Month of August: “Tassajara Bread Book” Recipe: Challah

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell

Challah is a special bread that is often eaten on Jewish ceremonial occasions. Historically it holds additional significance worth mentioning. A portion of the dough was separated from the braid as an offering and it connotes letting go of something. I had planned on making this bread earlier this morning and had no idea of its meaning until now.

Today was my last day of working as a hospice nurse. For twenty years I have been a companion to the dying and hopefully a comfort to some of the hundreds, if not thousands of patients and families I have met along the way. I was dreading working for some reason and wanted to move through it as quickly as possible. I was done, spent. The universe apparently had other plans I guess. On my last visit for the day I just happened to run into a physician whom I admire who also works with the dying. I would go even further to say that he is my favorite physician to work with as he is an exceptional listener willing to put himself aside in order to bear witness and see the person in front of him. A rare quality in medicine these days. We chatted and I shared with him that I was retiring from hospice work. He then told me some very sad news about someone we both know. I couldn’t believe it! I was stunned! Even in this field, we still are shocked when hearing of an illness or impending death of a friend, colleague or family member. It is the human condition. We talked about grief and then he said something that struck me about the “loneliness of grief” and later that “many of us are together in our perceived aloneness.” He then asked me if this colleague would want to speak with me, would I want to speak with her? At first hesitant but of course I said yes. Even though it was hard to look her death in the eye, I am glad that I did.

Grief is solitary work. It is uniquely personal and if we are lucky we have loved ones willing to listen and support but no one can really experience it with us. We must go it alone. Yet we all share the predicament. So today I am letting go of a very large part of my career and my life. I have learned volumes, more than I can ever attempt to put into language. It is something felt deep in my being. I have offered myself to others for years but now in my own grief I need to offer myself to myself. I will stumble. I will fall into the abyss. And I will stop and marvel at the recovered treasures along the way.

Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water, 2 packets of dry yeast, 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup dry milk, 2 eggs beaten, 7 cups of all purpose flour, 4 teaspoons salt, 1/3 cup butter and more flour for kneading.

Proceed with the directions from the Tassajara yeasted bread recipe adding the beaten eggs after stirring in the dry milk. Braid. Makes 2 loaves. Bake at 350F until golden.

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