All Things Work Together for Good
Today is the fifth anniversary of this incredibly amazing day. This was less than one year after I began baking out of my home kitchen. It was, at the time, my greatest professional achievement. It was a day full of hope, pride, achievement, and love. Our mission was to bring together a community and break bread. I was meant to be the maker of that bread. And while this was a huge beginning, this is not where everything started. That was many many years before when I was just tall enough to not need the kitchen stool, standing in the kitchen with my gramma watching her make magic.
In my book, there are many stories about how food brings people together. Family, friends, strangers, and across different cultural backgrounds. While there are many stories in the book about my gramma, this one is extra special. It’s the story of my first time making bread. Enjoy.
“Come here, Sarah. Let me show you something.” Gramma was working in the kitchen.
I watched as her hands separated the dough into little balls and roll them smooth. She dropped them three at a time into muffin tins. Each tin looked like the six of clubs, except the metal was dark and the dough was white. Clover rolls. No holiday feast was ever complete without Gramma’s beautiful bread. Up until that day, I didn’t know how she made such pretty little rolls.
The recipe card propped up against the backsplash was titled “Ice Box Rolls” in the most beautiful handwriting I’d ever seen. Dainty little scrolls spelled out every ingredient and direction. I wondered how she could write so delicately. It reminded me of words printed on the antique greeting cards Gramma displayed every Christmas.
“Wasn’t Aunt Ruby’s penmanship just beautiful?” Gramma sighed, noticing me studying the card. “She was a schoolteacher in our one-room classroom in Michigan. I always wished my handwriting could look just like hers.” I did too.
She handed me one of the bits of dough. “Do like this,” she demonstrated, pulling the outer skin tight and rolling the ball smooth on the counter. I tried to copy, but couldn’t quite figure out how to roll it right. “Here, I’ll show you again. You have to let the counter help you make it tight and keep it closed.”
On second try, I did a bit better. I let the almost silky dough drag a bit on the counter and it seemed to pull the dough tighter. That must be the trick to making them pretty and smooth.
“Like this?” I asked, wanting to show her I could follow directions. I held it out for inspection.
“There! That’s much better! I knew you could do it,” she smiled with approval. “Make sure they’re not too tight so the dough doesn’t tear. They don’t stay pretty after you bake them.”
Feeling encouraged, I smiled and nodded, and picked up another piece to try again. The more I worked with the dough, the more familiar my hands became with each step. I was forming a muscle memory that I would use decades later to form thousands of rolls for my own bakery.
Living six houses down from Gramma and Grampa had its perks. We could show up with a knock on their back door and be happily roped into whatever they were working on that day. Typically, Grampa would be tinkering on something in the garage or fixing something around the house. He was always handy that way. My brother would hold flashlights and retrieve tools that were out of reach, pump up bicycle tires and mark cutlines on lumber. Grampa would show him how to strip wires and whittle carpenter’s pencils.
Depending on what day it was, I knew I could always find Gramma in the garden, kitchen, or sewing room. To this day she always has a couple projects going and she’s always keen on teaching something new. One afternoon, I found her hunched over her treadle sewing machine, replacing the leather cord between the foot petal and the wheel. Another, I found her adding strips of fabric to the braided rug under the oak dining table. Yet another, she was sitting out by the pool while laundry dried on a line, carding clean wool she’d spin into yarn and later knit a sweater. How her hands can do so many things continues to amaze me.
Whenever Gramma or Grampa would show us something new, giving up was never an option. Hitting a baseball, crocheting a hat, baking, or riding a bike, the activity itself didn’t matter. Any time we’d say it was too hard or we couldn’t do it, they would always respond with, “Oh, sure you can! You’ve just never done it. That just means you can’t do it yet. What’s the worst that’ll happen? It just means you’ll have to try again!”
Of all the wonderful things either of them have ever given us, the matter-of-fact confidence that we could do anything with consistent effort was the most important. They believed in us before we believed in ourselves. It wasn’t a matter of if we could figure out how to do something, but the willingness to try new things regardless of whether or not we succeeded is what mattered. It’s been one of the most invaluable lessons of my life.
Years later, Mom and Gramma flew out to Tennessee to help me bake for the opening of my first commercial kitchen. I learned Gramma had worked in a cafeteria when she was in her thirties. I watched her step back into that long-ago role and zip around the kitchen as if she’d never stopped. Now in her 80s, applying egg wash to braided bread, I caught a glimpse of her as a young woman. That image of her smiling as she stood at the worktable will stay with me forever.
In that moment, I realized that all she had taught me had come full circle. Now, I was the expert teaching her techniques and breads that she had never made. The student had become the teacher. It was because of her knowledge and foundation she laid when I was much younger that made it possible for us to be there in that big kitchen. I never would have guessed that someday I would get to teach her some bread-making techniques too.
The next day, we opened to hundreds of customers, some of whom had driven more than two hours to support my bakery. The courtyard where we sold was filled shoulder to shoulder with hungry people. The countless loaves we had baked over three days were sold in less than three hours–something neither of us could have fathomed. It was her triumph as much as it was mine.
I stood in the doorway to the kitchen taking in the moment. The sheer number of people who had come to stand in a line that wrapped around the courtyard and out into the parking lot to buy my bread had me fighting back tears. Gramma sidled up next to me, reached over and squeezed my hand. As our eyes met, she smiled. She had tears in her eyes too.
Thank you for being a part of our journey.
Obviously this isn’t where the story ends, but it was definitely a pivotal event in what was to happen next. The thing I realized is that our customers followed us from place to place. They followed us from a tiny farmers market to the parking lot at Tractor Supply. Then they followed us to this crazy haunted mansion, back to the parking lot, to a storefront, and then supported us when we had to go online.
I am so grateful to our customers for chasing us all over town to support us. It’s because of you that things can continue. The journey, while it has had to slow way down to accommodate everything from health issues to a worldwide pandemic, is not over. The mission of feeding people and gathering a community to break bread is still there. What comes next is uncertain, though I have hope that the community will still want to be a part of what we dream of doing.
The goal is to open a larger space where we can serve more people. We want to be a place where customers can bring their friends and out of town guests for a treat, have a lunch meeting with a business associate or a bible study group, or just simply come and sit for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. We want to be a place where artisans can create delicious food and feel like they belong to a bigger mission. We also want to be a resource for foodies and bakers to find resources and tools to feed their passions. And finally, we want to be able to create a beautiful atmosphere where people can feel well-loved.
For now, we will continue to supply cinnamon rolls and cookies to our community. As long as the community supports, we will continue to serve and grow..