2015 Best Media Effort in Combatting Ageism

Poem: On Approaching Seventy and Baking Bread

More than 40 years ago there was, in the weekend house in upstate New York I shared with the man I then lived with, a woodburning kitchen stove. That's it. You either built a fire or you didn't get hot coffee in the morning. Or hot food.

Over many weekends, I taught myself to make bread in that wood burning stove. I experimented with white bread, wheat bread, rye bread, sweet breads and most of all, challah. It took a lot of trial and error but it became my most successful loaf.

When the relationship ended, so did my bread baking. Until last week.

Living alone AND carefully watching what I eat so not to regain the 40 pounds I lost a year ago, I don't eat much bread these days. But I really do like bread in all its many forms and flavors. What I don't like is throwing out bread because loaves are too big for a single person to finish before they become moldy or hard.

So last week, for the first time in more than 40 years, I baked a small loaf of bread – soda bread for the season and because I didn't have yeast in the house. After all, this was an experiment to see if I still have the touch.

It was pretty good, the soda bread. Not fantastic, but okay. The recipe needs work. And, of course, the cooking vessel – wood-fired, electric or gas - changes the qualities of bread so the recipe must be altered depending on the type of oven.

My bread baking background so long ago is only in a wood stove oven so if I am to continue making bread (I still have my book of trial-and-error bread recipes from the 1970s), I'll need to figure out how to adjust for an electric oven.

While thinking this over, I recalled that not long ago, Tom Delmore send me a poem by Joan Seliger Sidney. It is titled, On Approaching Seventy which doesn't give you the first clue that is also about making challah.

Watching the hands of my son
kneading challah dough
on the maple cutting board
in my kitchen, a memory

rises of my mother
bending over our kitchen table
in Flatbush, pressing, stretching,
folding flour, water, eggs

into a living elastic.
Sometimes in my dreams, Mom
appears, whispers of her mother
in her kitchen in Zurawno

in the pre-dawn dark,
by the light of the kerosene
lamp, pulling and pushing
the yeasty challah

until my son covers it
with a clean white cloth
and leaves it in the warm
electric oven to rise.

Here is Garrison Keillor reading Sidney's poem from his Writers Almanac website.

🎤 Garrison Keillor reading On Approaching Seventy

The poem is from Joan Seliger Sidney's collection Bereft and Blessed published in 2014.

Is anyone else around here resurrecting an old skill?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Trudi Kappel: Matzo Ball Soup


Love the poem!

Bread making is so therapeutic. I used to bake bread a lot in the '70s and then I started in again in 2002 and baked bread twice a week until my husband died in 2012. Since then I've only made bread a couple of times but I decided that a single person living alone also needs to learn how to make croutons. That was fun. They tasted great and had a long shelf life.

When I was teaching I used my creativity in designing integrated study lessons for my students. Then I was forced into retirement and I began creative endeavors for myself,knitting, sewing, quilting and projects from paper. Plus baking and cooking from scratch. All can be done on a limited budget and the results are so worthwhile. This type of work is my meditation and therapy.

You brought back memories of when I use to make sourdough
bread. Recipe made 3 loaves
and I would share two of the loaves. Loved the smell of fresh baked bread and tasted so good. I do not use much bread at this time and no longer bake bread. Miss it and if family lived near where I could share most of it I would do this once again.

What a beautiful poem. I could visualize the different generations kneading and baking the special bread, over time, in different places, but with the same thoughts about the sabbath.

A beautiful poem. Your baking bread, then and now transported me to memories of my own adventures, many inspired by "The Tassajara Bread Book" of the 70s era. Old skills resurrected? I'm feeling stumped. It's the new ones I'm aware of. Soft stuff such as practicing patience, taking the long(er) view, whining less, and remaining silent or speaking up, when most useful.

My kids remember my Swedish braided loaves with great fondness. I, who used to knead my bread as I kneaded my clay, no longer have useful hands. Then again, my dear husband has discovered the joy making bread in his bread machine. Perhaps I can use his machine to knead and rise my old favorite dough before I use my friend Harriette's challah pans to bake the bread on.

Thanks so much for that poem.

Bread baking is not something I would ever think about doing--well, I do occasionally bake biscuits and cornbread--and not the canned variety of biscuits. But, your reason for that being limited--weight gain, is mine, too.

There was a local eatery that made and sold seasonal challah, but it closed last fall. Not being of the Jewish persuasion/birth, I was curious to taste it, so bought a half-loaf and was surprised that it had a sweetened taste.

I have begun to use my crock pot again for making soup. I had gotten lazy (how lazy can you get?) with preparing meals. It has been a rewarding experience and I may go buy a new crock pot for
the convenience of being able to remove the crock
for washing. (yes, mine was a gift in the '70s.)

I am in discussion with a neighbor re: getting a weekly game of Password going at our clubhouse. I have always loved word games. I can't seem to get anyone to play Scrabble anymore. Maybe I haven't tried hard enough.

Right now, I am avoiding doing what I have to do every year--taxes. So, bye-bye for now--I gotta do what I gotta do.

Is there any fragrance more delightful that the smell of freshly baked bread? Or are any crusts as yummy as the ones from a loaf right out of the oven? You have made me hungry for that, Ronni.

I used to bake 2 loaves at a time and could never resist eating a slice of one after removing it from the oven.

My daughter baked challa for our holiday dinners when she was a teenager. Perhaps I can entice her to do so again.

I always make Irish Soda bread this time of year. Martha Stewart has the best recipe I've ever made. I use golden raisins. It is just delicious with sweet butter on it.


Nope! Never was much of a cook or baker and that hasn't changed. I stopped trying to be Betty Crocker after losing 80 lbs. in my 20s just before the end of my "starter marriage". My 2nd spouse was a remote site construction engineer so it wasn't an issue since he was gone 90% of the time. My now-husband (of 37 years) and I don't do a lot of cooking since we're both weight conscious, but he's better at it than I am.

I spent one whole summer many years ago learning to make pie dough. Practice, practice, practice. Then during all my working years, I only made pies infrequently. Now I am back at it and working hard to perfect my pie dough. (Perfect would be to match the flaky tenderness of my mother's crust.) I have tried just about every recipe I could find on the internet to find the perfect recipe and tried every tool and technique. The quest is the ultimate reward.

Pastry-making is an art. I do not have the talent. My first and last effort to bake bread resulted in a solid lump, harder than granite, that we used as a door-stop for a while.... every time I looked at it I felt a failure, so I finally lugged it to a dumpster and never tried again.

I admire those who can produce the heavenly-smelling perfect loaves of bread that make my mouth water.

I, too, must watch my weight and perhaps it is a blessing that I cannot make pastry -- I would devour everything I made as soon as I would take it out of the oven!

My goodness, how appropriate this topic is for me right now. Not for baking bread--I did do that for a while when first diagnosed with Celiac disease before there were good gluten free breads for sale as there are now. But the skill that I am resurrecting (to my great surprise) is that of my music. I gave up my life's work as folksinger/teacher at least 14 years ago when my arthritic hands could no longer play the instruments, followed by a laryngitis that left me with a diminished voice. Pete Seeger reminded me that folk music is so much more than a beautiful voice, so in his honor I finally began to sing again, a capella or with the only instrument I could play--the thumb piano. Just recently, I took a plunge I had considered many years ago and asked a guitarist/singer friend if she would accompany me for the open mics we both go to. She said yes--we have been performing now for a little while to appreciative audiences (mostly other folksingers) and I feel like I have a new lease on life. Whoever heard of an 82-year-old having a new (REnewed) career? As long as Pat is around, I'll sing on, and when the listeners stop saying "you are a warrior!" and "You have the heart of a lion!", I'll pack it in again, and just listen to my offspring (a daughter, soon-in-law, and 2 grandchildren ) who are also professional musicians. Maybe then I'll get back to submitting my writing to Elderstorytelling instead of submitting long-winded responses!

Reminds me of the smell of newly baked bread in my house. When my kids were small I baked 4-6 loaves at a time, trying to eat healthy. Of course we ate the first loaf right up with a pile of butter. ;-o These days its bran muffins and banana bread. Still smells good.

My friend makes her own bread, using a bread making machine.

Her bread is excellent.

My thing is re-purposing or refinishing something. For example, I found an old fashioned dresser on wheels that was all bunged up and stained.

Paid $35 for it, brought it home, took off the wheels and sanded it (wearing a mask and doing the work outside.)

Stained it a dark brown, let that dry and then added two coats of clear finish to it.

I replaced the broken, one missing drawer pulls.

The dresser is in our spare bedroom. Oh yeah, I used candle wax to make the drawers slide easier.

Wonder who owned the dresser.

Whoever it was, it's been rescued, and given a place of honour in our home.

I go rock collecting and find some awesome rose red ones off island on huge construction sites.

This is why I keep garden gloves and a plastic sheet in the trunk of my car.

You never know when a perfect rock will show up.

"Have gloves will travel."

Thought I was the only rock hound, but no. Met another woman who stalks rocks for her garden.

Rocks could tell some stories!

When I was a kid in 5th grade, I started to learn to play the flute. I would practice my hour per day and got pretty good at it. I enjoyed playing in my HS orchestra, but, after graduating, the flute went into the closet and pretty much stayed there until 15 yrs ago when I was 64.

I learned that there was a Community Band in the town and I really, really needed to find something to do that I wasn't in charge of, so I joined the band, resurrected my very rusty skills and have been enjoying being a part of several bands ever since.

BTW, bread freezes very well.

I've had good results with no-knead bread in my cast iron Dutch oven with a glass Pyrex lid in an electric oven. You might like to check out this recipe. Halve the recipe for a single loaf.


As with several others, when I retired I wanted to use the music skills I had learned so long ago. I started playing the piano again and joined a senior band to play flute. What is fascinating, aside from the music, is learning again as an adult and observing and understanding the learning process. Being able to analyze the problems and understand how to improve upon them is fascinating. As is the music!

As a child in upstate NY, I learned to knit, paused during high school, early marriage and babies, and resumed when my children were mid-sized and I had access to a class in my DC suburban home. I'd knit while watching TV. Then along came computers, and I stopped knitting.
Now that I've been retired a year or so, I have picked up the needles again. I'm finding I have to re-learn what I've forgotten. It's going slowly, but it's going. I wore a shawl of my own design when I attended that conference in Baltimore last week.

Thank you for sharing that poem.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)