excuse me do you have any grey poupon

Bread tastes better when you bake it yourself

One of the great benefits of living with a host family is having food. It’s an even greater benefit for the volunteer who lives far from any kind of substantial food market and so doesn’t have to be responsible for the slaughtering for all his own meals.

Despite our hitherto “I-live-here-you-feed-me” agreement, my host parents took a trip to the big city for a few days so it was up to my 16-year-old brother and me to cook food and generally fend for ourselves. How the whole house didn’t descend into Lord of the Flies was a miracle, and counted up there was the fact that dinner appeared on the table at regular intervals. It didn’t even resemble a raw pig on a stake, most of the time.

imageA Peace Corps volunteer’s last supper. No pork on this table.

I’m a fairly good cook when I feel like cooking, namely when starvation is the other option, and I follow a mean recipe. There’s something about making bread, however, that a recipe doesn’t tell you and that’s the secret ingredient of love. You have to romance the dough, with a sweet-water bath and full body massage with oil.

The bread I tried to make that day, however, wasn’t feelin’ the love. I got a slap on the face in the form of ten little hockey pucks of hardened flour. Being, again, the only option between us and starvation, I took a bite. My host brother took off for the neighbor’s.

She cut me deep, that bread, (no, I mean literally—she was really hard) and it was a long time until I had the confidence to put myself on the line for another.

I got the chance some months later now living on my own. This time I wasn’t going to fail and laid it on thick with the charm, sweets and tush patting. How she could have turned out to be a spoiled little fruit cake is impossible to tell, and I’m sure there was no connection. Anyway, I ended up passing her off on a friend who was apparently more desperate than I.

If love can be reduced to a fortune cookie, and I think we can all agree that it can, the third time is the charm and the secret is in the second rise. You let her think the romance is on, then you introduce that walnut seed of doubt, working it in then finishing with a redeeming spin of honey. If my first bread was a date at McDonald’s, this one was a full day at the spa followed by dinner at something French sounding.

I don’t think I have to tell you what the best part of that date was though. That bread hung around for breakfast, if you know what I mean.

Bread just tastes better when you make it yourself. (And I think now is a good time to drop the love metaphors.) It’s enjoying something that you labored over and saw through from inception ‘til the delicious end. And even if that end was bitter, it’s still something to know that you did it yourself.

Lesson learned. Now I wonder if the host ‘rents still have a room available.