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.
(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.
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.
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
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
1 ½ cups sugar
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons water
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.
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.
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.
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.