Of Bread & Personal History
My love for bread, cooking in general, and gardening centers around one, important person in my life. I am fully willing to admit that, at least when it comes to Mamo (my maternal grandmother), my memory may be a tad biased. With that said, if I were to describe Mamo (pronounced "ma'am-moe"), I would certainly include the words intelligent, beautiful, capable, and even superhero. She sewed, gardened, baked, cooked, and cleaned in her spare time. She worked as a secretary for an incredibly successful real estate broker in my hometown of Arlington, TX. I realize that the title 'secretary' has negative connotations for some, but Mamo was very good at and proud of the work she did. Her boss suffered from Parkinson's Disease, and I got the impression that she took on more and more of the responsibilities of keeping his business running as he succumbed to the inevitable symptoms of the ailment. She even earned and held her own real estate license. Although now, as an adult, I wish I had paid more attention to her, and spent more time with her and learning from her; she died suddenly while I was in my snotty, too-cool-for-family, adolescent stage.
Her kitchen was simply a haven. The wallpaper had a pattern that included pussywillows, and the counters were a sunny yellow. I tasted many "firsts" at the small, glass-top table at the kitchen's center; including two of my favorite foods of all time: crab legs & pickled okra. Many casual dinners, board games, holiday meals, conversations, and other memories took place at that table. Hunger overcame me anytime I stepped foot onto that vinyl floor.
Whether it was a gift related to Christmas or her birthday, or "just because" I don't recall, but I clearly remember her getting a bread machine, and the excitement and enthusiasm she expressed while learning to use it. It caused some frustrations in the beginning, if I remember correctly, but she never gave up. The baked goods that came out of that machine were delicious, and I probably had more than my fair share of "tastings".
To date and not counting quick breads, I can count the number of loaves I have baked on one hand. The very first attempt resulted in a very dense white bread. I cannot overstate how dense those first, two loaves were. As I type this I am on the verge of laughing because I was under the impression that if I had to cram all the flour the recipe suggested into the dough. I also didn't have the slightest clue about kneading or getting air into the dough, etc. A more detailed account of my first attempt may be good enough material to warrant its own blog entry. For now, I will simply say it was clumsy and messy.
Some hobbies remain just that: activities done in our free time for pleasure. Now and then, we try a new activity on which we are instantly hooked. Each session with this "hobby" is an attempt to improve our skills or broaden what we know. We find ourselves wishing we had more time to devote to this activity; perhaps we even daydream of ways to do so. We're never quite sure when exactly the hobby became a passion (or maybe even an obsession). This is what bread has become for me.