his family who live here in Toronto continue to look forward to what has become a weekly tradition of freshly baked challah accompanied by a full, boxed meal. (Why?… Why now?……. Why not? ! ) We all know restrictions have lifted but don’t even whisper the possibility of breaking tradition; we all seem to be looking the other way. Forward, says the Interbrain, keep on holding hands and hearts.This is long term.

My daughter-in-law in California has recently joined the challah-baking practice, thoroughly mystified, intrigued and engaged by so many of the elements that are to me, ‘self-reggish.’

What is it about bread-baking that has to do with Self-Reg?

The 5 Domains:

There are a few ways this could be viewed and assembled but this is the choice for now – by ingredients. Keeping it simple, there are no eggs in this challah. It’s a Vegan-friendly version with few ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt and oil. These will be connected to the 5 Domains. They are interlinked and can easily affect each other in ways that can not only influence the way the bread will turn out, but also make it next to impossible for bread to be exactly same each time it is made. So much like us as individual people. Inside and outside there is always a lot going on.

Biological – flour and water: I see these as the “body” of the bread; in fact, in a basic, sourdough recipe, the only additional ingredient to the two is a bit of salt if the baker has chosen to use the initial 2 ingredients to also make the “starter.” (Yeast can form from that given time.)

Cognitive – oil (I use extra virgin olive oils – EVOOs – which are reputed to support cognitive brain function, especially if used within 6 months of the pressing date.) So for me, the link to cognitive brain health is one reason for associating oil with the Cognitive Domain, but the second reason is because the way oil makes its way into my bread is by taking the round, kneaded dough (head shape?) and rolling it around in the tablespoon of oil in the bowl it will soon rest in to rise. I also like to think that there will be nice smooth firing in the brain and lots of slippery but efficiently directed linking as I get the sensory feel of the oil-coated dough: ball/head. Silly – probably, but this is personal Self-Reg 😉

Emotion – absolutely must be yeast! It can be super-sensitive, have its ups and downs, is commonly unpredictable if everything isn’t going just so. It reacts to water that isn’t quite warm enough or too close to verging on hot, the sugar and salt can really mess it up and vice versa. But the yeast, if not closely attended and catered to can make or break the whole show.

Social – sugar wins this one. When a small amount is paired with just the right temperature of water, sugar can activate the yeast to get along beautifully in this threesome; in fact, because of yeast’s testiness, it is going through a little ‘proofing’ process to see if the triad can thrive. How thrilling to see it bubble up joyfully, fermenting and releasing its yeasty scent, proving that it is ready to join the others to collaborate in forming a fluffy, tasty loaf of bread. With its confidence high it only gets better in the rough and tumble of the kneading process later – as long as salt is balanced in the mix.

Prosocial – salt. Salt reins in the yeast. There isn’t much of it in the challah but it is needed, in similar ways to knowing what is expected of us, if in just the right dose and delivery. So yeast is added later in the process. It benefits the challah by stopping the fermentation which enables the gluten in the bread to strengthen.

The 5 Steps:

Reframe the Behaviour: Examples 

  1. The yeast (Emotion) isn’t bubbly today. What could be influencing it – Biological: water too hot or cold? Does the yeast not have its inherent vigour – check expiry date? Social: sugar not added? Enough?
  2. The dough (mix of the domains) isn’t rising: Emotion flat–yeast not proofed? Inhibited by introduction to salt (Prosocial) too soon – was turned off? Physical/biological – general ambient temperature not warm enough? Atmospheric pressure affecting it? Too much water? Too much flour?
  3. Formed loaves aren’t rising? Is the baker impatient? Is there understanding that when the domains are functioning together with internal and external factors operating, maybe the loaves just need more time? Maybe the baker needs to adjust placement? Is the baker tuned into the 5 domains and keeping DST in mind?
  4. Baked? loaves–What’s going on? They are not holding their shape; not turning golden, looks doughy still. Ahem! Baker – did you turn the oven on? Oh no! – so much for the 5 domains today! ….It’s okay. Let’s reframe further : remove the doughy loaves, preheat the oven place them back in and see what happens. Chances are they might still rise while you wait.
  5. Baked loaves–golden, a bit flatter than usual. Hmmm? Make a blessing on them anyways, the ingredients were good and the bread is still nourishing. Whatever you don’t eat can be used for: delicious French toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, croutons and bread crumbs. Haven’t had those for a long time. Something to look forward to. There’s good in everything.

Recognize the Stressors: Since this can be a fluid process some are included above. Suggestions for the baker: Try to your focus your mind on the 5 Domains and please tune in closely to the dynamics at each stage.

Consider Time (feeling cramped/not enough) affecting quality of the process, worrying (emotion, social and prosocial) – some hidden and others within your awareness seem to be ganging up at times. Remember to plan for a hike while the dough rises next time – might mean getting to bed earlier and rising at dawn 😉

Reduce the Stress: Again, some were woven into the above.

Additional suggestions: The ingredients and materials are calling you to have them set up the on Thursday night before bed. You need new pans for your dough. The old floppy ones have been a hidden stressor.

Reflect:

Remember how meditative is can be when kneading the dough; how you could lose yourself in it? Try revisiting that on days when there is a lot going on.

Remember the days when the yeast action and the process seemed to control you until you became more closely acquainted? Enjoy the intimate relationship you now have and look forward to nurturing that further.

Reflect on the fact you are part of something that has been going on in most of the world for a few thousand years, on the same day of the week, with thoughts and prayers for others.

Reflect and remember that this is a lifelong process, both in challah-baking and Self-Reg.

Respond:

Consider sharing more loaves with people in need within the community.

Also, communicate more ideas with Jen (daughter-in-law) in LA who is just getting started with challah baking and loving it. She has already been using tips on her foodie blog and apparently been receiving requests for lots more.

Follow up on your reflections and give regular thanks to the Creator of the world for the amazing, rich opportunity to meld simple gifts, the ingredients, into a work of love with joy that can be shared.

And, be thankful for the relationships found in the bread-baking process that benefit the journey of ingredients to lovely loaves. Concurrently, these connect with the baker’s understanding and development in Self-Reg both personally and with those in her sphere.

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