A couple of months ago when I was filling out the application for the TV reality show, Master Chef, one of the questions was “When did you first fall in love with food?” For me it was in 1967 or ’68, and we lived in Greenacres, Washington, a place which back then was as country as it sounded, and not merely a bedroom community of Spokane. My grandparents lived just a couple miles from our house and my mother, brother and sister and I visited often – my dad was in Vietnam. My grandma lived in the kitchen, phone stretched from the wall, the receiver cradled at her neck yak yak yakking, while she vigorously peeled a vegetable at the sink, stirred a bubbling pot at the stove, canned her garden’s bounty to be added to the rows of shining glass jars lining the basement walls, and baking pure and heavenly bread.
One winter night on the drive home from her house, I sat in the back seat with a freshly baked loaf of her bread in my lap, snuggly wrapped in a tea towel. I was pleasantly drowsy, and the warmth of the loaf tempted me to slide off my mitten and fumble my hand inside the towel until my knuckles thumped hollowly against the heel of the bread. I straightened my fingers and gently pushed through the crust, opening a steamy doorway that wafted out the tantalizing aroma of yeast, flour, and cozy kitchen. I closed my fingers around some of the bread and brought it up to my mouth – chewy, comforting, tasty goodness filled me to the core; fed my very soul. I went in for more. Tunneling my way into the loaf, tearing off chunks from the sides, the top, scraping at the bottom with my nails, I filled my lungs with the earthy vapors, marveled at the warm, fluffy texture as I balled it into small Lori-fist-shaped pieces and chewed blissfully away. This was the moment I fell in love with food. When we arrived home I brought in the swaddled shell of a loaf and placed it lightly on the counter. In hindsight, I imagine this was a moment when it became apparent that my hungry soul had absolutely no willpower and was even kind of sneaky.
A couple of years ago I came upon an amazing bread recipe by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, which Joe tried out and has been making periodically ever since, always with happy results. A week ago we came across a cookbook called My Bread, by the same baker, using the same method, and since then Joe has made baguettes to die for, pizza, and delicious breadsticks for a party that were wildly popular. Since he so obviously enjoys it, and produces such great artisan bread, I have willingly bestowed upon him the title of official bread baker of the house. (This is similar to years ago when I discovered he was a photographer – like my father….calling Dr. Freud? – and I stopped taking pictures because he was so much better technically.) He has graciously donned the floury apron. Meanwhile, I am content to close my eyes in pleasure, lift my chin and dopily grin when I get a whiff of the baking bread, to poke my finger at the springy loaves cooling on the counter, and when no one’s around, sneak a bite, or two. Or three.