You know those classic diner restaurants where the server asks you, “Would you like white, wheat, or rye bread with your order?”
When my wife and I started dating, she had this novel habit of ordering different varieties of bread when they were available at a restaurant. Depending on her meal or her mood, she seemed to have preferences between various bread. This was confusing to me and one day I asked her why she did this. We were young and at this point in my life, I was only familiar with two types of bread. The first is what I’d call “regular bread”. This was the white fluffy/squishy bread that would get stuck to the roof of your mouth sometimes. The second was commercial wheat bread… which I perceived to have a somewhat less desirable texture and less desirable flavor than regular bread. The tradeoff seemed to be some vague promise of it being more healthy. Admittedly, I was skeptical of any advanced health benefits because frankly, both loaves came in plastic bags that touted that their flour was enriched with lots of vitamins.
My wife Melissa is the person who I credit for teaching me about bread. She patiently explained to me that bread can be made with different flours and that this could result in different flavors that could be appreciated. It honestly took a long time before that concept made any sense to me. It probably sunk in when she taught herself to make bread. The rustic loaves that she would make by hand for our family were my first evidence that bread could be legitimately enjoyable. I can still conjure up the smell of memory of this seedy whole wheat loaf right now. Not only did she teach me about the nuances of bread, but for years I have watched her model what it looks like to bring delight to friends’ lives by sharing baked goods with them. I’m insanely grateful to her for teaching me so much about the joy of baking. And I also have her to thank for encouraging me to keep learning when I took an interest in sourdough bread baking.
On this penultimate day of Women’s History month, I want to shoutout a handful of women who have been significant in my bread journey this past year. Before Bread & Justice existed as a cottage bakery on a mission, these were some of the other people who inspired and encouraged me… both directly and indirectly.
I owe all of these women a debt of gratitude, and I’d encourage you to check out their work.
Paulo Valez, founder of #BakersAgainstRacism. This movement that she started gave me the motivation to attempt to sell my bread. The spirit of combining baking with fighting against racism and injustice is (obviously) foundational to my reason for establishing this newsletter & my cottage bakery. (If you’re in D.C. check her out at La Bodega Bakery)
Kristen Dennis, Full Proof Baking. I learned so much in early 2020 watching her many YouTube video tutorials while I began my journey of learning about sourdough. She has a PhD in Biology which comes through in her attention to detail as she explains the process of making sourdough thoroughly. If you’re gettings started with sourdough, check out the starter kit that she sells)
Noel Deeb, El Bread. The community of bread bakers on Instagram is a special place. Noel is one of those bakers who are transparent with her learnings and generous with her time. Shortly after I started following Noel on Instagram I saw she was giving away some cool-looking stickers with her bakery’s logo on them. Despite feeling like maybe I was too recent of a follower, or too new of a baker, I decided to ask her for one. I don’t think she knows this, but her sending me a free sticker in the mail made me feel tangibly welcomed into this wide world of bread bakers. Follow her on Instagram.
Bonnie Ohara, Alchemy Bread. I learned about Bonnie through The Sourdough Podcast and found myself resonating so much with her approach. Her practical simplicity, her commitment to supporting local, and her intentionality about keeping her bakery a home-based business are all inspirations to me. I’ve turned to her blog repeatedly when looking for supplies for my little bakery, and if you ask around it seems like most sourdough bakers have a copy of her book. You can check out her book and her blog here.
Annie Clapper, The Family Crumb. Annie has been an encouragement to me in so many ways as I travel down this cottage baking road. Many cottage bakers are quick to graduate from a home kitchen to a semi-pro bread oven. But watching Annie bake dozens of loaves several days a week with her 4 cast iron dutch ovens in a home kitchen gave me hope that I could do this without huge upfront costs. I’ve asked her more random questions about the baking process than probably anyone else. I look forward to her writing a book on cottage baking someday. In the meantime, if you like bread you’ll love the cool bread shirts that she sells.
Teresa Nicholas. While I could make a long list of customers whose encouragement and support have uplifted me, I have to thank Teresa for getting this ball rolling. Teresa was an early customer when I was making 4 loaves at a time and selling them for #BakersAgainstRacism. I can’t thank her enough for her decision to approach me with the big idea of investing in scaling up my capacity for bread production by partnering with me to provide bread to local families escaping homelessness last Thanksgiving (I previously wrote about this). I’ll never be able to fully repay her for her role in unlocking within me a vision for how I could be of service to people with my bread.
While we are on the topic of supporting women… this is a reminder that today is the last chance to join Bread & Justice in donating to Maydm for the month of March. Maydm is fighting to reduce underrepresentation in STEM jobs by providing girls and youth of color in grades 6-12 with skill-based training for the technology sector. If you take 2 minutes to watch this video of young people explaining what the program means to them, I suspect you’ll be as excited to support them as I am.
While I was searching for this video to share with you, I saw that Maydm’s founder (Winnie Karanja) was recently interviewed about the national recognition she’s gotten for her work. Here are some cool excerpts from that interview and a link to the full interview.
Speaking about her hopes for Maydm, Winnie said:
What we’re creating is an environment where there’s a sense of belonging in this space. When you look around, there are other students who look like you and have had similar experiences. Really changing the narrative around who belongs in STEM. What’s really important right now is really bringing in certain voices and certain people and making our students and the community aware of the fact that people of color are pioneers in the STEM field.
I totally relate to her description of the best moments of her program:
I would say some of the best moments that I’ve experienced have been the moments when our kids are coding and their code works, or they’re seeing that code reflect what they’re trying to build. Those “Aha!” moments of like, “Oh my word, Miss Winnie, I got it to work.” ... The excitement and where those students are like, “I can do this, and this is my space.” You can see it in their eyes. Those have been some of the most amazing moments.
Oh! Last but not least… while I’m thanking women… I have to thank my mom, whose Mississippi Mud brownies are my earliest memory of a baked good that could change your life. From a young age, she has encouraged me not to limit my dreams for what was possible. Today, as a long-time fitness trainer, she is doing virtual personal training these days. (feel free to email me if you’d be interested in that sort of thing.)
Anyway… I hope you’re all having a great Tuesday. Thanks for being a part of this journey with me. Go ahead and pre-order some bread for this week. Stay tuned for next week when I’ll announce next month’s nonprofit partner and I’ll share how much we’ve been able to support Maydm.