When one dips one’s little toe, gingerly, into the deep calm waters of middle age, one’s taste buds start to develop a life of their own. Foods that at one time were favorites, gradually and somewhat surprisingly begin to lose their allure. Sweet morsels, sour delicacies and spicy niblets need to be treated with kid gloves, cautiously eyed as potential foes, not only for their bold attack on the tongue and teeth, but also what they threaten to launch upon one’s alimentary canal and arteries. Water becomes a good friend. Milk takes the place of Mimosa and tea, preferably decaffeinated and weak, served in a dainty little glass – without a sugar cube, will replace the once beloved post-dinner cognac in a snifter. Rich meals need to be avoided if a good night’s sleep is to be had. Temptation to flirt with feisty cocktails is to be curtailed for the havoc they are prone to wreak on the morning after. In place of decades of adventurous experimenting with this food or that, there arrives, in middle age, a craving for simple, comforting foods – unadulterated nourishment – the old time favorites.
Still, there are foods that are irreplaceable in childhood, youth and beyond and one such is the almighty Bread. Is there anyone on this planet who’d turn it down – willingly, instinctively? Do we not have many a point of reference associated with its prominence in our daily lives? “Let them eat cake” said the Princess, ignorant not only of the famine overtaking her land but also oblivious to the merits of bread. From politics to religion, from economics to art, from gourmet cuisines to the humblest of fares – bread takes its rightful place - center stage, albeit on the side plate, as a means to signify our ascent to the top of the food chain.
Bread cannot be replaced by any other and for good reason. The variety in smell, flavor, texture and size alone far outweighs any other food type. Yes – bread is to be revered for its versatility, respected for its wholesomeness and of course eaten for the satisfaction it brings.
In this day and age of pre-packaged dinners and fast food diners, one would do well to take one’s time at one’s local bakery, feasting the senses – simultaneously gawk at the display, breathe in the aroma, relish the inevitable – yes, the placement of one heavenly morsel after another, into one’s mouth – bite, chew, roll each piece around in one’s mouth, to moisten and soften – and finally – swallow. Oh, the delight.
Baguette, Brioche and Croissant. Crusty white, Brown and Pumpernickel. Peasant loaf or Royalty rolls. Challa, Bagel and Bialy; even a concoction called Ezekiel 4:9. Pita, Naan, Taftoon, Lavash. Panini, Ciabatta and Focaccia. Crumpets, Scones, English Muffins. Rye and Sourdough. Wheat – Cracked or whole, grainy or sprouted – even flourless. Bread mixed with nuts, grains, seeds, dried fruit, cheese, onion, garlic, spices or herbs. Soft rolls, crusty buns. Flat or raised. Crunchy sticks and chewy flutes - with or without salt, sugar or yeast. Many more, and all yummy. .
I live in a neighborhood where all sorts of bread can be had within a short walking distance. I will admit to have subjected myself to a substantial drive down a freeway moving at a snail’s pace – even at 8 a.m., only to pick up fresh Barbari from what, for all intents and purposes, looks to be a genuine Noonva – complete with sleeveless vest, face whitened with flour and bulging biceps. I have even become a regular at the Sangaki which recently opened in a far away neighborhood. Rumor has it the owner brought the tanoor parts from Iran, big pebbles and all. Over there the Noonva is modern looking –gelled hair, plucked eyebrows and perfectly manicured finger nails; not a single speck of flour nor a drop of sweat on his brow. The hot, crisp double khashkhashi prize is worth the wait, worth the schlep and worth the calories.
I have gone without bread for 27 days. My nocturnal reveries are no longer those of my youth. That’s one good thing about middle age! These days the dreams are much simpler, more manageable, definitely more achievable. They promise comfort and pleasure in their simplicity. I lay my head on my pillow, turn to one side (sometimes left, sometimes right), curl up and hug the sheets. I close my eyes and recount my day and whisper a thank you for the blessings. The curl of a smile finds its way to my lips. Then I let go and let my imagination take me wherever it pleases. And there it is – in its glory – Bread; by itself, with butter, jam, honey or marmalade; with feta cheese and a couple of slices of cucumber and tomato, wrapped up in the perfect loghmeh; with eggs - boiled, scrambled or fried; or with a nice selection of cold cuts, mayonnaise and dill pickles as well; dipped into a hearty bowl of soup or a zesty khoresh. It’s all good and it is waiting for me when I break my fast after 40 days.
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