I watched the trees outside the window bend and sway as I stuffed my pannier with extra layers and water for the ride to the farm. It was my last delivery of the year. The wind had been blowing hard from the southeast all day. Just that morning the headwind had turned my southbound delivery route around the bay from an easy, flat ride into what felt like a five mile hill climb. Still, what was the point of an e-assist bicycle if not to assist with adverse conditions like these? I strapped the box of bread to the front deck, hung my pannier on the back rack, and rode out in defiance of the wind
I rode through the city under fast, gray skies, through the forest with the treetops swaying and the breeze gentle around me. I wound the tight curves south of Larabee, bedrock rising to my left and falling away to my right, the sun breaking clear above the islands and glazing the water below shining white. I rode past water falling white and fast into culverts, past the mud streaks of small landslides, past rockfalls, past a giant cedar snag nose down beside the road, a long skid like a sled run streaking the hillside above it. The bare branches of the maples stood out bright against the firs. Madronas blazed up from the rock, red and yellow and shining green.
Out from the protection of the hills the Skagit flats were as bad as I’d imagined. The wind picked up as the sun set, head on and getting colder. I distracted myself with birds. Red tail, red tail, starlings, red tail. Sea gulls floated in the flooded fields. A heron lifted off from just beside the road, awkward and startlingly large. Somewhere to my right I could hear geese—dozens? hundreds?—calling as they settled for the night. I was so tired I was blinking in and out of sleep even as my legs kept pumping. Five miles to go, and then two. I stopped to pull on another layer, heavier gloves, to drink water hoping it would wash the sleep from my eyes. Every mile was slower than the one before. I crossed the Samish and turned east. The wind punched me in the side and sent me wavering. I stared straight ahead at the road, at the dark clouds massed over the foothills. Pushed and pushed and I was at the farm. I abandoned the bike in the middle of the farm road and went straight inside. What was usually a ninety minute ride, motorless, had taken me nearly two and a half hours with the electric assist. E was gone on deliveries. I didn't care. I tore off a hunk of bread and spread it thick with butter. Ate it and I tore another, and two more after that. I finished the dried apricots in the tin above the sink. I boiled water and filled a mug, wrapped myself in a quilt, and drank it slowly. I was cold and exhausted and so grateful for walls and slippers, for the mug warming my hands, for stillness.
It was a good ride. Hard and good. I was glad for the ride and glad it was over, or I was glad for the year of baking and glad it was over, or I was just glad to be sitting down, warming up with the hot water and food. I was glad. And then I was asleep.
Owner | Baker
How do you measure a year? Is it in friends made? Dollars earned? Mountains climbed? The following are my attempt to sum up 2017 for Raven Breads, and, by extension, myself. These two short lists do not, of course, tell the whole story, but I think they at least offer a decent summary.
2017 IN (approximate) NUMBERS
1. Loaves of bread baked: 7200
2. Pounds of butter consumed: 384
3. Miles bicycled for work: 1200
4. Money spent on bicycles: $311
5. Hypothetical cost of equivalent car ownership + travel: $2900
6. Sales increase from 2016: 50%
7. Annual sales donated: 1%*
8. Hours of continuing education: 80
9. Longest bake day: 21 hours
10. Shortest bake day: 10 hours
2017 IN WORDS
Writing the weekly newsletter in the early hours before market, and after a long Friday bake, is not particularly conducive to deep thinking or copy editing. Some mornings I get lucky and have an idea that has already fermented to ripeness while I bicycled or baked, and needs only to be written down. Other mornings I sit staring at my computer, mind blank as the screen in front of me. The following are a few of my favorite early morning writings from the past year. Perhaps next year I’ll compose my newsletters earlier in the week so I can sleep in and still have time to edit on Saturday mornings. But probably not.
1. The Soundtrack: Noise and Quiet in the Kitchen
2. A Road Less Traveled
3. Sense Memory
4. Lost Magic
5. Dreaming Up
6. Urban Harvest
7. A Story for Every Hour
8. Golden Days
9. Morning Ritual
10. How to Love the Sky in Winter
During the winter months, bread will only be available by pre-order. Sign up for the ten week bread subscription to pick up a loaf every Wednesday, January 10—March 16, in Birchwood, downtown, or in Fairhaven.
WINTER BREAD SUBSCRIPTION
BAKER's CHOICE subscription: a new wheat bread every week.
MOUNTAIN RYE subscription: the market favorite.
VOLLKORNBROT subscription: all rye all the time.
THE COMING YEAR
I’m grateful and amazed by all the support and enthusiasm and undeserved patience you’ve given me over the past four years. This little business is growing beyond the capacity of a single baker in a shared kitchen. It’s time to step (or stumble) forward into the next iteration of Raven Breads. Plus, I miss seeing the sky every day. I want to work behind windows! Where that next step will land me, I don’t yet know, but I plan to spend the coming months working my way through recipes, reading lists, and business plans. And, of course, baking bread!
Food businesses are not known for their high rate of success. A food business burdened by as much hope and idealism as Raven Breads faces greater challenges still. A number of you have generously offered to look over my plans once I have them in order, but more business mentors are always welcome! For all the hours I spend working alone, this little bakery owes its success as much to all of you as it does to any skill or stubbornness of mine.
Thank you for a wonderful year of bread and learning. I’ll see you in 2018!
Owner | Baker
* 2017 cash and in kind donations went to the following:
From the water-stained and sticky pages of the kitchen notebook.
11:50 am, Dec. 22, 7 hours into the last bake of the year, and still unfailingly optimistic that I'll be home in time for dinner:
The sun came up without my noticing, shut away as I was in the blind fluorescence of the kitchen. It is a brilliant day, clear and cold as any morning on the east side of the mountains. Inside, the last of the rye is baking; the wheat batards are proofing in their baskets; the brioche—what a foolish task I set myself, hand mixing whole grain brioche!—is slowly coming alive in the refrigerator; and the cookies are mixed, balled, and spread in equilateral triangles across an endless stack of sheet pans. After the chaos and scramble of the morning, I find myself, suddenly, back in control, standing at the beginning of afternoon with the rest of the day’s work neatly laid out before me, tidy as a checklist.
There are a few minutes, now, to make a cup of tea and step out with my notebook. Soon the timer will go off, and I’ll return inside to unload the oven, and to clear up the morning’s traffic jam at the dish pit, but for a moment longer I can stand under this glorious sky, warming my palms against the curve of my mug and breathing in the bright air.
4 pm, Dec. 22, 11 hours into the last bake of the year, and still optimistic I'll get a full night's sleep:
All the daylight fled before I had another chance to step out. Perhaps down by the water, with the bay a giant mirror to reflect the sky, there is day yet, but here, between concrete and high walls, the dark is very near. It startles me to walk out of the constance of the timeless kitchen and discover that outside, the world has turned and another day is disappearing into the west.
1 am, Dec. 23, 20 hours into the last bake of the year, and so wobbly I almost crash my bike turning out of the alley as I ride for home:
All that to say that I’ve baked you a feast for the LAST FARMERS MARKET of the year. Come down to explore the holiday crafts and treats, and to stock up on bread and pastries for the coming weeks!
I won’t be baking again until the Winter Bread Subscription starts in mid-January. If you haven’t already, come sign up for a subscription today at the market, or do so online! Otherwise, you’ll have to suffer through a long, dark season of white bread while you wait for the farmers market to resume in April.
Red & White, Mountain Rye, Vollkornbrot
Bittersweet Chocolate + Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Triple Snap Ginger Cookies
Hazelnut + Brown Butter Shortbread
Chocolate Hazelnut Babka
North Sea + Black Forest Gingerbread
Winter Bread Subscription
Jan 10 - Mar 14
Baker's Choice Subsciption
Mountain Rye Subscription
See you soon!
Owner | Baker