A Holiday Guest Post
A new plan to bring eyeballs to other food and culture newsletters.
This newsletter recently hit 22,000 free subscribers, which is many more than I assumed would ever be on the list. Seeing as I take holiday weeks off, I thought I could use the opportunity going forward to share the work of other food and culture writers with newsletters. Today, kicking it off, is Page Page, an artist in Northampton, Massachusetts, whose newsletter Mood Salad and connected Instagram page bring me a lot of joy—Page is enthusiastic and engaged with what she eats, her local food systems and farms, and presents it beautifully.
Thank you, always, for reading. I’ll be back in full next week. —Alicia
Buying a Loaf of Bread
Originally published at Mood Salad on December 18, 2021
Joe and I were driving home from Hadley yesterday. We drove over the Connecticut River, through steady holiday traffic. I looked across at the lumpy peaks and valleys of small mountains in the distance. A peripheral daydream, a home for me. Even as a kid, carsick in the backseat, I remained astonished by this view. The land in early winter is so purple that it is green. The water is just a shiver of a color. The car we were driving in was hot from sunlight alone. An overwhelming hot experience, like starting a fire by shining light through a magnifying glass. Once I noticed my burning face, I could appreciate it. Before then, it just felt like a headache. I noticed the heat halfway across the bridge. I turned to Joe and said:
Would it be nice to pick up a loaf of bread?
Yes, Joe said.
So we had something to look forward to. Saliva wet my mouth in preparation. We didn’t have any anxious conversation about whether or not we could afford it, like we usually do. For a moment, there was only winter light burning our faces through the dashboard, and our excitement. There was no new variant, no cancelled plans, no shallow breath beside a mask-less stranger, no visions of the very scary future, no memory of the difficult past. Like another dimension, not the 3rd, not the 4th, not the moment even.
In slow motion. I’ve always known - a miracle comes only in this frame of mind. When above, below, behind, ahead, is made dense with fear.
We parked behind the bakery. Joe wasn’t sure it was open. But the moment we opened the car doors we knew. The sweetest alchemy. The smell alone filled me the way a meal could. As if we had opened the doors, and suddenly in the parking lot, we were surrounded by the voices of an ancient choir. And it felt like the song of the choir was coming from inside of us. It was that familiar, it was my great great grandmother’s favorite song. The wood burning oven, and the wild yeast, fermented by its intimacy with the baker’s hands. The honey that got it going, the salt that was measured by weight.
We stood outside in line, behind a woman who bought one of everything. Of course, I immediately made up stories about the family she was heading home to. A nuclear family who reads newspapers, goes skiing, enjoys the good things in life so routinely. I couldn’t wait for my turn in line. I didn’t like making assumptions about this stranger.
A hand appeared out the window, and pushed loaves of bread wrapped in brown paper into her open arms.
“Oh, it’s warm,” she said, and jumped a little in surprise. I didn’t register what she said, but realized then that I wasn’t wearing a jacket. And actually, without the magnified light of the dashboard, I was very cold.
After she paid, she stepped aside and Joe and I walked up to the window. The person at the register squatted down to fit in the window frame. It looked like an expression of joy, but it was hard to discern, because they were working.
Joe asked for a loaf of rosemary bread. A moment later, it was wrapped in paper, and in my arms. We paid and walked away. It was warm, and I was surprised, even though I knew it would be. I just rejoiced in the warmth. I wanted to stand outside a moment longer, to be warmed by the bread. The power of the contrast. It was so warm, it was hot. I asked Joe to feel it. I think he was happy, we both smiled.
Miracle comes from the Latin miraculum, meaning ‘object of wonder.’ Back in the car, we pulled the bread apart. The crust was perfectly light. Streams of steam floated out, as easy going as incense. The car filled with rosemary. I took a bite, and it tasted better than I thought was possible.
I chewed carefully, avoiding the thicker stalks of rosemary. I have a hard time talking when I’m eating, because I am quick to choke. So when we eat, Joe always says “I love you, you don’t have to say it back.” Joe said it right then, while we were chewing. I knew he would.
I suddenly realized my wealth. Rich as the stranger in front of us in line, buying each kind of bread. Quick to label her spoiled, quick to resent all that she has. To pity her too, for the excess I assumed she takes for granted.
Object of wonder. As a noun, wonder means “A feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”
The warmth of the bread was such a surprise, but the bread itself was as familiar as my own body. Each loaf of bread comes out of the oven warm. It should come as no surprise.