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Bread Like Origami


It didn't occur to me until hearing it in a video that bread and origami had anything in common. "Fold it like origami," said the gentle instructor's voice, as he carefully folded down the edge of the shaped dough to meet the bottom edge. Then I was reading about origami last night, how the process is neither additive or subtractive, but metamorphic. All the paper that you start with is still there when you're finished, expertly tucked behind parts that look like legs or bodies. Just like flour and water and yeast, turned into nourishment in the oven.


I've had a long running interest in origami. When I was taught how to make a crane as a kid, I didn't stop there. I wanted to make everything. I had many books and lots of paper; I was lucky that my parents thoroughly supported any hobby that I delved into. I made colorful menageries of tiny little paper animals. My love for origami eventually took a backseat to my many other hobbies. When I moved a couple of years ago, I went through all of my books, reflecting my numerous interests over the years. The origami books that I saved from my youth got donated to the local library, which was almost a sure sign that I would decide in the following six months that I wanted to do origami again. My daughter got me a big pack of succulent printed papers for Christmas last year. Now, I just want those books back.

While auditioning a few new books for origami inspiration and instruction, I see how origami has occupied a role similar to breadmaking in my life. Both hobbies have ebbed and flowed over the years. There is a very prescriptive way to make a loaf of bread. You carefully measure out the flour, water, salt, and yeast. It's all stirred together, left to rise, and then you have what amounts to a sheet of paper. It's a blank slate. Do you want to make baguettes? Then follow this way for shaping. Do you want a boule shape? Then try this method. Origami is the same. If you want to make a bird, you follow a diagram, full of exacting folds. But, teach a class full of people how to make a crane, and each person's will look slightly different. Look on Instagram at sourdough loaves, and each will bear the mark of the baker. It's those final little tweaks, even in all of the exactness, that convey humanity. It's that moment when you finish the last fold and round out the ears, or take the bread from the oven, steaming and golden, that you witness the transformative power of folding. It keeps me wanting to experience that moment, over and over again.


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