One Baker's Dozen

One baker’s dozen, please…

“The old woman who farms in the Alps, the welder in South Chicago, and the mythical cook from ancient China have this in common: their work is hard and unglamorous, and most people would find it boring, repetitive, and meaningless. Yet these individuals transformed the jobs they had to do into complex activities. They did this by recognizing opportunities for action where others did not, by developing skills, by focusing on the activity at hand, and allowing themselves to be lost in the interaction so that their selves could emerge stronger afterward.”  “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Baker’s Dozen–A group of 13; a dozen plus one: from the former practice among bakers and other tradespeople of giving 13 items to the dozen as a safeguard against penalties for short weights and measures. Dictionary.com

I smile every time I read the word “dozen” and parse out the imperative; “do” and “zen.” It remains for me a gentle reminder to be mindful while baking. You see part of my time spent in the bakery is about anticipating “flow stoppers.” Flow stoppers are those annoyingly absent things that appear to get in the way of your work’s flow. Isn’t it odd how something that’s not there can really trip you up?  Here’s a baking tip (as promised): ask any chef; a mise en place is one of the best ways to get your work to flow. Prepare all of your ingredients in the order that you wish to follow; measured in the appropriate ratios and proportions, and then proceed with reckless abandon!

There’s no doubt that the working life of a professional baker can be “hard and unglamorous, and most people would find it boring, repetitive, and meaningless” but it’s also extremely integrative. Which is to say, bread baking brings to bear everything that you do know, do not know and wish to know in every moment that you are “lost in the interaction” i.e. baking. So I ask, why shouldn’t our time on this earth be about transforming the mundane into the sublime; engaged in “complex activities” that are profoundly practical, craft-enriched and gives one purpose?

One baker’s do-zen coming right up! 1. Do one thing at a time. 2. Do it slowly and deliberately. 3. Do it completely. 4. Do with less effort. 5. Do put space in between. 6. Do develop rituals. 7. Do designate time for action. 8. Do devote time to sitting. 9. Do smile and serve others. 10. Do make cleaning and cooking a meditation. 11. Do engage in actions not things. 12. Do think about what is necessary. 13. Do live simply.

Marc Jalbert is the former owner of the Gettysburg Baking Company. While continuing to bake for the Baking Company, he’s the founding director of Bakewell Farm, a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to introduce “bread-centric” education as a means for building community while engaging in public service. Please visit us at: www.bakewellfarm.org