Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brighter Days and French Breads

"The shortest day has passed, 
and whatever nastiness of weather 
we may look forward to in January and February, 
 at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  
Minute by minute they lengthen out.  
It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  
It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, 
as you watch it day by day, 
 until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise 
we realize that we can stay out of doors 
in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour."
~  Vita Sackville-West, 
December 30th, 1956
I love that passage.  Right now at five-o'clock, it is still light out.  I'm not minding January this year.  Some years, as they say, are better than others.  Last year, almost everything about the month got on my nerves, or so I remember it.  This January finds me feeling hopeful and cozy.  Three loaves of Glenda's French bread are in the middle of their second rise and will soon be placed in the oven to go with tonight's supper--it feels like a soup and bread night here--so the scents of yeast and flour are in the air.  Love.  The last time I made French bread, it was 2001 and I had just turned twenty-four.  I used my grandmother's recipe and ended up with ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! dozens?! of small and almost-inedible loaves.  Grandma had died just a few weeks before and I tried to honor her by making her bread for a family dinner.  Bad, brokenhearted timing, and after hours of kneading, punching-down, forming loaves, and baking:  Bad, brokenhearted bread too.  I trust that tonight's loaves will be better.   The smell of homemade bread, in all the bread's stages, always takes me back to my grandparents' kitchen outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Just before sliding her loaves into the oven, Grandma would slice a small X into the top of each one.  One Baking Day while I was staying with at my grandparents' house, I decided to add the finishing touch of a letter V to each of the loaves, and Grandma was first perplexed and then amused.  Few things taste as good as fresh bread with butter, and the smell of the loaves instantly transports me back to Grandma's apron-covered side.  It is always--likely forever and always--almost impossible to believe that if I went to my grandparents' house at any given moment, that I wouldn't find them there.  Surely, Grandma is nodding off a bit in her armchair right now as I write this and thinking every time she wakes that she really needs to get up and put together a little supper for her and Papa.  Surely, Papa keeps walking from the back porch to check the thermometer to the kitchen to look out the window at the snow.  If I called right now, I would wake Grandma from her catnap, but she would be tickled to hear from me, and we would want to hear that the other was staying warm and would ask what the other was making for supper.  She would tell me what she and Papa might watch on television that evening--usually a nature program--and would mention that Papa would be walking down to the post office in the morning to mail her next letter to me.  I would tell her that I'm taking down the Christmas tree tonight and that Stuffed has been stretched out like a piece of gum along the bedroom radiator all day.  We would say "I love you" before hanging up and soon we would both settle down to our simple meals of homemade soup and French bread.  


Lisa said...

Val, I sincerely hope your bread came out well.
"stretched out like a piece of gum" - what a simile. :) A furry piece. :)

I'm glad your January is better than last one.

Nellie said...

The aroma coming from your kitchen must be totally amazing! I can just see Stuffed "stretched out.":-) Enjoy your soup and homemade bread! xo Nellie

Val said...

Thank you, Lisa and Nellie. :) The bread was really good! Glenda's recipe is definitely a keeper. My grandmother's recipe makes a huge amount of bread, so I'll only try that one again when I have a big number of people to share loaves with someday. Until then, it'll be this one, I think.

Taby Jean said...

What a lovely tribute to your Grandma! I think of my Grandma every time we have chicken and dumplings...sweet memories along with a warm heart and belly!

Val said...

Thank you, Taby. You get it. :)

Tammy@T's Daily Treasures said...

My Mammaw died shortly after my 22nd birthday -- that was 27 years ago. I still think about her to this day. Her birthday would be the end of this month and I think about how old she would be with each passing year had she not died. 111 this year might be pushing it but I still think about it and how much I miss her since she was a big part of my growing up years. Her and my first dog, Toni, who died 31 years ago at the age of 15. Some moments and people and pets we never forget. Enjoy that bread -- there's not much better than bread fresh from your oven. Best wishes, Tammy

Val said...

Tammy, what a kind comment--and thank you for following along too. You said it well: Some moments and people and pets we never forget. Nor would we ever really want to, even with all the grief at their loss.

Best wishes to you too,


FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What a sweet post Val! I can almost smell the gently bubbling soup on the stove and the smell of your yeast bread as it bakes. Ahh, good things in life.

I made oatmeal bread in my bread machine this week and I love the aroma from it filling my little cottage. Even last night when I went to cut a slice to go with supper, I put the loaf up to my nose and took a deep breath and oh my. This recipe has sage, marjoram and caraway seeds in it.

Have a wonderful day there and thank you for sharing wonderful memories with your readers.


La Table De Nana said...

I never even knew a nana..Sweet memories you have..Bet tthe bread was lovely! I went to peek..never made that one:)

Val said...

Lorraine, I can just imagine how that must have smelled in your tiny cottage. :)

Monique, the sweetest of memories--just as you're creating for your own grandchildren. ♥

Thank you both. :)

Tina said...

Beautiful post!


Val said...

Thank you, Tina. :)