I'm standing in the kitchen of the house I just bought—a 1923 Cape Cod--with flour up to my elbows and my hands working a ball of dough that, by my estimates, needs another ten to fifteen minutes of kneading. The sink is a mess of goopy wooden spoons, mixing bowls, and measuring cups. There are white handprints on my thigh. I most likely have prints to match on my rear. My face is probably red. I will be finding dough under my fingernails for the rest of the day, and while the dishes will be washed and dried and put away in their new homes, all around me is a brand of chaos that won't diminish anytime soon. The stairwell walls of this house are falling in on themselves under layers of yellowing wallpaper. The dining room ceiling has a leg-sized hole in it from my own clumsy attempt at fixing a leak in the un-decked attic. Wood bees have chewed up the back porch, I found a toad living in my sump pump, and the bathroom plumbing rattles like a freight train when you turn it on.
And yet, here I am, in my happy place. Granted, the kitchen is always a happy place for me, but there's something particularly magical about baking bread that makes this ritual something I've carried with me for year—from a matchbox-sized kitchen in Oregon, to a decidedly haunted Craftsman in Fountain Avenue, to my current beloved Victorian cottage.
And now I am here, in a brand new (to me) house that needs many woman hours of tearing down and building up. I know I have to take it one day at a time, but what I can give myself, in the here and now, is a loaf of bread baking in the oven. There is a comforting alchemy in combining the simplest of ingredients—flour, water, yeast, a little sugar, a little salt—and ending up with something that, given warmth and time, becomes one of the most fundamentally nourishing human creations.
As I work on the dough, the kitchen regains its old sense of usefulness. I put the dough to rise in the warmth from the vintage gas parlor stove in the living room, and when it is pillowy and doubled in size, I set the bread to baking. This is a consecratory act. It creates a fragrance that puts its domestic mark on a place. The musty odor of abandonment and disuse fades away, and I am home.