The house is silent. My head is fuzzy. Too early to make coffee. It takes half an hour before my eyes feel properly open.
The first task is to revive the fire in Mildrith, to get the oven ready for the morning bake. It takes at least two hours before the first load of bread goes in. I compile a spreadsheet of orders for the day, stamp bags with the Happy Monk logo … take selfies of myself waiting for the oven to reach baking temperature (See above — pathetic, I know!)
Why subject myself to this zombie-like start to the day? You might well ask.
The Happy Monk experience
Friday is the day it all comes together: the bread, the customers, the chatter and good will … the Happy Monk Experience.
Since the previous weekend, I’ve been planning bread production, amassing ingredients, milling flour, feeding the starter and preparing the leaven. Thursday is a 12-hour marathon of mixing dough, shaping the loaves and squeezing them into coolers to proof overnight.
Mildrith, too, gets a lot of attention on Wednesday/Thursday, with long hours of firing. That means chopping firewood into smaller pieces and making sure there is enough for two days. The more heat Mildrith gets, the more longevity she has on baking day. I need her to bake 40 to 45 loaves to perfection without having to make another fire.
So when the bread comes out early Friday morning — the beautiful aroma, the shapely loaves, the gorgeous colours — it’s a high moment! The work is almost done, and the best is yet to come.
The best is yet to come
By 9 a.m. the loaves are cooled, bagged, labelled. Soon the first of the South Pender customers start walking down the driveway to pick up their bread. We stand and chat and I watch the them hold their packages close to their chest to feel the warmth and weight of their daily bread.
One neighbour this week stood outside the front door, surveying the outdoor oven, the cooling racks and trays. “Friday morning must be a great feeling for you!” he said. “It’s the end of all this hard work and now you get to hand out the bread. It must feel great!”
A very perceptive fellow!
He sees all the work as a labour of love and not a slog. Understands the rewards it produces: the bread, the happy customers, the feeling that you’ve made a small difference in the day. He feels the joy.
After 11 a.m., Jennifer and I drive up to the North Pender pick-up points: Corbett House for the Port Washington area customers, then to the Medicine Beach shops for Magic Lake people. It’s a day of friendly chatter. I’m tired, but happy! By three p.m., we’re driving home for a short nap, then a satisfying G&T in the hot tub.
The great feeling of satisfaction when the work is done
This is the “Happy Monk Experience.” Warmth, friendly conversation, neighbourliness, all centred around loaves of bread. The great feeling of satisfaction when the work is done and the bread is where it belongs: in the homes of customers.
Could I structure things so that the bread comes out of the oven in the afternoon, instead of the morning? Is there a way of getting around the bleary-eyed mornings?
Yes, but it would change the experience, I think. Changes to the business may be on the horizon, but nothing will affect the warmth and good will that has developed over the past several months.
Bread in hand, a foundation is laid
This is what I believe: If you’re making bread for people, it must be fresh and it must at least be ready in the morning. That way a customer has a loaf in his/her hands for the remainder of the day. A foundation has been laid. Bread is in hand. One less thing to worry about.
I’m touched by the customers who say they want me to get more sleep. “We don’t want you to burn out,” they say. “We want you to be making bread for us for a long time.”
Some have even said they think I should charge more for my bread.
I’m touched by these sentiments, but my satisfaction is making the bread and making a difference. And I have no trouble remembering this when I lift myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of two a.m.