“What kind of bread do you make?” he asked.

I don’t know how to answer this question. What’s the elevator pitch for what I do? I make the kind of bread that helps me stay sane? Something, something, sourdough and naturally leavened?

More often then not, I make the same few types of bread. Sesame seed because Chris likes it. Seedy rye guys in Pullman pans because I love how soulful they turn out with such minimal work. Brown rice or a porridge loaf when I get my act together and plan a few days ahead. The same goes for any bread experiments that come out of Tartine No. 3 and whatever ingredients I had the good sense to buy ahead of time. Or on the occasion I have crowds to please, it’s toasted walnut or black pepper Parmesan.

I like to think that I’m wildly diverse, well-read, frequently milling new grains in my ever-broadening quest to eat and learn. Not yet. I also keep too much knowledge in my head and don’t document my bakes beyond Instagram. A good product comes out of my over more often than not, but I blame my execution a few techniques, not necessarily mastery or knowledge. Within the narrow swath of my home-baking experience (mostly four books, a few San Francisco Baking Institute classes, and many more unread books), there’s about seven or eight years of repetition.

The question is especially difficult to answer when it comes from a baker I respect. He is Earl of Earl’s Bread and went from his home oven to a stand at a farmer’s market he helped start to baking bagels out of the ovens at All Good Pizza. I had just met him, as we were both at the preview of the new Butchertown Gourmet, a bread bakery and wine tasting room, started by Xan of Fox and Lion Bread. (It was my first time meeting her in person, despite being connected on social media and by different people. These two bread-trepeneurs have inspired me as I consider getting my cottage license and making my bread (aka, DOUGHTOWN into a legitimate business.

I haven’t yet figure out my bread point of view. What do I want to offer into the world? Do I need a signature or a take? Does it have to be planned out? Can it keep being all over the place like it was at my old office (who are still begging me to drop bread off there)?

Maybe not planned out, but a little organization could help. I could commit to baking a certain number of loaves on Sundays. I could pre-plan the bakes and send out a newsletter on Wednesdays to announce what’s coming. Depending on who wants what, those that aren’t going to be picked up at my house would be dropped off during the wee hours on Monday. I should probably be a little more formal in the size of my loaves (pre-bake), maybe even scale them back from their current size.

So what’s stopping me? Reading more books won’t get me there; it would only serve to expand my repertoire. (I’d have to plan some experimental loaves into the weekly bakes to arrive a tried and true formulas for production.) Staging or having work experience in a bakery won’t be directly applicable to what I’m already doing at home, other than making me more efficient. (It would be fun to work around other bakers.) There are no classes, whether a workshop or a full-on program that’s going to get this little venture going. (Until I have enough of a following, I don’t need more practice in a professional kitchen.)

As Glinda tells Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power….”


Starting again.

(Below is a repost from Danny Gregory‘s blog. First, my thoughts:)

If I had to distill my personal philosophy or a truth that I’ve gleaned thus far, it would be “It just takes doing.” It’s true of baking, running, writing, drawing, reading, knitting or simply being a friend.

Yesterday, I chopped pounds of leeks, shallots, onions, carrots, fennel, celery root and herbs as brown rice bread baked. My soup and leek fritters weren’t going to exist if I didn’t grab that knife. Same with bread—a series of steps have to occur to rouse the starter from the fridge, build and develop the dough, divide and shape the loaves before shoving it into the oven for its final transformation. Dinner was fantastic, but, more importantly, it existed. The work was the getting there.

Yet, it’s so easy to forget. Too often I am lost in a fog of yearning for how things (or I) used to be, or whining about an allegedly unobtainable ideal or achievement. There’s no awareness that the path is right there. Granted, I may never be able to create EVERYthing I desire, but I can move in that direction.

Danny Gregory‘s post this morning (below) drove this home for me… especially as someone who gets mired in self-judgement and tends to look backwards at old accomplishments and fantasizes about future ones, but forgets to be active in the now.

First step, start doing.

Danny Gregory

The road ahead

If you haven’t gone to the gym in a long time, how do you start again?

If you haven’t done a drawing in a long time, how do you start again?

If you haven’t written a blog post in a long time …. how do you start again?

You start by starting. By picking up a pen, a dumbbell, and getting to work. There is no magic trick, there is no massive process for preparation. There is simply the active of sitting down at the computer, opening a new document, and starting to type. It may seem painful, it may seem scary, but all that misery goes away as the first letters march onto the screen.

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I…

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Loaf lessons

I look forward to creating something new here each week. Sometimes the content is quick and fast, other times deeper. It’s not something I’ve come to think of as a chore, or something I feel obligated to do to sustain a readership. I come at it each week with positivity. And it’s this aspect that seems to genuinely surprise some people. Which, in turn, surprises me.

Here’s how I approach this site, and have for a long time. I think of it as my practice. It’s something I’m committed to, and look forward to being committed to for years to come. Contributing something new each week helps me develop in areas that I find important creatively – cooking, writing, taking photographs – and the only way I’m able to grow is through experience, experimentation, and regular practice.

—Heidi Swanson,

The lazy writer starts his post—nay, his entire new blog—with someone else’s quote. However, there’s nothing lazy about Heidi or the sentiment she’s expressing. An intentional quest for personal growth and the vulnerable act of creation are two things that have been missing from my life.

It’s been all too easy to sit on my duff and point at the rest of the world, coveting the inspiration I find in my friends’ projects. Why can’t that be mine? I whine. I ought to knit-read-draw-run-design-write-yoga-bake-make more. So much of my perspective has been grounded in the false belief that I need to prove something, or overcome the great flaw that is who I am. Why can’t you be better, Stephen?

You don’t need to be helped any longer; you’ve always had the power…

I don’t remember specifically when the realization hit me that I’m already well on my way path. Pssst, aren’t we all always-already on it? (Sure, but apparently I’m a slow learner.)

Without planning it be a “thing,” baking bread snuck into my life as a weekly practice over the past seven-ish years. It has been a fun pursuit, a hungry curiosity to explore what was possible from my own two hands. Bread humbles, inspires, comforts, and nourishes. And it’s something I just keep doing. It has drawn me closer to friends and connected me with strangers around the world. Somewhere along the way, it has reassured me that I’m OK—no, more than OK—pretty darn good at it, and, more importantly, really good at being me.

I’ve spent four decades loving eating the stuff. I plan on spending another four making it. And, with a little discipline, I’m going to do my darndest to type about it here every now and then.