taking a step

Reading last Monday’s post, where everything was long naps and sunshine, it’s hard to remember the way things were going back in early May, when I told you I was standing on the cusp of several big changes, feeling unsure and afraid, willing my legs to take a step but standing motionless instead.

I don’t really want to talk about those days now, or about how anxious I tended to be in them, but I will, for one reason: what they gave me.

See, what I’m not telling you when I talk about a great weekend, or today when I say, I made homemade cinnamon bread and ate thick slices Sunday morning while I stood in the grass and watched the sunshine, is that those changes—the very ones I’d feared and avoided and tried not to make back in May—while they turned out to be a lot of what I’d dreaded, yes: painful, scary, lonely; they also turned out to be a lot of what I hadn’t expected: led by strength not my own, filled with grace I’d been given—the kinds of things that make blue skies and good conversation and a slice of homemade bread that much sweeter.

cinnamon bread

(I hate to be vague here; you know I do. But in this particular case, I cannot be more specific without the chance that someone reading could be hurt but what I say—so, if you’ll let me, I’m just going to refer to the New, hoping you’ll take your own set of changes and transitions and use what you know of them to understand what I cannot tell you of this.)

To take a [big] step and embrace the New this summer, I had to lose a lot, and I didn’t always do it well. There were a lot of bumps and bruises, for me and others, and I’m sure there are more to come. This is the way it is with me, with us, as humans, not unlike my habitual editorializing of recipes, learning by mistakes where I have to eat the consequences.

But, I am learning, losing isn’t always losing. Making mistakes isn’t always just making mistakes. With even this cinnamon bread, for example, I let it it rise a little longer than I should, and I divided the loaves a little unfairly for the different-shaped pans, enough so that one overflowed into the oven (this is my trademark move) and one got slightly brownish-black on top.

cinnamon bread closer

They emerged from the oven, fragrant, one with gooey juices streaming down the side, and I broke off a small burnt piece (and ate it anyway—another trademark move), and I let them cool and sliced fat pieces that I pulled bites from and ate them, plain, while I cleaned the countertops. The swirls weren’t very even, and the crust was a little crisp; they weren’t perfect, not at all. But you know something? They were delicious.

With this cinnamon bread as with life, my mistakes are often nothing-short-of-miraculously healed, and forgiven, and turned into something sweet.

cinnamon swirl bread plated

And so this summer, while I’ve been dealing with the New, I have gotten the nicest, most thoughtful e-mails from people who do not know about the New, who write about heavy topics like, What does it mean to be selfish? and I have had hour-long conversations with people I heard talking about faith in a restaurant, and I’ve sung songs with strangers, and I’ve heard random words on the radio that talk about love like a hurricane—as I experience just that.

I want you to know, from the other side, that change was as hard as I thought it would be; it is as hard as I thought it would be; but, as it’s been strung together with a lot of providences that reveal a design made to include me, not revolve around me, it’s been better, too.

Stepping one tiny step after another in the way of the unknown, I’ve had it all, every need met, every bit of the New possible—enough so that I could stand in the grass Sunday morning, after rising with the sun, holding my salvaged and delicious bread, looking ahead with eyes of faith because I can look back at grace, content and, blessed.





Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Adapted from Honey & Jam

Ingredients:
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
2 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees)
6 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 stick butter, room temperature, cut into pieces, plus more for pans
½ cup sugar
2 eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten
2 ½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

filling:
1 ½ cups sugar
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons water

Directions:
MAKE THE DOUGH:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle yeast over warm milk, and whisk. Add flour, butter, sugar, two eggs and salt. Move the bowl to the mixer, attaching it and fitting it with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until everything’s combined, about 3 minutes. Raise speed to medium-low, and continue to mix until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 3 to 6 minutes more.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and pat it into a big round. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and knead and fold until it’s incorporated. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, for about an hour (or longer! I won’t judge!).

Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and pat it into a round. Fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down and the right and left sizes over, pressing down the seal. Return the dough into the bowl and let it rise again until doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes.

MAKE THE FILLING:
Stir together sugar and cinnamon with 2 Tablespoons of water in a small bowl.

PREP PANS:
Generously butter two loaf pans, and set them aside. Hannah recommended using two 9 X 5 pans, but, of course, I used what I had instead, and one pan was definitely smaller. If you’re improvising, try to make the loaves just under the size of the pan—they need room to expand and rise.

FINISH DOUGH:
Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and divide into two sections. Roll each into a rectangle that’s just a little bigger than the pans. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle each with half of the filling.

With the short end of the rectangle facing you, fold in both of the long sides of the dough in. the roll the dough towards you, gently pressing forming a tight log. Roll back and forth to seal the seam. Place loafs in the prepared pans. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and let rest in a warm place, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F.

BAKE LOAVES:
Brush the tops of the loaves with beaten egg, and transfer pans to the oven. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until loaves are golden brown, about 45 minutes. (Keep an eye on them! If the tops begin to brown too quickly, tent with aluminum foil RIGHT AWAY.) Turn out the bread onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. The bread can be kept, wrapped in plastic up to 4 days.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Caitlin

    Oh my Shanna, is it bad that I know exactly what you mean? I’ve been on the cusp of scary decisions, frightening changes, for too long, and it’s just going to continue. Thank you not only for the (gorgeous & tasty-looking) cinnamon bread, but also for the reminder that good things come out of not-so-good. As for what it means to be selfish? I’m just going to say – it’d be personified in me once I got a hold of a loaf of that bread :) xxoo

  2. Shannalee

    Oh, Caitlin, you know just what to say. I am the last person to push another into changes, but, for what its worth, when you’re ready and it’s the right time, I think you’ll know, and it may still be scary, but it may also be good. (And LOL about the selfishness comment!)

  3. Lan

    yes changes are rather scary. i’m actually in the midst of doing something completley revolutionary, at least to me, and i’m terrified. but i’m more scared of not doing it. because by not doing it, i feel like i’m not being true to myself.
    i’m glad that your cinnamon bread turned out delicious. i made a new zucchini bread recipe twice this weekend and both were #FAILs.

  4. Joanna

    I LOVE cinnamon bread. It always reminds me of my Nana. All the times of sleeping in on Christmas vacations and waking up to the smell of her cinnamon bread. So many memories. I HATE change. I’ve definitely made my share of mistakes trying to for lack of a better term “find myself.” I’ve had some changed relationships recently that were an inevitable part of growing up. It didn’t make me happy, but I realized I was doing what I was supposed to. But also in trying to follow what God wants and figure out what my place in this world should be, I’ve so many times this last year run ahead of God’s timing and other times feared to take a step when He is clearly leading me. Everytime He is patient with me and helps direct me back on the right path, and I’m thankful that for the most part I have a fairly strong support system who are also patient and forgiving when my choices hurt them both intentionally and unintentionally. I am truly blessed.

  5. Ashley

    Thank you for the reminder that the hard changes often come out the best. I really needed to hear from someone who has had the strength to make a change for themselves and come out the other side better for it. Baking seems to be my coping mechanism in stressful times so this cinnamon bread recipe will certainly get lots of use as I continue to face life’s changes and challenges.

  6. Shannalee

    Lan, Love what you said about being more scared of not doing it. I so get that. Don’t know what your new adventure is, friend, but if it’s anything like your other endeavors, you’ll wow us all.

    Joanna, Yes to all you said – and what’s my favorite is being able to look back (like at the last year) and see how you were led and how things make a little more sense that way. Blessed, indeed.

    Ashley, We should be friends. Baking is definitely a coping mechanism and a way to relieve stress, and I hope your time in the kitchen, this bread or otherwise, will be just that for you. Cheering for you.

    Lainey, Right? Nothing like fresh bread!

  7. Jacqui

    i’ve had to make a few huge decisions in the past year, and quickly, too, which didn’t make them any easier. but we get through them, and we get stronger — everything you said, and just understanding that is half the battle, right? and things like cinnamon bread definitely help.

  8. Niki

    I think I may be one of those people who doesn’t fear change entirely. I had a lot of crap growing up, so for me, change was always an escape from the bad. I very rarely had a change that took my away from something good. Maybe you
    are losing something(one) you don’t want to lose. Maybe you are gaining a new burden that you didn’t have before. But I look at things like this. There is a reason for everything. To make us stronger, to pull us away from a bad relationship that we didn’t necessarily know was bad for us at the time, to make us appreciate the more important things of our lives.
    Maybe that’s my eternally optimistic self that everyone wants to smack upside the head, but hey, optimism is a great thing. I firmly believe that change will not make life worse, unless you let it. Once you let your life escape you, then you have to worry. Until then, keep a firm grasp on your heart and your spirit and your life will be great.

    And I know where you are coming from w/ the baking. Baking is definitely my escape into something sweeter than what is going on around me. And I don’t care how “imperfect” your bread may look… It looks even more delicious to me than those “perfect” looking breads from Wonder Bread!!!

  9. jessiev

    when changes are slammed on us – or when they are more leisurely, and we can choose them (which can sometimes be more painful) – it is difficult to remember that change is a good thing. only when we emerge, like from a chrysalis, do we realize that we needed to spread our wings. i am glad you’re emerging. :)

    AND! lovely, lovely bread recipe. thank you!

  10. Q.

    Beautiful. Had one of those years myself; all about embracing changes I never realized I needed.
    Favorite line: “learning by mistakes where I have to eat the consequences.” This is the story of my kitchen too!

  11. heather

    You are a doll. Truly enjoy reading your posts because I can so closely relate. And never a dull recipe, including this “mistake.” From the photos, I’d say it’s a smash hit – and if it tastes good and you enjoyed making it, that’s all that matters.

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

  12. Janet

    This looks very much like the cinnamon swirl bread my mom used to buy often at the store! But this looks better and heartier. =)

    I’m so excited and thrilled you’re taking baby steps toward change. Reading about your courage and bravery in taking the next step and knowing we’re all headed there provides me comfort and faith as I am wrestling constantly with what will happen in a few weeks when I take this test for the third time. The uncertaintity while I’m prepared for doesn’t relieve the “what if I don’t get it this time?”

    I’m printing this recipe and celebrating by baking this bread when I cross the “what happens next,” path early October!

    Thanks for sharing something so deep, powerful and instrospective. I know it will get easier.

  13. Shannalee

    Jacqui, It’s really nice to read about others’ changes, and I hate to use the word nice because it sounds so, I don’t know, like not a big deal, but it is, actually. Change is necessary maybe, right? And yes, maybe understanding that is half the battle.

    Niki, In my head, I totally 100% agree with you that everything works together for good—that’s even a promise made to me from the One who loves me most—but I’m ashamed to say that my heart/emotions get the better of me sometimes and I just, plain and simple, freak out. It’s good to hear your perspective as someone who’s experience a lot of changes and survived and learned to see change as normal. And it’s good to see my own perspective change as I learn to take things that come and grow.

    JessieV, It’s funny how nature demonstrates change all around us—caterpillars to butterflies, green leaves to golden, coolish to ice and snow—and yet how it can seem natural to resist it in our lives, despite that, you know? That’s interesting to think about.

    Q, We’d get along quite well, I think! Here’s to embracing every crazy consequence of our ovens and stoves!

    Heather, Thank you so much for your kind words. In the end, you’re right: all good and blessed.

    Janet, You have such a sweet, introspective heart. I don’t know what specific changes you’re facing next, but I’m rooting for you! Hope this bread helps.

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