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Baking Bread and Bettering the Brain

My daughter Daniella who manufactures chef uniforms, did a deal with Jade who teaches Bread Baking.   Daniella would make Jade and her mother each a beautiful apron to wear at their bread making demonstrations.   In exchange, my daughter and I were offered a workshop on making Sour Dough Bread.

So this morning my starter was ripe, and it was time for me to put my new skills into practice.   The starter had been out of the fridge for four days, had been dutifully fed at 24 hour intervals and was considered ripe for the job.   Kneading bread in preparation for the rising before the baking, is a 20 minute repetitive operation.   I needed something to keep my mind busy whilst performing the kneading process.  The speakers from my computer were placed in the kitchen, and it was time to get to work.

Brain Science Podcast

It was some time since I had last listened to Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science Podcast. “Brain Science features the latest books about neuroscience as well as interviews with leading scientists from around the world.”

I chose to listen to the presentation by John Medina who discussed his book:   Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp,  The podcast was switched on, and the bread mixing was started.

Brain Health: Genetics and the Environment

It was 15 years ago that I first learned about neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to change according to environmental stimuli.   This podcast would offer me the chance to learn about some of the recent research on keeping the brain healthy and retaining cognitive reserve.   “Recent research,” quoted  Medina, “has demonstrated that the role of the environment is responsible for 66% of the ability to maintain the maximum performance of our brain.”

Social Interaction

Confirmation of the positive role of social interactions for preserving brain health was reassured by the speaker.  Spending time in congenial company helps to preserve both our cognitive and our emotional health.  Of course, we all know it is good to have friends.   However, there is a bit of a new spin on the friendship criterion.  “Welcome those friends that do not always agree with you,” say the experts.  “It is a good exercise to have an intellectual sparring match with your friends as long as one simple condition is observed.   You need to retain respect for each other.   Seek out people with different perspectives and challenge your latent beliefs.”  That was great news for me as I have been spending many hours of late in the zoom room conducting controversial debates on the role of the Covid pandemic, and its contribution to forcing us to re-evaluate our lifestyle and our value systems.

With the emergence of the pandemic, these meetings have offered wonderful food for thoughtful examination.   It is amazing that a topic as mundane as the role of a cloth mask in preventing Covid-19 can arose so much controversy.   Of course, it is not recommended for this discussion to result in the acrimony experienced between Republicans and Democrats!

Inter-generational interaction

“It is healthy to discuss our life perspective with those of a different generation. Contrasting values and ideas offer the brain a ‘work-out’, during which the synaptic connections can be retrained.   With computers playing such a dominant role in the life-style of young people, they are in touch with many ideas and opportunities that are unavailable to those who opt-out of interacting with social media,”  says our expert.   There is no doubt that learning from one’s grandchildren is a very worthwhile activity.   Let us offer them our wisdom gleaned from our long life of challenges, and further enrich ourselves by remaining current with the new ideas and original thinking of the younger generations.

The Mediterranean Diet.

The expert podcaster reassured me regarding my faith in the Mediterranean Diet, something which I have been practising for the past few decades.    The advantage of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is healthy for humans and also puts less stress on the natural resources of the planet.

My recent studies with Climate Reality has increased my awareness of the urgency of cutting down the carbon content of the atmosphere by at least 1.5%.    I have been made even more firmly aware of the fact that a plant-based diet is more environmentally friendly than one dominated by beef, chicken and lamb.

Exercise

I always knew that taking my dogs for a walk for approximately 45 minutes a day for the past 70 years was an investment in my health, so it surprised me to learn how little movement we actually need in order to gain the benefits of aerobic activity.   “All you need to do is a brisk half hour work for five days a week to show the benefit of exercise,” claimed the podcaster.

I now take most of my phone calls on my cellphone.   I have made it a rule to always walk around my lounge, or outside in the garden when I have longish phone conversations.   That must surely give me a further hour or so of walking per day!

Combining the Old and the New

It was satisfying to find that I was kept entertained by a contemporary podcast whilst simultaneously performing the bread baking which has been similarly practised for many centuries.   How rewarding it is to combine the ancient art of baking homemade bread with the contemporary capacity to enhance my learning.

The bread was indeed yummy!   Let us trust that my synapses will continue making new and stronger connections!

I had a surprise phone call this morning, Sunday, 1 December 2019. It was from Jechaim, who is the brother of my son’s wife. He lives in Amsterdam, where he is fulfilling a lifetime passion and a dream. He recently opened a Baking Lab

History of the Baking Lab

Jechiam’s grandfather was a baker in Jerusalem, and he proudly displays the key from is ancestor’s business in the entrance of the shop. While baking is in his blood, the practice of this ancient art at Linnaeusstraat 99, is very different from the manner it was performed two generations ago.

Baking Bread Today

This unusual entrepreneur is also imbued with the qualities of both an artist and a scientist. His Baking Lab explores the baking of different types of bread. What he does is to take into account modern technology and combines it with ancient wisdom?

The baking of bread is a sensory experience. It involves the tactile sensations of stirring, mixing, kneading and pouring, added to those of smell, taste and vision. Together with his staff, which includes students studying technology at the local University, he is continuously exploring new techniques to enhance their production.

Of course, Jechaim’s scientific background is also relevant to his success. He knows all about the enzymes, the temperatures and other variables which affect the quality of the crust, the texture and the look.

This contemporary baker tells us that baking bread is, “not difficult, but neither is it a piece of cake!”

But Jechaim’s phone call was not to discuss his unique business, or the reason why he keeps Wild Turkeys as pets, but to condole with me on the loss of my ex-husband.

Offering Condolences

He wanted to know how his brother-in-law was coping with becoming the new head of the family on the loss of his father. And, how the extended family was dealing with the grieving process. He then moved on to explore my relationship with my Judaism. He had heard second or third hand about my unconventional upbringing and was curious to know how I related to my heritage at this stage.

Forging my Identity

I found myself telling him about how I was brought up in denial of my own identity. Our family had come to South Africa in 1947 after the conclusion of the Second World War. My father saw this move as an opportunity to allow me to live my life without the prejudices that have been projected onto Jews through the centuries. I was sent to a church school and was enrolled as a Unitarian.

This was confusing to me, and I had little opportunity to discover the rationale. If I questioned my father about the meaning of being a Jew, I was fobbed off with the instruction that, “I do not have to worry my pretty little head,” about such things. His methodology was for my own good; he tried to reassure me. This information was not very useful in terms of helping me to form my personal identity.

Table Tennis saved the Day

It was a sheer fluke that I became friendly with some Jewish girls during my university days. I became a member of the Table Tennis team at the University of Cape Town, and there I met Debbie. Debbie planned to go on a NUSAS (National Unions of South African Students) tour. This was a six week excursion attended by 60 students from different South African Universities. In 1956, we travelled for ten days by boat on the Athlone Castle to Britain, spent four weeks in England and Europe, then returned on the Union Castle Shipping Line back to Cape Town.

Meeting my Children’s father

It was on that trip I became friendly with Marion, so when the next question from Jechiam was about the manner in which I met my ex-husband, I told him the story of a dinner party. This was given by a couple who were friends of Marion. They knew Joe, a bachelor of 32, and wanted to fix her up with him. I was also invited to this dinner where we had some overcooked Spaghetti Bolognaise – I think we arrived late!

For some reason, Joe fancied me, instead of Marion. My mother told me a couple of days later that, “A guy phoned you. He said his name was Joe Smith, but I am not sure who he is!”

So that was the beginning of a very short romance. In answering Jechiam’s further questions, I was reminded that we met in April 1959, and were married in September of the same year. No long courtships. No living together. If a girl was not married in her early 20’s, then she was on the shelf in those days.

My Road to Embracing Judaism

Joe happened to be Jewish, so I started on the road to establishing my understanding of what it meant to be a Jew. I went the academic route by taking courses in Judaica with the University of South Africa, and a course in Hebrew with the University of Cape Town.

While bringing up my children, I was in the position to play an active role in Jewish organisations which cemented my journey into my Jewish roots.

Ten years after my marriage, I was the mother of four children. Today my two girls live in Cape Town. My eldest son (Jechaim’s brother-in-law) came from Amsterdam for the funeral, and my youngest son came with his wife and daughter from London to mourn the loss of their father.

Thanks, Jechaim for allowing me to review my road back to my Jewish roots.