food & drinks, journalism

Bread and Women

It’s the day after we hosted a day-long brunch for our friends to celebrate H’s birthday. Though we often host dinner parties with homemade dishes that take a full day to prepare for, we opted for a menu of the least possible preparation. When feeding more than a dozen people (this time it was 30ish), it’s best to make them do most of the work. In the kitchen, we spread out our DIY Caesar bar with celery sticks, pickles, peppers, olives, two kinds of rim, vodka, gin and Clamato. On the dining table, a bagel bar, cheese plate, bacon, vegetables and every spread from cream cheese to Nutella. It was carb-filled afternoon/evening and a warm way to spend a November Saturday.

Although all our guests were gone by 10 pm, we slept in this morning. It’s a luxury for H who has been working 13 hour days that start with an alarm at 5:50 a.m. I made coffee and then a pot of milk oolong to keep us warm and opened the Food Issue of The New Yorker. With the smell of toasted sesame bagels still in the air, it seemed appropriate to start with Adam Gopnik’s “Bread and Women,” his personal essay on learning to bake bread through the women in his life. I will resist the urge to explain why this piece resonated with me because I’m bound to over-explain it. I’ll simply end with two of my favourite paragraphs from the article. All you need to know is that Gopnik  goes to his childhood home in rural Ontario to spend a week learning to bake from his mother.

As we mixed and kneaded, the comforting sounds of my childhood reasserted themselves: the steady hum of the powerful electric mixer my mother uses, the dough hook humming and coughing as it turned, and, in harmony with it, the sound of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the background, offering its perpetual mixture of grave-sounding news and bright-sounding Baroque music. (A certain kind of Canadian keeps the CBC on from early morning to bedtime, indiscriminately.)

And later…

I realized that I had never once thanked her for all that bread. On the long drive to the airport and the short flight to LaGuardia, with all her bread in my bag, I reflected that the thank-yous we do say to our parents, like the ones I hear from my own kids now—our over-cheery “Great to see you!”s and “We’ll catch you in October!”s; our evasive “Christmas would be great! Let’s see how the kids are set up”—are never remotely sufficient, yet we feel constrained against saying more. (We end our conversations by saying, “Love you!” to our parents; somehow, adding the “I” seems to…schmutzy, too filled with wild yeast from the hidden corners of life, likely to rise and grow unpredictably.) We imagine that our existence is thank-you enough.