AT OUR HOUSE WE ONCE called the dinner hour The Witching Hour — a time so bedeviled that my husband often took a deep breath before opening the backdoor by the kitchen after a long day at the office.
This hour gets easier and easier as our three grade school-age sons grow up.
But when a baby and two preschoolers lived under this roof with us, daddy would stroll in at 5:30 and forget to take off his backpack as I squawked over my shoulder while stirring bubbling soup.
I needed him first to change a diaper, then to wipe a nose, and along the way to mop up spilled applesauce, spaghetti sauce, milk, and all the other gross stuff fermenting on the table and tile floor.
“Why are you so grouchy?” he would say.
At this point I wanted to toss my apron in the air and holler: “WHY ARE YOU SO DENSE?”
How ironic, then, that I got therapy at the stove instead of away from it.
There, as I practiced cooking and baking during quieter hours, I began to see something beyond food in the pans.
The rims of my black cast iron skillets transformed to portals into the meaning of all things.
And no, I was not smoking dope here in Colorado when this happened.
I was thinking more about cooking methods that make sense in the moment and applying them to parenting.
No brilliance here, really. Just connecting more dots.
For instance, I know something simple, but true, about cooking oil.
Sizzling oil tells me it needs to get busy to get better. It needs a dollop of pancake batter or a handful of chopped onions to keep the fire alarm from sounding off and to do its part in getting dinner on the table and into hungry tummies.
So it goes with my sometimes hyper boys.
But the best model is the bread-making method of bringing up kids.
Of all the points of this process to ponder, the first one to mention must be “microclimate.”
I may make great bread here in Erie at about a hundred feet shy of mile high.
But the same recipe might frustrate someone baking at an even slightly different elevation or humidity.
The trick is recognizing the impact of microclimates on bread and on family life and tinkering for quality improvements.
To do this without wasting ingredients, I read information published by the Colorado State University Extension office on how to make high-altitude adjustments to recipes written and tested at sea level.
But this, like so many parenting books, is just a guide.
Success comes from understanding the proven chemistry of bread making, particularly at altitude, and then practicing bread making enough in your own microclimate to develop the touch, the art part.
These days, I know how to knead dough enough for it to become elastic, but not tough.
I also know that if I leave it alone too long, it will rise into a beautiful, air pocket-filled bread with a high dome only to collapse with a crater in the center.
Lastly, I can hurry along rise time in yeast breads by placing loaves in toasty places — say, an 80-degree oven with a cake pan of boiling water on the lower rack.
But slow rising loaves develop more stable structure than the quick risers.
Ultimately, all this practice may convert my breadmaking and perhaps my parenting into something closer to perfect.
But who needs perfection when the whole house smells heavenly –even during The Witching Hour — before the bread is fully baked.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at email@example.com or at 303-746-0942.