Saturday, August 30, 2014

the theology of breads

At Easter, my congregation started using loaf bread for Communion, as is the preference of our bishop. Being lazy, I would bake up a double batch, which would give us 4-5 loaves and freeze most of them.
Unfortunately, rapid defrosting did Bad Things to the internal structure, making it a mass of glue. My priest objected, parishioners objected, and I went back to the drawing board.

Communion bread is elemental, and it's ingredients and making are matters of long tradition. Wheat, water, salt, oil. Simple bread. But what to do when members of your congregation can't do the wheat?
Last time, I started with someone else's recipe, handed to me with a "let's try this!" This time, I needed to think both about the theology and the requirements of my community, as well as the structure of the bread itself.

Loaf breads with yeast are...theologically problematic. The original one was Passover-bread, specifically enjoined from having contact with yeast. (There's a reason a lot of churches use wafers. They're just pretty matzah.) They are also time-eating, between proof and rising. No making it in the hour before church. But if I must make loaves, then why not look for something that embraces our modernity? Cue all the bakers "there are two types of bread: yeast breads & quick breads." So- modern, artificial leavening agent.

I needed something designed for tearing & dipping, without disintegrating, and not tasting like crap. Not nut-based. Every culture has it's version of trencher-bread, something that serves as eating utensil or plates. Pita or naan or focaccia or tortilla or injeria. I also wanted something easy, with readily available ingredients within walking distance of the church. My condition for the flour was that it be something people actually make bread from. There are a lot of 'weird flours' out there for gluten free baking. I didn't want those. Looking at my books, I realized most of the quick breads were using a high protein flour. That makes sense, given that quick breads don't have to accommodate the stretching associated with yeast-based rising or shaping.

One of my books had a nut-free focaccia bread, using brown rice flour and baking soda/vinegar. Meh, rice is not really a good bread flour, as the texture isn’t ever quite right. Our modern, western thinking sees bread as having to be wheat-based, but in 1st c. Palestine, there were several options for flour - millet, chickpeas, lentils, wheat, spelt, and barley. Wheat, spelt, and barley all contain similar gluten proteins, so they’re out for this project. So, noodling around the flours available from our last foray into GF communion bread and what was still in my stock, I decided to try chickpea flour as an alternative. Taking chickpea flour, olive oil, egg whites, salt, sugar, baking soda, vinegar, and xanthan gum, throwing them in a bowl, mixing, and baking took about 30 min total, and came out a dense bread, tasty, that holds together well when dipped and also absorbs liquid into its crumb. I get two loaves a batch, and we’ll see how well it does defrosted this week.

 Now the only problem are those pesky egg whites, and I have some ideas there...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Clothing and covering

I've spent the last two weeks at a campground in western Pennsylvania, and coming back to the 'modern world' has not been fun.

Me and ten thousand of my closest friends spend this time pretending to be part of different worlds, re-enacting to a greater or lesser extent aspects of life in the 6th to 16th c. The only requirement, other than your entrance fee, is to make an attempt (and not necessarily a good one!) at pre-1600 clothing.

Yes, I really am a geek.

Because this isn't the real world, it's a fantasy creation, people are free to choose what they consider "appropriate" and "comfortable" clothing. Given the temperature shifts that usually happen (we can range from about 40-100 deg F over the course of the two weeks), most people bring a variety of styles, winter and summer appropriate. Cultures & materials shift based on need. But for most women, in most times of the period, coverage is the rule, not the exception. If you're "home," some of the rules get relaxed a bit, like how many layers and the visibility of hair. And a lot of women are content with the attempt at period clothing and don't worry about some of those rules.

My camp/crowd is slightly different, being a bunch of tailors/seamstresses *and* trained historians. The rules apply, and we're usually well covered in our clothing - but we've all chosen times and places where coverage is the rule, where the clothing may be form fitting or form shaping...but skin is from the neck up. Medieval women had a lot of strictures about modesty, and this crowd tries it's best to adhere to them in public spaces, just as proper medieval women would.

This means that when I come back to the modern world and start wearing modern dress, it feels funny-as-in-wrong. Women's clothing has a lot to do with the male gaze - it always has. Making ourselves attractive, making choices in order to make statements about who and what we are, class, power, wealth, status...

But the fact you can see my hair this week makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

Other items which I have to transition back into slowly: Pants. Skirts where my ankles are exposed. Skirts where my calves are exposed. Shoes. Visible elbows.

And when I have to work the day after I get back, it's like being dropped into cold water. I feel naked, because my modern work clothing conforms to modern standards of 'professional' and 'appropriate for summer'. I feel every look of every guy, assessing me for my attractiveness. I am merely meat on the market, subject to the whim of the men around me, and I hate it. I am reminded, viscerally, that it is historically my 'job' to let men look at me, because they're the ones with power, and my best bet is to stay home.

It's the week when casual street harassment hits me the hardest. Because I want to be back in enveloping fabric, where my shape is not up for debate, where I can shield my scars and my injuries from casual sight. Where I'm not 'the redhead', because you can't tell what color my hair is under linen. "Nice legs!" is never shouted at me, as my skirts are long.

And overwhelmingly, the ten thousand people I camp with? I walk around a city of friends and strangers, in funny clothing, and feel attractive but not harassed, because harassment is seen by the community as a violation of the unwritten rules, and grounds for a good, long...discussion of proper behavior from both friends and strangers.

Keeping my hair bound, though, like a proper woman? That carries over.