It’s a little weird to be writing about bread from within the forced bread abstinence of Passover. But perhaps it is only in absence where one might find perspective. When last I wrote about my baking for good it was just an idea forming in my head, a wish to do something positive, to put out some good in the world. This small effort germinated from my need to combat both within me and around me the negative impact of the shit show that is the current state of our world.
I’ve got pretty thin skin. I am, sometimes overly, sensitive. The world feels so hard, so damaged and damaging, so mean right now. There are so many people suffering. I want very badly to help, to do something to make things better. But I get stuck, not knowing what I can do that would make any difference. And then I get paralyzed by the fact that I can do so precious little. But recently something shifted. Right there in the midst of feeling raw and overwhelmed by sadness and despair, I started to bake bread for a few friends in addition to the bread I bake for our family. It felt good to be doing something (even something so small) for someone other than myself. And the friends who were getting the bread were so happy. When they offered to pay me I felt stuck because while the ingredients cost me money, it felt almost petty to charge for the ingredients alone. Some said I should charge for my time. But using and focusing my time on something positive and good is what I wanted to (needed to) do, that was my whole point. Plus, how can you actually put a price on time when you are doing something altruistic, something productive, something that you love to do and that is so much fun? That’s when I came up with the buy one give one idea. What if I baked two loaves for every one loaf I sold? The second loaf I would donate to a shelter.
Apparently this is not such an innovatory concept to people other than me. Apparently there are companies doing this regularly, who have been doing so for a while. Who knew. Anyway, I asked on Facebook what people would pay for a homemade loaf of bread if they knew another loaf was going to a shelter or other place of need. Many people responded, and I was shocked that so many suggested 10 dollars. To me that’s pretty steep for a loaf of bread. Keeping in mind they are relatively small loaves baked by someone who is learning how to bake bread. In other words, experimenting on them. Also, turning a profit was not my intention.
After doing a bit of considering along with some research, I settled on 5 dollars a loaf/pair. Presupposing that was not a financial burden to the families buying the bread and estimating that it would cover my ingredient costs. I didn’t have to spend much time looking for a recipient of the bread because when I wrote that blog post I received a quick response from a friend who gave me a suggestion for a likely recipient of such donations. Her church sponsors a *Friday Cafe* that offers nourishment in several varieties to those in need of a warm, loving, low-key, judgement-free community and space. It sounded perfect to me. So, I started with the two families I had already been baking for. Whole wheat, whole grain bread for one, and sometimes that and sometimes cinnamon swirl for the other. They seemed super happy to be engaging in my little do-gooder scheme. I wasn’t certain that two skimpy loaves of bread were going to make any real difference at the Friday Cafe, but then I got a photo from my friend – a beautiful picture of my bread made into healthy nourishing sandwiches. The following week she wrote:
Your bread was much appreciated today. We fed 222 hungry guests!
Obviously not just with my bread. And,
We put your bread out next to the three tureens of soup. One of the people said, “this the same home-made bread from your friend?” Both loaves were gobbled up in 10 minutes!
My heart swelled and sang. I don’t know why I was so overwhelmed, but I really was. I’m not solving any of the myriad of the world’s problems. But I’m not doing nothing either. And the good I was doing felt really really good. I can’t even describe how happy I was. I was beyond delighted, bordering on delirious. And a third family asked about “getting in on the deal”.
I’m having some small distance from the baking this week because of Passover. And from within this bubble of abstinence, I can perlustrate without the pressure of production.
Baking for others is in some ways glorious. Baking something delicious and sharing it with others, watching them taste it and enjoy it begets a feeling all its own. The more I’ve been baking, the more I’ve been experimenting, trying new recipes and stretching my culinary creativity. I’ve also been bringing delicious trials and treats to my friends at work. I’ve gotten rave reviews (particularly of the cinnamon bread and my escapade into lavash crackers) and some insightful and helpful feedback on my sandwich loaves. And I have to mention the chocolate babka! It has made me happy in the extreme to share the spoils (so to speak) with friends. On the other hand, there is now a new level of responsibility that accompanies my baking. Other families are depending on my bread. I can’t just play in the kitchen, attempting to create fun interesting things. I have to produce something specific. And it has to be edible. There was a week when something went wrong and the dough didn’t rise. I ended up with small brick-like loaves that would have served better doorstops than sandwiches. I had to hastily make more loaves. And anyone even remotely familiar with bread baking knows that it is anything but hasty. What happens when something like that goes wrong? What is my backup plan? I work two jobs, have 3 kids and a dog… and don’t forget hockey several nights a week. There won’t always be time for a do-over. In addition to potential dough downfalls, there has also arisen the issue of delivery.
When I was just baking for my family I didn’t worry a lot about timing. If a loaf didn’t finish baking until early evening I had no compunction about leaving it out on the counter overnight before cutting and bagging it the next morning (it cuts more easily when it is completely cool). I didn’t think twice about it then being technically day-old bread. We freeze our sandwich bread anyway to maintain freshness. But when the bread is for another family, one that may not want to freeze their bread, taking a day of freshness away might be a big deal. In theory delivering a fresh loaf of bread around the corner is a piece of cake. But too many times that bread sat, sliced so nicely, in its bag on my counter for more than a day or two before I cajoled my 8-year old into running it down the street. It wasn’t just that I tend toward sloth-like laze. I had to make sure the recipients were home, that it was a good time for them as well as me. I didn’t want to leave a bag of bread sitting outside on the steps exposed to animals and the elements (even in a plastic bag).
There certainly are more *incidentals* to contend with than I had originally considered. Though nothing daunting enough to stop me. In the meantime, I have a week to plan, prepare and fantasize.
Also in the meantime, I’ve met a new employee at work. By day (at work) she is a speech pathologist. At heart she is a baker, not unlike me, but way more advanced. She is a very funky, cool, observant Jew and she and I are fantasizing about doing a baking show together some day. We want to call it, “Challah if you bake!” or “Challah if you’re cooking!” And incidentally, one of her career interests and goals is to work with the trans community, helping with vocal transitioning. The Universe is some amazing place.
*Also incidentally, I received an email from BU’s alumni association telling me about a few different volunteer opportunities for their “days of giving”. And one of the places BU alum are volunteering turns out to be the *Friday Cafe* at First Church in Cambridge where I’m passing along my bread. Are there really any coincidences?