When the mixing and shaping are done for the day, when the bread is rising, and the cookies and scones are lined up in orderly rows up and down the sheet pans, then the real work is finished. Still, hours remain. Still there is the baking, the oven loaded and unloaded and loaded again, the proofing baskets to scrub, dishes to wash, cooled loaves to stack in their stacks of boxes, walls to wipe down, the floor to sweep and mop. It is late morning on a day that started well before sunrise, and the work is not even half done.
So I make a cup of coffee, milky and strong, and sit out back where I can see the alley and a ribbon of sky through the window. I open the library’s collection of digital books on my phone, and go in search of someone to read me a story. It has to be the right story. A real sweep-you-up, fast-paced, wild rumpus of a story. A story to lift me off my aching feet, above my stiff knees, away from the sweat and flour grit and my tired-sticky eyes. A story to carry me through the late morning, over the afternoon, and deep into the evening.
It is a wonderful and disconcerting thing, to lose myself so completely in a book. When I am reading, or being read to, I no longer hear the world clattering around me or notice the passing of time. It has always been this way. Theoretically, I believe in being fully attentive to my work. After all, I spend most of my days working. If I don’t pay attention to the working hours, I could lose the greater part of my adult life. But in practice, my baking days are too long, the kitchen too loud and poorly lit. My body tolerates more than my mind, so I let the stories carry my mind away while my body moves steadily on through the familiar motions.
It is the bike ride home that brings me back. After hours of living divided, the steady pump of tired legs, the air moving over my skin, the smells of the night, hook my mind and pull it inside my body. Afterward, if I have the energy and the light, I’ll run down to the water. Standing on the broken willow at the path’s edge, looking out at the ocean and sky through its branches, I’ll listen to the waves wash their steady beat against the shore. Each wave is like a breath. Each breath pulls me farther inside my skin, till my mind stills, and I am whole again.
TODAY AT MARKET
Red & White + The Whole Garden
Mountain Rye + Vollkornbrot
Malted Chocolate Chip + Bittersweet Cookies
Oatmeal Marmalade Scone
Strawberry Buckwheat Scone
Sweet & Sour Cherry Galette
Sour Cherry & Hazelnut Tart
Red & White
Malted Chocolate Chip + Bittersweet Cookies
Scone, Shortbread, etc.
See you soon.
Owner | Baker
I am rarely alone while baking. All day and into the night I listen. The words keep me company through hours that can be achingly long, and block out some of the noise and chaos of the kitchen I share with a half dozen other businesses. I often start the day with news podcasts (oh, for a radio tuned to the gentle repetition of NPR, as in the kitchens of my childhood!). I listen to The Takeaway or Up First for the headlines, NPR Politics for the view inside the Beltway, Intercepted for a more cynical twist on the same, KUOW for happenings around the Sound. I am usually still alone in the kitchen at this point, the first desperate rush of mixing and shaping over, settled into the steadier rhythms of fermentation. I am moving fast and sure-handed. I reach for words as deep as still water, for ideas that will carry me like a river. Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness, or Atul Gawande on death. I am invigorated by the work and by the words. I am all possibility and hunger.
The day crests, doughs mixed, temperature climbing despite the open door to the alley, oven on a continuous burn. I begin to tire. Just slightly. Not physically, yet, but my mind slows and my ambition flags. I focus on one step and then the next. There is no room anymore for philosophy, or natural history, or cultural criticism. I reach instead for a story, a bold narrative to carry me on. This week it was The Dispossessed. Another week Americanah, or All the Light We Cannot See: novels carried as much by the power of their story as by their writing.
Around the twelfth or fourteenth hour I begin to fall. My feet ache, and my knees. My eyes are gritty. I am sticky with sweat and flour. The work has been going well, but it is far from over, and I want only to sit down. To lie down. To close my eyes, just for a little while. This is when I turn to the kind of books I might be embarrassed to read in public. Romances, thrillers, young adult novels: the books you might pass in the window of an airport book shop, or see stacked on the sidewalk outside a used book store for a dollar. I do not care anymore about the quality of the writing, as long as it isn’t distractingly bad. I don’t care about character development, or research accuracy. I am uncultured and exhausted. I want witty dialog, action, and a tidy happily-ever-after. These books are like junk food: immediately satisfying, distractingly salty-sweet, easily over-indulged, empty. But usually they are just enough of a treat to get me through the last hours and home to bed.
Red & White, Mountain Rye, Vollkornbrot, Country Rye
Bittersweet Chocolate and Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Exploded) Croissant + Pain au Chocolat
Rosemary Sea Salt
See you soon!
Owner | Baker
(I’m introducing a new postscript to my weekly newsletter with the best of what I’ve read or listened to in the past week(ish). As with most of what I write here, this is only tangentially connected to baking, in that I listen to dozens of hours of podcasts and audiobooks every week to turn off the anxiety-inducing white roar of the commissary kitchen, and for the pure pleasure of having someone tell me stories.)
I've been thinking about this UNEP report on sustainable lifestyles, and the Quartz article on conscious consumerism that led me to it, all week. They will likely shape next week's newsletter, so, you know, if you want to do your homework, you could read them before hand...
I bake in the noise and chaos of a shared kitchen. We work to an industrial soundtrack. The fluorescent lights and condensers are a base note of white noise. Then the oven comes on, fan whoopwhoopwhooping, slightly off center, and someone throws the switch to the hood. It roars. The dishwasher is a soft-steady beat, like percussion brushes. Objects come together with force: metal clatters on metal, glass tumbles with ceramic, plastic falls with a hollow thump. People call out, mumble, shout. This is likely why kitchens are so often aggressive spaces: our roaring, chaotic soundtrack sends cortisol flooding our brains, hour after hour, day after day, till everything blurs white with the noise.
But in the mornings I have the kitchen to myself, quiet except for the static of lights and refrigerators. I hear rain falling down the drain pipe next to my work bench, and sometimes a seagull calling overhead. I hear the garbage truck clunking down the alley. And often I'll set my phone in a metal mixing bowl to amplify the sound and listen to the news.
Yesterday morning I was listening to a conversation between Jeremy Scahill and Naomi Klein, a brutal piece on Trump's war on the earth, that left me hopeless and tender. There was no time to step outside and breath through the panic under the open sky, so I thought instead of the mountains. I thought of fairy moss ankle deep under madronas, of the slow spread of lichen over rock, of the sensuous curve of smooth trunk revealed by peeling, papery bark. I thought of the way clouds pile up against the Chuckanuts and tangle with the tops of the islands. I thought of rain on cedar leaves, of nurse logs, of crumbling wood and persistent, tiny trees pushing cotyledon through the duff. Calm spread through me like roots, taking hold. I returned to the rising dough.
Today's Market Menu
Red & White, Mountain Rye, Smoky Vollkornbrot, Cinnamon Raisin
Bittersweet Chocolate & Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cardamom Rolls with Rose & Yogurt Glaze
Orange Cream Raisin Rolls
and North Forest Meringues, little clouds scented with spruce tips and fir.
For Wednesday Order
Wild & Seedy, Red & White, Mountain Rye
Bittersweet Chocolate Cookies (half dz)
Pesach Special: North Forest Meringue (half dz)