I lost my Guardian Angel of Bread this month. That wasn’t his name, of course. Jimmy, an old-school Italian gentleman, was (it still seems strange to write that) the father of one of my best friends. I met Jimmy when I was in my twenties, a newly minted adult trying to figure life out. By becoming friends with his son and his wife, I was immediately swept into a wider circle that celebrated all of the most important things — good conversation, good wine, and good food.
Jimmy was a great cook. But it’s his bread I remember the most. On one of my first visits, he pulled four perfect, heavenly-scented golden loaves out of the oven. At that stage of my life, I was still a Wonder Bread girl.
“You baked that?” I asked in awe. In reply, he handed me a loaf and a stick of butter. Both disappeared quickly.
After that, I made sure to come around regularly. There was almost always an extra loaf just waiting for me. But Jimmy was a man who prized self-reliance. After a few months of this, he cut me off.
“It’s time for you to learn,” he said. I ignored him and hoped he’d forget. He didn’t. At last, breadless for several months, I reluctantly agreed, and that’s how I found myself spending a whole Saturday on a crash bread-making course. We started at the beginning, measuring water and yeast, letting it proof, mixing in the flour and salt. Jimmy eschewed recipes, which made following along difficult. He also wasn’t a fan of using a mixer, claiming that bread was all about the “touch.” Easy for him to say — he’d worked construction for years, and had the strength and stamina of someone much younger.
I, on the other hand, was quickly exhausted. Kneading was not my thing. He’d given me my own ball of dough to work with, and looking at its diminutive size and raggedy shape, he shook his head.