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Listen for the ‘burp’ of the dough

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Bread has been called the “staff of life” but not until visiting my son in Chicago over the weekend did I discover that it can also be the yeast of relaxation.

Jack, Jen and their two children live in Hong Kong. They were back to connect with family over Christmas and after coming all this way, there was every reason for us all to join them in the Windy City.

As part of the family update on their Christmas card, which was among the first cards to arrive, we learned that in addition to a hectic schedule, Jack has taken up baking bread.

Carol was delighted with the news, recalling how we all played roles in bread making when the kids were kids. She put them to work kneading dough that started off with gluey globs and grew into softball-sized spheres as flour was added and after periods of rising.

She soon discovered there are few things more appealing to boys than allowing them to “punch down” a squishy blob. Jack, Ted and their sister Diana took their assignments seriously and when word spread among their classmates, Carol brought the baking show to Hoxsie School so everyone could share in the fun.

As she recalls, the most intriguing part of the process to the kids was when the rising dough “burped.” She used the word “burped,” but kids being kids soon wanted to know how long it would be before the bread farted. That was a hit.

Naturally, after going to such lengths to make bread, rarely was there a time when the kids didn’t want it for breakfast or at any point. Even those loaves burnt to a crust or pulled from the oven when the center was still a mushy mass were slathered with butter and jam. No one was fussy when it came to homemade bread.

Jack-made bread wasn’t on the agenda on arriving in Chicago. We got settled in our hotel, learned the route to find them and joined them for diner that night. Jack’s cornbread was on the menu with Jen’s chili. No, the bread wasn’t a Jiffy mix nor did the chili come out of a can.

Jack had doubled the recipe and feared he had overdone it. He needn’t have worried. The same held true the next morning at breakfast when Jack’s sourdough toast was passed around. Bread was not the topic of conversation, although Carol and my daughter, Diana, recalled the days of the burping dough.

Rather, the focus was on how times have changed and what the internet has brought us, how we have been profiled by the sites we visit, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the books we read, the places we visit and the products we buy.

Jack, who is in the insurance business, related how companies have ensured that sales representatives are fully disclosing all aspects of a policy to their clients. During sales calls sales representatives are required to use a device no larger than a cell phone that “listens” to the call and at its conclusion reminds the representative of aspects of the policy that were over looked during the presentation. It’s a step away from Big Brother.

Listening to Jack describe life in China, they’re ahead of us when it comes to the use of technology. The capability exists here, but Jack said everyone uses their cell phones instead of their wallets or credit cards when making purchases. And in many cases, he adds, people don’t even use their phones as facial recognition is built into transaction stations.

How technology is being used in the giant Chinese city of Guangzhou to stem jaywalking is a step closer to Big Brother. City thoroughfares are more than 10 lanes and pedestrians cutting across them is apparently a problem authorities have difficulty controlling. They turned to cameras, which Jack said are everywhere in the country. They zoomed in on the faces of offenders and using recognition software identified them. Mug shots from their personal identity forms are then flashed on giant public screens to shame the jaywalkers. It’s worked. Even more intrusive, Jack told of how the Chinese are eavesdropping by directing highly targeted microphones to pick up conversations. Even with such sophisticated devices they have found it difficult to distill a conversation from surrounding conversations, or for example the noise of a subway. To address the problem, lip reading software is employed.

The number of political prisoners in China is reportedly staggering. Numbers are elusive.

Jack finds the people don’t complain and if they do, you don’t hear about it. His conclusion is the economy is doing well and as long as that continues there won’t be a backlash.

Such discussion of a global nature was surely far from the age-old practice of bread making.

It was comforting to recall the kitchen routine of their childhood and the visit to Hoxsie School. Here was solid ground. Yes, it’s changed somewhat by the advances in technology – but essentially bread making is the same as it has been for centuries.

I wonder when Jack’s kids become parents whether they might carry forward the tradition. There’s a lot to be said for the advancement of technology, but there’s so much to be gained from letting the dough “burp” and punching that dough.

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