Thursday, May 24, 2012

Give Us This Day

I could never manage the whole "low carb" thing.  I tried it and within 24 hours I was ready to take hostages at a Dunkin Donuts. I'll  never be skinny, I just want to be strong and healthy.  Besides, there are men in the world that do not want to spend their time with a woman who looks like a bag of antlers.

So bread is still my friend.  Brot, pan, brød, le pain, Хлеб in Russian, Khoubz in Arabic. Sliced, torn, blessed, kissed, eaten fresh from the oven or broken, slightly stale and sweetened into milky coffee. There are as many variations as there are languages.  In some cultures it's eaten with every meal, in many parts of the world it IS the meal. But since it's something I have at least once a day, I want only the best. 

As  little kids in the late 60's, we had "Wonder" bread, with the trademark plastic white wrapper with brightly colored balloons on it.  It  made up most every kids lunchbox PB and J sandwich in those days, but it also made for great fun rolling  it up into little balls of dough the size of grapes and bouncing them on the floor.  When pressed, it had the texture of library paste and, if you removed the crust, you could use it to get an imprint of the Sunday funny papers. It wasn't food as much as fun.

But Mom didn't give us store bought bread all the time and she and Grandma knew how to make the best sweet breads and yeast rolls.  My favorite was a yeast roll, fragrant with butter and buttermilk that was baked in a muffin cup and spread out like fans, to be peeled apart and consumed ever so carefully.

Mom and Grandma Gullikson worked in the kitchen together, not really needing to talk except the occasional little quip or pun. Grandma lived with us.  Widowed not long past her 40th birthday, (my grandfather was a lumberjack), she was in good health, but Dad didn't want her to be alone when she was in her senior years.  Dad and my Mom met in grade school. Dad came  from an extremely disfunctional family. Grandma  G. recognized a kid who needed some support and love and welcomed Dad and his siblings into her home as childhood  friends of her own children.  As he grew up to love my Mom, he grew to love her family as his own.

So for me, it just seemed natural to have her in in the house as they baked. Mom would  lift the pans into the oven, Grandma laughing as she spilled salt and then threw a pinch over her shoulder, all the misfortune, worry and hunger that is the world, only so many grains on a finger that could be flung back in a gesture that was as much defiance as superstition.

Dad would join us, softly kissing the soft spot of flour, there on Mom's neck, brushing back a strand of auburn hair, sprinkled with more flour. Then we'd eat, the bread a benediction, a blessing, confirmation of the love that was in that house.

When I am home from my travels I will bake bread again.  Flour will swirl in a shaft of light, small smudges on my face and neck, salting my hair.  The oven heats up as I knead carefully, lift and weigh the smoothness and density in my hand, watching the bread rise up, the aroma filling the kitchen.  On the table is simply fresh butter, to spread on the top, lick out of the crevasse of layers, nibbling on the tender edges as the warmth fills our nostrils.

Yes, it's time to bake some bread.