After over a year intending to learn how to make sourdough bread, I finally managed to bake my first decent loaf. Having had a cack handed attempt a month ago (and finally biting the bullet and getting my self in order to try and make a starter) I wasn’t going to be stopped by my first effort / failure / learning experience. I spoke with Steven, the wonderful baker at Staples in Westgate, he was really generous with his time, giving me pointers, offering me flour and to borrow the book Tartine to help me on my way.
The book itself has proved a great resource and having fed my starter religiously over the week, shifting from PM feedings to AM & PM feedings I then embarked on what turned out to be a 11 hour cooking journey last Friday, resulting on the loaf above. I have found (and continue to find) the whole process fascinating: watching the starter grow and shrink – on one occasion in front of my eyes as the fermentation gases bulged through the flour, gently forcing the surface to rise into a bubble and then burst. The long winded and ultimately rewarding process of mixing flour, starter, water and salt, letting it rest, rise, turn, shape and then finally bake.
One of the most powerful elements to the whole thing is the amount of uncertainty in the outcome, which leads to humility, bravery, failure and ultimately learning and growth. As a metaphor for how to face life baking (and as I’ll come to) is incredibly powerful. Thinking laterally about the lessons that you learn and how to apply them makes me wonder why they aren’t more central to education for young children. That aside it really does impress upon me the value that baking / gardening can have in allowing people to develop key life skills in what is a pretty safe space / safe way.
Gardening has the same elements of uncertainty in outcome, leading to the same process driven skills that result I outlined above. I’ve recently just planted out my tomato, cucumber, aubergine and chili seeds. Each growing at a different speed and coming along well. Having done this for 4 years now I have experience to bring to bear that helps move everything in the right direction, but no certainty that I will get the amount of perfectly fruiting plants that I want. The roses I have taken cuttings of – 2 / 3 look dying and dreary, whilst 1 looks really healthy. This year the potted apricot tree has nascent fruits for the first time, yet the pear now looks like it has black leaf curl, even though I have been trying to apply the same care and consideration to the plants and how I garden. The success or failure isn’t a judgement on me as a gardener, more a result of a highly complex system (nature) that I have no way of controlling, but a small way of pointing in the best direction.
And this brings me round to running. The lessons that baking & gardening offer can be applied so easily and effectively to our running. If we approach running with humility, bravery, accepting failure as a learning opportunity for growth and progress then the uncertainty of the result becomes becomes integral, critical even. It’s a tiny leap to then apply this mentality to life in general and allow this sense of vulnerability to permeate how we approach our day to day, coming full circle to getting up, feeding a starter and making a loaf of bread.
Something else that I’ve become slightly more obsessed with recently is biomechanics and how we move. I’ve long thought that if anybody really wants to improve their running, it seems the first thing to do is to help create the best possible movement patterns as you can, before loading volume / intensity onto them. The difficulty here is that there is a complete paradigm that exists around volume / intensity – which in turn leads people to see this as key in looking for training. In light of this I’m going to spend some time looking at how to help improve my form and other runners form as a key element of developing running. I started this last night using wickets / agility hurdles with the juniors at Serpentine, whilst filming them and then reviewing the footage with the children whilst they decided what they wanted to work on. A big thank you goes out to Jon Marcus of the excellent scholar program, who has been instrumental in showing how to use wickets and how they help runners improve. I’m looking forward to continuing with this for the foreseeable future.