Some of the kids at the preschool I work at have taken to calling me “Bread,” as they have recognized my name’s phonological proximity to the word. They have also called me Braid, Bert, Boat (?), and Bed – even going so far as to taunt me with “Hi Bed, does your mom tell you to make yourself in the mornings?” – but Bread is the current nickname de rigueur. Curiously, they have not yet figured out “Brat,” which usually takes slightly older kids just a few days. I’m holding out hope they won’t stumble upon it.
In any case, I told them that my mom used to like to joke frequently that she should have, in fact, called me Bread instead of Bret because of how much I’ve always loved it. I made the mistake of telling this to my Spanish teacher Juan Carlos when I was traveling in Guatemala a few years ago, and so he took to calling me “Pan” all the time, and told all the other teachers at the school and so they started calling me Pan as well. It actually got the point where I would forget, at times, which was my real name. That’s not true, of course, but I wanted to illustrate how odd it was to be called Pan by way of an “identity allegory.” It’s a good thing I never told my Russian host family about it when I was studying abroad in St. Petersburg, because the Russian word for bread is, shall we say, not one of Russia’s best entries in the Prettiest Word Competition.*
*[The word is хлеб and it’s pronounced “khlyeb,” where the kh is like when you say “ha ha ha” with a Russian accent. An example of what I consider to be a pretty Russian word is жигули, pronounced “zhigooli,” a type of car. I think it’s pretty, at least. And that’s what really matters.]
I mean… I really love bread. I especially like sourdough, but I can always appreciate a good piece of bread no matter what kind it is, with the exception of rye (and versions thereof like pumpernickel), and bread with nuts and/or fruits in it. But it somehow wasn’t until a couple years ago that I finally got the idea to start making my own bread, and now I can only regret a wasted lifetime of non-bread-baking until then. I started with a breadmaker that my friend Andrew gave me, which was great for a little while but once the novelty of fresh-baked bread wore off, I realized that it just wasn’t very satisfying. Forgetting for a moment that the loaves are always the same size and shape, the act of dumping a bunch of ingredients into a machine and pressing a button didn’t really make the bread feel all that homemade.*
*[Drew and I once engaged in a spirited debate over the word homemade. I argued, not very passionately or convincingly, that food made in any place that felt like “home” – whether it was an actual house or even a large bakery where the bakers all felt really comfortable – could theoretically be called “homemade.” I think Drew won the argument but I maintain there is more to hash out.]
In any case, as any baker will testify, there is something special about the process of handling bread dough – mixing it, kneading it, punching it down, and anything else you might want to do to it. I am a huge fan of slicing through it with my dough scraper, but Jessica’s favorite thing is to punch it down. I usually let her do that because frankly, any aggression that may lie dormant within her is best taken out on a lump of dough and not, say, me, or the small children she spends her days with. I have visions of making bread for our kids some day – pizza, potato bread, English muffins, rolls, naan, cinnamon rolls, and so on – and letting them punch it down, knead it, and all the fun parts that let you really connect with the food.
Hey: what’s the point of all this? Oh yeah – bread at my wedding. Jessica told me about a blog post she read about where the groom apparently made a bunch of “love bread” as favors for the guests, and I immediately started wondering if there was any way I could realistically accomplish this as well. I love the process of breadmaking and would get a lot of joy out of making it for the guests, but the sheer amount of bread I would have to make – as well as issues with timing and freshness – is pretty daunting. I have put in a comment over on that blog entry and hopefully I’ll learn more about how he pulled it off.
I imagine that as I approach the day of my wedding, there will be certain stresses and anxieties eating at me, and spending some quality time with a giant mass of dough might be just the thing I’ll need.