I’ve been cooking up a storm lately. Beet and carrot salad last night, a new pasta sauce tonight, homemade pizza for tomorrow. I blame it on the end of daylight savings time. All this darkness makes me hungry. What better time than now to read a book all about baking bread?
Before I start talking about Bill Alexander’s new book, 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust, I must stop and ask if you’ve read his first book, The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden. Have you read it? If your answer is no, stop right now, open a new tab on your internet browser, go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or your favorite indie book store and order it. It’s a fabulously funny and well written memoir on the trials and joys of building a new garden, from negotiating with the gorgeous young landscape designer to battling a devious woodchuck to harvesting, finally, that precious, perfect brandywine tomato.
Okay, now assuming that you’ve either read this first memoir or that it is on its way to you via UPS, I will move on to his second book, 52 Loaves. (Forgive me. No subtitle this time). Not being much of a baker myself, I picked this book up on the strength of his gardening memoir. Now, I want to be a baker. Alexander decides to spend a year trying to recreate the perfect loaf of “peasant bread” that he tasted in a she-she New York restaurant. As year progresses, he grows, harvests and grinds his own wheat. He mines the expertise of well known bakers around the world. He bakes bread in a monastery in France and a communal oven in Morocco. He builds his own wood-fire clay oven. He educates about the history of bread, the chemistry of bread, the cultural significance of bread, the love of bread.
I spent about a week reading this book, and my quality of life experienced a boost during that time. I felt, as much as learning tons about bread, that I looked through a window into another life. It’s a pretty normal life, just with ambitious interests and a great writing voice. Alexander writes, but also has a real job, a family, a house to take care of, a garden to tend. And he responds to e-mail! I know that facebook and e-mail and twitter have made the world small and connections easy, but it is still pretty amazing to look up an address on a website, send an e-mail (Hi Bill, Liked your book), and then get a response the next day (Hi Kelly, Glad you enjoyed it.). There is still something for me about a published author that seems mysterious and distant and beyond my reach. I’m not going to lie: that personal interaction thrilled me. My kids thought it was cool too, and made them thinking about actually sending those “letter to the author” book reports to their favorites.
So, I highly recommend spending a week or so with my friend Bill (We’ve emailed. Doesn’t that make us friends?). You’ll enjoy it. And I bet you’ll be inspired by one of his lessons learned: “Choose one thing you care about and resolve to do it well. Whether you succeed or not, you will be better for the effort.”