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A Recipe for Starting Again

By Laura Reilly

Did you ever expect, after the entirety of last year, you’d somehow emerge needing more time? More space? In fifteen months, society collectively redefined grief, unanimously experienced burnout, and identified the omnipresent feeling of languishing. We probably shouldn’t be so surprised that, after all that psychic labor, we would desperately need a reset.

We didn’t know it in the moment, but about a year ago, my partner and I were laying the groundwork for what would become grand plans for a joint restaurant-bakery. I was working from home full time as an editor at a fashion magazine, and we both agreed that he, as a chef, should delay his return to the in-person food world for as long as possible—until things shook out.

Laura in robe on bed

In the beginning, I wrote about mask shortages and DIY hand sanitizer while he froze prepared food and tended to his sourdough starter. It was sweatpants-and-sanitizing-groceries season, and I was eternally grateful for my job. Not only did we have guaranteed money coming through every month but I was living out the career path I had set for myself years before. I was working in the field I had chosen and studied, I had earned a senior position, I knew what I was doing, and my voice mattered.

The other half of our household, however, was grappling with his sense of purpose. How does one feed mouths when those mouths are, as a matter of life and death, so inaccessible?

Then opportunity wafted in, and it smelled like freshly baked bread. Between the two of us (him tinkering with ratios and recipes, me dousing crusty slices in olive oil), we found a new way to shape our nebulous days and new missions to look forward to each morning. Pretty soon, one by one and two by two, those days and missions began to fold in other friends and neighbors, each arriving with an olive branch to our front door, like carb-hungry doves signaling the end to an ocean of isolation.

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As new ideas began to leaven in our minds—from selling loaves on the stoop and hosting intimate dinners to drawing up a business plan and meeting with brokers and investors, planning kitchens and writing menus, mixing flour and water, shedding sweat and tears—others began to stale.

Here are a few truths that sound like lies: You can have too much of a good thing. Change is the only constant. You don’t owe anything to your former self.

Laura with her bread

I worked years to get to where I was in my career, but I had never been able to imagine what came after. My goal was linear up to a point—after which everything I saw was a vaporous fog of the future. I had delayed defining it for as long as I could, but then suddenly I arrived and could avoid it no longer. How big do you imagine the space is between achieving something you desperately want and the urge to be free from it? Sometimes the space is so small that it isn’t even there: the moment is the same.

In a way, what I was feeling was a way of participating in the culture. American workaholism is a reality, as are the value systems we’ve put in place to support it—we all see it, so why is it so hard to disassemble? Acts of self-honesty incur risk, some tangible and others financial. But others are harder to negotiate away. The years I had spent in the job and in the industry had crept damningly into my concept of self. I had fallen into the trap, as so many of us do, of defining my identity by what I do rather than by who I am.

There’s a helpful Eckhart Tolle exercise that my partner paraphrases sometimes, and I’ll do my best to paraphrase it for you here:

Are you your body? If someone cut off your arms, your legs, parts of your torso and head, are you still there? No, you are not your body. Are you your thoughts? At any given moment, thoughts, observations, opinions are floating around your mind. And if someone blew away these momentary thoughts like puffs of smoke, are you still there? No, you are not your thoughts. You, the essential you, are still there.

In the end, I have more questions than answers. Somehow (never underestimate the power of a good meal), I summoned the power to let go, and on the other side all I found was space—space for new ideas, relationships, and opportunities to flow; space large enough for a three-deck oven and industrial mixer; space to start something new.

Making Bread

How to make a sourdough starter:

  1. Take 1:1 ratio of flour and water, mix together, and put in a jar. Cover with a piece of cloth fastened with a rubber band. Keep in a warm place.
  2. Leave for 36 hours.
  3. Take half of the contents of the jar, mix 1:1:1 ratio of flour and water. Discard the remainder.
  4. Leave the mixture for 24 hours with a secured covered cloth.
  5. Repeat the process every 24 hours for 3 days. Yeast from the air will be attracted to the mixture and begin to reproduce.
  6. Continue to maintain your sourdough starter by “feeding” 1:1:1 flour and water ratio every day.
  7. Use a portion of starter to bake sourdough bread and enjoy.
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