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.

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

FRENCH BAKED BEANS


We joined a land tour along with about 40 other people of a “certain age” all trying our best  not to look like tourists.  Along with the famous landmarks familiar to all of us in France, I was longing for “real” country French fare, which necessitated leaving the larger cities and seeing how the farmers ate.

We arrived in Avignon in a light rain which didn’t reduce our delight in the old homes and the charming winding streets which beckoned a traveler to explore a little more.  Our exploration led us to the palace of the ancient popes.

I love the quiet moments in a trip, so as we left the palace , staggered by the concept of the immense power they wielded even in the Middle Ages, we were thrilled to come upon a lone flutist who was sitting alone in the middle of the huge square and filling the air with the glorious sound of Mozart!  Truly a memorable moment.

We took the back roads through the countryside quietly listening to lovely French music on our way to Arles.  We were all lulled by the warm sunshine and the music, when  the bus came to a sudden stop, and as we looked through the windows we saw a large herd of sheep with a grizzled old shepherd keeping them in line as they slowly crossed the road to the other side.  Memorable moment number two!

The wondrous light in Arles, so beloved by Van Gogh and Cezanne, proved to be hiding its glory behind a few clouds during our entire visit, so I packed away the paints and brushes and dragged out the camera.  I could “wing it” with the light when I got home.  Not quite the same, but still OK.

Still not a taste of “real” country cooking, but we soon came to the Dordogne River and La Rogue Gageau with its quaint houses clinging to steep rocky cliffs.  The shops all front onto tiny cobblestone streets, which would be disastrous for a fashionista in sky-high heels.  We found a cute little cafe advertising its menu on the front, and there in white chalk on the blackboard was Cassoulet!  Oh delight!  But by the time we were served, they had removed it from the menu!

Feeling like a wounded warrior deprived of a victory, we bought some great bread, meat and cheese, and a bottle of red wine at the next door shop and walked until we found the river.  An old willow tree beckoned us to shelter beneath it while we had the nicest lunch so far on this trip to France.  A small boat with a young couple slowly sailed along in front of us.  Memorable moment number three.  (I bring this moment out quite often while sitting in a dentist’s chair.)

When we boarded our bus once more, a fellow tourist complained about the cassoulet at the cute little restaurant:  “Why, it’s just French Baked Beans”!

For those of you who are not familiar with this marvelous country dish, it is made with large white beans, ham and several types of sausage all cosily nestled into a stoneware crock with garlic, wine and a few tomatoes and left to languish in a warm oven for a few hours while it drives the hungry diners wild with anticipation.  It can contain any number of meats; duck goose, game, etc.  In the Toulouse area it must include among its meats some goose.  After all, somethng must be done with all the geese which housed the foie gras!

“French Baked Beans” it may be, but I make a 30 minute version which goes pretty well with a loaf of homemade crunchy French bread and a bottle of red.