THE WONDER OF BREAD


The joyful pealing of the bells of Notre Dame de Paris formed a beautiful musical accompaniment to an early morning cafe au lait and beckoned us across the Pont Neuf in spite of the pouring rain.  A frequent and sudden occurrence in Spring, some people were equipped with umbrellas, and others like me just got wet.

A large tent set up across the square from the cathedral pleaded for us to join the group who were hurrying in to get out of the rain.

Our senses were immediately assaulted by the delicious warm smells of baking bread.  We had stumbled into one of those memorable moments of travel I’m always talking about.  This time a competition of Paris bakers.

There were at least fifty bakers plying their trade, some wearing the toque blanche, and all offering an invitation to tasteThe variety of things made with bread dough was amazing; baguettes, rolls, loaves of many shapes, and even sculptured flowers and an Eiffel Tower.

Meanwhile, the sound of the bells and the rain on the roof of the tent, mixed with the warm and comforting smells made me feel I could stay in there forever enfolded in the familiar and sensual scent.  Much better than French perfume.

I am a bread baker.  Some of my most delightful memories are of bread baking in my mother’s and my grandmother’s kitchens.  I hope those same memories live in my children’s memories of my kitchen.

Bread actually is the staff of life.  Every culture has been making bread of some kind since the beginning of time.  The ingredients are so incredibly simple I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t make it.  Flour, water, yeast and maybe some salt for taste.  Yeast flies around in the air begging people to use it to make their bread rise (or their beer ferment).  You can even make your own sourdough by fermenting grapes.  Just put them in a cloth bag, bash them about a bit,  add some flour and wait a couple of weeks.  Voila! yeast!  Of course you can buy it already packaged, and it would be faster but not nearly as much fun.

Not for nothing do they call it your “daily bread”, it has sustained people all over the world for millenia.  The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam touts “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou beside me singing in the wilderness”.  Possibly the reason they were doing so much singing had something to do with the jug of wine.

The slang word for money is of course “bread” and we absolutely do need that!  So put your money on homemade bread, it’s a Wonder.

THE ELIXIR OF LIFE


I have just discovered my latest beauty secret from a small 75 year old lady who works at McDonalds.  It was her birthday and I complimented her on having such smooth wrinkle free skin.  She sat right down and said it was due to olive oil.  That’s right; pure extra virgin olive oil.  I remembered my grandmother’s skin as being free of wrinkles also, and that she too used olive oil.  Oh, why does it take me so long to realize that other people know more than I do?

My bathroom counter and cupboard is filled with expensive jars of stuff that assured me the skin of a 20 something.  None of which worked I should mention.  But I am a sucker for a pretty young saleswoman who says she actually uses her product and see what it does for her?  So I reach for my credit card and add another jar to my collection.

Anyway, seeing is believing and I don’t believe such a nice old lady would lie to me about such a serious matter.  So I came home and poured olive oil into a small container to place in my bathroom.  I have used it for two days, and you know, I think I see a difference already.  Of course, it would have been better if I had started earlier—like maybe 40 years ago, but better late than never.

I’m going to tell my friend Cheri because she just planted a whole olive orchard, and it’s just the right time for her to use it and  in a couple of years I will be able to get all the olive oil I need and my skin will continue to look radient.

STYLE, TASTE AND CLASS


Style and taste are commodities people desire.  Style itself represents a deviation from the ordinary.  It has to stand apart from the world as it is given in order to qualify as style.  Clothing is a tool.  What one wears depends on whom one hopes to influence.  It sometimes signifies our station in life, such as our jewelry or the enormous hats worn by Queen Elizabeth which are so easily spotted in a crowd.

We all have style.  Style in our choice of clothing, style in our home decor, or in the food or artwork we create.  A painter, sculptor or writer develops an identifiable style.  That is frequently why people collect certain artist’s work; they like their style.  They can on occasion deviate from that comfort zone.  Writers such as John Grisham for instance, who habitually takes us on convoluted tales of courtroom drama, is also a great sports fan, and has occasionally abandoned that pattern and written equally fine stories involving both baseball and football heroes.

Teenagers of any era dress according to their “style”.  I attended a social function last week where an older woman sitting at my table was aghast at the short skirts the 13-14 year olds were wearing.  She proudly told me that her granddaughter dressed modestly with longer skirts and a higher neckline.  Well, good luck Grandma, wait until she goes to her first dance and sees what the other girls are wearing.

Taste is a quality determined by social mores.  There is “good” taste and “bad” taste.  But who determines which is which?  A woman wearing short shorts and go-go boots to a funeral would probably be considered dressed in bad taste by most of us.  But who came up with the idea that the simple black dress and pearls was the epitome of “good” taste?

To paraphrase Picasso:  Good fashion is the elimination of the unnecessary.”  The other guideline is “less is more”.  Good taste of course involves much more that the clothes on our backs.  It is evident in our speech, our homes, the gifts we present to others, etc.

If you met yourself today the way you looked twenty or thirty years ago would you recognize yourself?  We are all quite different year by year though we don’t see the difference until we see a photo, and then we either laugh ourselves silly, or quickly try to tear it up before anyone else can see it.

Now “class” is a whole other animal.  Style and taste can be acquired, but class is an intrinsic quality.  As Nathan Detroit said about class in Guys and Dolls:  You either got it or you ain’t.

But life is short, so my advice would be to follow your own White Rabbit.

UP THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS


There are many ways to tell a story.  My stories were always told with paint and clay.  Now they are frequently dredged from memories made long before I discovered words.

The same story often differs from the version told by my husband (aka Dr. Advice), though his version is sometimes more interesting.

As urban people, a walk across the Olympic Rain Forest was a daunting thought for first time backpackers 50 years ago.  With borrowed packs and dry food, the hike began at the Hood Canal, Washington for two people and a small dachshund named Hilda.  We were experienced campers and hikers, but had never attempted this distance carrying full packs.

With a choice of river trails including the Hamma Hamma, Dosewallips, Duckabush, Elwha and Hoh rivers, we chose the Duckabush which was well-marked on the Geologic maps, and would connect with the Quinalt trail midway across where we could be met and returned  to Lilliwaup.  (Don’t youlovethose wonderful old Indian names?)

Hilda was in rare form, cheerfully trotting along ahead on her short little legs and reveling in all the strange smells and occasional scurrying of invisible varmints.  Dr. Advice marched happily along singing his old Boy Scout songs and generally behaving as if he were going for an afternoon stroll.   After about 5 miles and eating handfuls of grapes to keep hydrated, I called a halt to remove my backpack  and overcome my sudden nausea.  Meanwhile Dr. Advice, being of such strong indomitable Danish heritage, suggested I throw away the grapes.

We continued for another few miles that first day, until strangely, my pack gained another 16 pounds, and I begged to stop for the day.   Just about that time, we heard singing coming from along the trail behind us, and a large group of Boy Scouts came marching cheerily along and heading for the same bivouac we were planning to stay.   Hilda was thrilled to meet some new people and would gladly have joined their group, but we decided to go on a bit further instead of sharing the space with a bunch of 12 year old boys!

We set up our camp about half a mile further on near a tiny stream and Dr. Advice asked if I had seen the “Beware of Bear” signs.  We had no food the bears might be interested in unless you consider Hilda, so I tucked her snugly into my sleeping bag,  hung some laundry including a pair of red lace panties, and we collapsed for the night.

The next morning we packed up and struck out.  After three days, two of which were raining, we had only gone about 20 miles, and given the length of the remaining trail, we decided to call it quits and head for home.

It is difficult to stash all your belongings in their proper places when it is raining and your hands are cold, and a tiny rain-soaked dachschund is begging to climb into your pack, but somehow we did it.

Going back seemed shorter as it usually does, and it was great to see the trailhead over the crest of a hill.  As we got closer, we saw something red peeking out from a small pile of rocks as if to mark the trail.  I picked up the rock and found my red lace panties!  Rain Forest Lost and Found.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”  Martin Buber

THE POWER OF SOUP


Never underestimate the power of soup.  For centuries soup has given sustenance to weary travelers, hungry families, babes in arms and ancient toothless grandmas alike.

Soup can’t be eaten with a weapon, so it was  one of the first offerings of friendship to a stranger.  Sitting around a campfire in the desert, or on a snow-covered mountaintop, it opens and warms the hearts while filling the belly.  A bowl of soup can either be a beginning or the complete meal.

During times of need Soup Kitchens feed the resident or transient homeless.  It’s like a friendly hand up the ladder to make it through another day.  You hardly ever see Salad or Dessert Kitchens.  They would certainly not fill the same need.  (Although a Dessert Kitchen isn’t a bad idea!)

Soup strengthens the bonds of friendship as news, gossip and confidences are shared.  A soup kettle is bottomless because it holds Love, the most important part of any meal.   It is frequently added to, even as it is diminished.  The soup spoon is the largest one on the right hand side because it is the first utensil to be used, thus the most important.  Soup can’t be eaten with a knife or a fork  so there is no misunderstanding as to which implement to pick up.

The smell of a pot of soup on the stove means “welcome back home”.  It’s like a hug around the heart.

 

“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”  Jules Renard