November 26, 2011

The Joys of Warm Bread

I couldn’t tell you much about these joys, as I am not a baker of bread. I wish I was. In fact, this is something that I would very much like to add to the list of things that I would change about myself. But this list, do you ever feel this way?, is already a long one. Here are a few of the things on it, presently: read more, paint my fingernails more (antithetical to cooking, I know), remember to wash underwear before you are wearing your last pair, make the bed, don’t push your maiden fern to the point of desert-drought before giving it a drink; and abstractly: be more patient, kind, forgiving.

I’m working on all of these things. I’m also trying to not give myself too hard of a time in the meantime, before success is achieved, and I am able to report back, I am now an unflawed human being. (Just kidding.)

But the bread is something that I feel is within my control. I can learn to do this, right? Actually, it will fall very much in line with my increased desire to have more patience, better flexibility with myself when I am trying to learn something.

Bread, I feel, is a good place to start.

I am writing this, I must confess, from a cold café in the mission district of San Francisco. It’s a confession because I have not yet made said bread, of which there will be joys; nor have I ensured that there is in fact the recipe that I am about to discuss, lying in the pages of a wonderful cookbook, in a stack on the floor of my apartment.

I am in this café, because I am supposed to be seriously revising another piece of writing. Alas, I’m cold. I’m not wearing socks and it’s November. All I can think about is warm focaccia. Warm focaccia studded with red grapes, to be precise. Have I imagined such a bread? I believe there is a section of David Tanis’s Heart of the Artichoke that contains this exact thing, and when I get home, and I have had the chance to defrost my toes, I will find out.

But bread, and it’s joys: I think bread and sweet, red grapes, would be a wonderful marriage indeed. Perhaps it could be flecked with rosemary, even. 

I’ve already mentioned this little red house that I lived in. It was lovely, and the description of it, however brief, I hope was evocative of the place in at least some small way: nostalgic, quiet, dreamy, isolated, solitary, misty; I see it in my mind as only existing in the pre-dawn hours, or at dusk. I think this has to do with my fondness for it; the way in which I like to remember it, and to remember this time in my life. What I haven’t mentioned yet is where I lived before that. There was a stint in Michigan at a graduate program. But before that, I lived in a town called Kinderhook, in upstate NY, and I worked—we are getting back on topic here—at a lovely little bakery called, romantically, Our Daily Bread, located in the quaint hamlet of Chatham. I worked in the front of the house, selling the bread, not baking it. 

I think I was angry when I worked there. I had come to feel that I should be doing something else somehow; something more, um, acceptable, professional, maybe? A friend from the elitist college where I did my undergrad visited me and told me how sorry he felt that I was working there. Should I be embarrassed, I thought to myself? I liked this little bakery. I liked my co-workers, who ranged in background from a glamorous French-Canadian divorcee who had moved to the country to start again, to a British ex-pat who had settled in this small place to raise a family, to a red-haired teenage boy, gangly and charming, who helped with the dishes.

The café was run by two lovely individuals whose European sensibility could be seen in the bread that lined their bakery’s shelves: they were making bread with few ingredients, by hand, in small batches, before it was fashionable to do so. They took a loaf of unbaked, braided challah home every Friday, to finish in their own oven, before their family meal. I loved that they did this. I still think about it sometimes on Fridays.

I worked there for a year. And I was sad when I left.

I still miss the oatmeal that I would prepare for myself in the café at 7am before my shift began; I miss the smell of the bread; I miss opening up a fresh loaf and sticking my nose right in the line of steam to catch its earthy, yeasty nuances. I miss the ginger cookies, and the steaming cups of chai, and I miss gossiping with my coworkers, and wiping down the tables and the red windowsill, and all of these little things that went into our daily lives there.

One day, on my way to work in the middle of January, I got stuck and had to turn around and take a longer route, because there was a bull in the middle of the road that had escaped from a neighboring farm. This gives you an idea of the place.

I wasn’t ashamed that I worked there, at least not until someone suggested that I should be.

And to this day (it’s been about six years), I can’t really think of freshly baked bread without remembering Our Daily Bread and my brief time there.

In many ways, this blog is intended to help me get back to those things that may turn out to be central to who I am, even if no one else around me can understand them, or, moreover, thinks that they are pitiable.

I’ll start with the focaccia.

(David Tanis, I’m counting on you.)

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