I remember growing up seeing the Pillsbury commercials with the little dough boy, Poppin’ Fresh, who would always say “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven. He was so cute, he made you want to go out and buy those products and have biscuits, turnovers, and pies straight from the oven. This for me was homemade. It was my idea of something from the oven, homemade baking. The next version of homemade I remember was my mom getting some frozen dough from the store and baking that in the oven. I remember loving that bread. It always tasted so much better then the store bought. I especially loved it when it first came out of the oven and you ate it warm with melted butter on it.
Those were the days. Several years ago, I learned how to make bread from scratch. I have not made it in a long time, as my schedule had not allowed it. Or should I more honestly say I had not made time in my life to do it. For the last few weeks, especially since my wife’s cancer diagnosis, I have stopped buying processed and packaged foods; this included breads. So I made two loaves of white bread. The aroma of the baking bread in the oven filled the house and made my mouth water. The whole process was so relaxing and healing. The best part of me was punching the dough down and the kneading. It allowed me to work out some of the stress I have been experiencing as I have been fighting to have paratransit services restored and work through my feelings about Zoë’s cancer.
The whole time I was baking it, Zoë was eyeing it suspiciously. The next day I offered to make a sandwich for her with it and she was leery. It was not real bread (i.e. store bought and what she was used to). Finally, she consented to letting me maker a grilled cheese sandwich on it. Just one taste was all it took. The look on her face and the 30-minute testimony about this sandwich and what made it so deelish said it all. Miss non-food critic was spouting off about the perfect carmelization of the bread, the texture of the bread, the creaminess of the cheese, and the perfect blend of crunchy, soft, sweet, and salty. She was sounding like a judge on Chopped. For the next several days that is all she wanted me to make her breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
As I have been thinking about this, I have come to realize how our taste buds and other aspects of our lives have learned to settle for canned, processed, packaged versions of life. We have become so used to store bought bread that many never know what home baked bread tastes like. Some of us have eaten so much of someone else’s views on God, life, love, and other important aspects of life that we do not know what we know anymore or even how it was constructed. For years, my students have told me the most powerful question I have ever asked them is how do you know what you know?
What can make us feel so loved is the recognition and ownership of what we know. Not what we know because someone has told us to know it, but because we know it. It is knowledge and understanding that has come out of our “oven” of life experience and knowledge. There is the internal experience that comes from making decisions based on what you know and not just believing what others have told you.
At times, it might feel as if we do not have the capacity to produce some of what we purchase elsewhere. It is true that we might not master a gift in one attempt, but practice produces mastery. The act of practicing is a gift of love; it is about me saying I know you have it within yourself to push your boundaries and broaden your knowledge. Each time I do this, I find myself baking in a “bigger oven.”
Whether it is bread coming out of a physical oven or a spiritual truth coming out of my “inner oven,” nothing says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven.