Learning the Art of Balance


About two years ago I begun baking my own bread. Not because I like to bake, but because I didn’t want to eliminate bread out of my diet. After moving to the U.S., I noticed that something was affecting my digestion. I just didn’t feel right. I discovered, after a process of elimination, that breads and baked goods in North America were upsetting my stomach. This feeling became especially evident when I travelled between Europe and the U.S.

What’s up with our wheat?

While I was able to indulge in pizza, bread, pasta in countries like Italy or Poland, without feeling any discomfort, the moment I got back to the U.S. and ate the very same things, I started to feel bloated and low on energy. After eating a slice of local pizza or pasta, I felt like a heavy brick was sitting in my stomach, and I would get a stomach ache. And no, gluten was not the culprit, like many have suggested. The foods I ate in Europe had plenty of gluten and they did not affect me in the same way. And I did a celiac test just to be sure.

The bottom line is that in order to feel better and continue eating bread, I started baking at home with flour that was not genetically modified. Eliminating genetically modified flour has helped me tremendously. But this also required a great commitment and doing all my baking from scratch.

Be open to learning, even if it’s something you had no intention of learning about. You never know what you’ll discover along the way and how it can change your life.  

I had no interest in becoming a baker, nor did I possess any fancy baking skills. My only familiarity with making bread was thanks to my grandmother whom I often watched bake challah when I was young, and somehow still managed to remember the process.

The bread baking process basically involves five stages: kneading, resting, forming, resting, and finally baking. The process should not be rushed, because each stage is essential for the flavors to develop and the yeast to do it’s magic. Some bread recipes are even more complex, but those basic stages of kneading or mixing, and then resting periods, make up the general process.

The key ingredient in anything is balance. The biggest challenge is finding it. 

The practice of making my own bread has also translated into a lesson about balance. Balance is essential when trying to make a good bread. For example, when making challah, the first resting period after kneading the dough, should not go past one hour. I have noticed that if I let the dough rise too long, beyond one hour, it starts to deflate and loose its elasticity. This causes the texture of the strands to become irregular. If the rising time is too short, the bread grows too quickly during baking and the challah appears disproportioned. It looks like it’s bursting at the seams.

Another tendency is to add too much flour. At first, when starting to knead, the dough is very moist and sticky, and my impulse is to immediately add more flour. That’s a mistake. Because after about 10 minutes of working the dough, it starts to bind on its own. And before you know it the dough peels off the walls of the bowl and my hands, without the extra flour. If I were to add too much flour, the challah would become too dense.

It took time and experience to perfect my grandmother’s old challah recipe, but learning how to balance the ingredients and resting periods, was the key to making this special bread even more delicious.

Lack of balance is the root cause of unhappiness and affects our judgment.

Taking this theory further, I like to think that life without balance is usually the cause of unhappiness. However, finding the right balance is also extremely difficult, requiring perseverance, trial and error, and lots of practice. With so many pressures pulling us in different directions, career, school, family, relationships, staying healthy, money, and so on, it’s easy to get swept up by the part that’s pulling us the hardest. When we focus too much on one area in our lives, another one suffers. Spending long hours at the office means less time for our family, friends, or taking care of our health.

When I landed my first salary position at a major financial institution, I was eager to prove myself. I took on a whole load of responsibilities. I worked long hours because I said “yes” to everything and wanted to be helpful and do a perfect job. Before I realized, I was coming home later and later, ate later too, and going to sleep past midnight. After a year of this intense work cycle, I noticed that many areas in my life begun suffering. Trivial things started irritating me and I often felt frustrated. I was unhappy. I decided to apply for a different position in the company. Luckily I got it and was able to cut back on my hours. Once I got my evenings and weekends back, I noticed that I was becoming happier. I got to spend more time with my friends, cook healthier meals, and also pick up painting again.

Of course, this too was temporary, because soon my circumstances changed, as they often do in life. And even though I was able to free up some time away from work, eventually my relationship and children became the great force, pulling me away from everything else. Naturally, family became my priority, but the demands of motherhood tipped the balance again in my life. I noticed other areas of my life sliding, as I focused on my children. I was constantly tired, couldn’t finish a meal without at least a dozen of interruptions, rarely saw my friends, stopped exercising, and haven’t picked up my paint brush for months. Conversations with my husband were mainly about our children and I was in a state of haze. I often felt anxious, and little things would set me off. Clearly I was not in a happy place. Alarms started going off in my head, and I realized that it was time to examine my life again. Learn how to carve out some personal time and avoid becoming enslaved by my children.

Taking time for myself was difficult at first because I felt guilty about being away from my children. Even harder, it also meant asking others for help. For someone who is as independent as I am, this was daunting. However I needed some distance, and it meant that I needed to overcome this hurdle and learn how to ask others for help. I also learned that child rearing is not a job one can do alone. It takes a village. These were not easy lessons to learn for someone like myself, but I am glad I learned them before things got ugly.

Stay flexible and keep trying new solutions. Eventually you will find the right balance.

Just like learning how to bake a great bread, it takes time to learn how to combine the different areas of our life and obtain the right balance for us to be happy. It requires experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try a new tactic. Keep adjusting your approach. Evaluate the result and ask yourself if it pleases you. Does the recipe satisfy you? Does it make you happy? Or should you add less salt next time?

I’ve baked hundreds of breads. At the beginning I often had to throw away many of my loafs because they tasted awful. As discouraged as I frequently felt, I kept going back to my kitchen counter, and continued to try different methods. Until one day I baked the bread that matched the taste I was searching for. I felt so satisfied. I didn’t want to eat anything else afterwards. My effort and perseverance paid off and the effect was worth it. I was happy.


About the picture: Walking through a wheat field


In this picture I wanted to illustrate balance as it relates to motherhood. The earth is like a mother who feeds us and cares for us. In this scene a mom walks through the wheat field with her baby, evaluating the health of her crops. She picks a bundle to examine the wheat better. Her baby is close to her, watching and learning from his mom. Eventually the wheat that the earth has produced, will become flour, and the flour will become bread that feeds the mom and her baby. The mother relies on the earth for food and the baby relies on his mother for survival. A healthy earth produces healthy wheat, and healthy wheat produces nutritious bread, essential for the mom and the baby to thrive. As long as harmony exists in this cycle, life will continue to blossom. But it’s a delicate balance. A single element out of balance can affect the entire cycle and can lead to destruction.



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