THEN: In my home at 6208 Fern Lane in Paradise before the fire, I rise under the light of the moon to grab up big scoops of flour, water, and cupped hands full of ripe sourdough culture. While the dough hydrates, I make tea and meditate in the darkness. Before long, the sun rises and birds begin their morning greetings, but the house remains cold from the cover of ancient pines. Working in a down jacket, I add salt and more water to the dough, then swadle bowls in an electric blanket to keep warm for their three to four hour bulk rise. Every thirty minutes, I turn the dough, stretching and developing the gluten matrix. By midmorning, people and deer are out and about, the dough is shaped and plopped into baskets for the final proof, and the oven dial is set to full blast. . . .
I purchased my own bread oven in September and was getting more and more acquainted with each bake, discovering her hot spots, ideal temperatures, and unique little quirks that no owner’s manual could ever tell me. Just after lunch, I slash wet dough with a fresh blade and load loaves into the hot oven, four to five at a time. After almost an hour on the bricks, darkened loaves emerge with the crackling crust and nutty aroma of fresh baked bread.
NOW: At our property, just the fireplace stands amidst a pile of toxic ash that has been turned inside out by sun, rain, and snow. The new oven has been destroyed, bread ingredients have burned up like calories, and my home seems to have melted into the ground, along with my bread baking routine.
Yet I feel more than ever that one chapter closes and a new one begins; page by page, a new story is written. I no longer live in Butte County, too many displaced people and too little housing for us. I still don’t have a home and bounce from place to place, renting and seeing new lands and new communities, meeting distant bakers, and finding my way, filling up the blank page with new stories. Since the first week of November, I’ve lived in Morgan Hill, Monterey, Modesto, Reno, and Boise, but right now, I have no plan. . . so I guess that’s sort of the plan. I’m turning this experience into a gift and using it as an opportunity that few almost-thirty year olds are handed: a chance to explore. I may return to Chico one day, or I might settle in a new place. With an open heart, I’m headed to new places and experiences with no plan as to how things will settle. And for now, that’s all I can do, as we wait for debris removal, insurance follow up, and options to rebuild or replace. The Camp Fire has already come through like a nightmare, and the coals are still hot. It will take time to cool and reorganize the ashes, mine included.
Kala Riddle is a nutritionist turned sourdough baker, who enjoys celebrating the seasons through cooking, growing, and sharing our most basic and personal connection: food. Keep up with her at www.untamedbakeshop.com