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The Good People of Pender

Bread Day at the Happy Monk oven shelter.

The Good People of Pender Island show up on bread day with smiles. They take their bags of bread, then stand and chat for a few minutes, holding their packages against their chests. Some hurry away, saying, “People are waiting at home for breakfast!” pointing to their bags. Others talk about what’s new in their lives: renovations, visitors, the Nu-To-Yu, the weather, Pender gossip.

“What’s the Baker’s Special, next week,” people ask.

There is curiosity about Mildrith, the wood-fired oven. I always have something to tell. “She’s pretty close to the best thing in my life,” I say. “Let me count the ways.”

Maybe they think the Happy Monk baker’s a little crazy! His oven love, his early morning bake days, his cold water swimming.

Some people say the damnedest things!

Some people say the damnedest things, too! A woman once held her hands up to the warm, open oven and said, “Oh, I’d just like to crawl up into a little ball and sleep inside her!”

I love Mildrith dearly, and I may be crazy, but I wouldn’t go that far for love.

Sometimes Bread Day customers show up at our South Pender home with visitors. People who’ve been told about this baker with the wood-fired oven, and they’re here to see for themselves. I’m all too happy to give them a tour of the oven! If I’m lucky, there might still have a few loaves inside waiting to finish off.

Some of these visitors have stories of their own. Such as how, back in the day, they baked bread in their home oven and tried to sell the loaves to friends. Until they were shut down by housemates who couldn’t get into the kitchen to make a meal of their own.

A pair of California visitors

A pair of California visitors told me they’d known a wood-fired oven builder, a mason and blacksmith, who lived in Petaluma, north of San Francisco.

Alan Scott, the legendary brick oven designer, builder, baker.

There could only be one such person in the world, to my knowledge.

“His name wouldn’t have been Alan Scott, would it?” I asked.

“Well, yes!” they said.

And I knew it had to have been the legendary Alan Scott, an author, oven innovator, and champion of “Desem Bread.” 1 I made a “bowing down” gesture to the two visitors who had known the man, a hero of mine, before he passed away in 2009.

Scott’s renown was so widespread in the artisan bread world that bakers often refer to certain brick ovens as “an ‘Alan Scott.’” Or “an ‘Alan Scott’ with modifications.” Those in the know, know exactly what kind of oven it is by this description.

There’ve been musicians and artists, authors and chefs. People bring me books to read, send emails with Internet links as follow-ups to conversations we’ve had. And delicious food gifts!

So many neighbours, so many visitors, so many stories!

One bread day, I looked down the driveway of our home and saw three groups of customers, all holding their bags of Happy Monk bread, deep in conversation.

“Here’s community,” I thought. I could hear them asking each other what kind bread they were taking home, how they were going to eat it, what their favourite loaf was. They were here because of the Happy Monk, this crazy neighbour with the bread oven, another reason why living on Pender is kind of fun.

Another customer suggested we set up a cappuccino stand at the top of the driveway. When I laughed sarcastically, he said he was serious! I filed it away for future consideration. Sounds like the start of a real bakery to me!

I started this little enterprise to make bread and see if I could sell it on Pender Island. I hadn’t anticipated a community forming around the Happy Monk Baking Company! And yet it is there every bread day.

The desire for community

But the Happy Monk community is really the result of a desire by customers to build one themselves. It’s something that comes easily on this island, which is happily separate and distinct from other Gulf Islands, the Saanich Peninsula and neighbouring towns and villages. A baker selling bread out of the back of his car is as good a place as another to make new friends. I provide the bread and the people come.

Many of us see each as familiar faces several times a week at the Driftwood Centre, Community Hall other parts of the island 2. Some are already neighbours. Others introduce themselves at a Bread Day pick-up for the first time, and a new bond is formed.

It’s not much different than the community at the Pender Farmer’s Market, where vendors cultivate their regular customers around what they have to offer. There’s great camaraderie and friendship there that can’t be found in other communities.

The community happens everywhere

It happens, too, later in the day, when the bread is delivered to the other two Happy Monk pick-up locations, Medicine Beach and Port Washington.

At the Medicine Beach shopping area, the parking lot fills with cars and people at noon for lunch at the Slow Coast or Penderosa Pizza. Especially in the summer. They can buy a few bottles of wine at the Liquor Store, drop off a bag of garbage. Then, errands handled, walk over to the Happy Monk to pick up their bread order and quick chat.

Others stop by the open car trunk and ask, “What are you selling?”

Or, “Looks like a drug deal, man!”

“This bread is a drug!” customers often say.

There is community everywhere on this beautiful island, and I am honoured and humbled and grateful to be part of it! Thank you, Pender!


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These corn kernels are headed to the mill to make cornmeal for Anadama Bread this week. It’s a bread with origins on the east coast, but that shouldn’t stop us west coasters from enjoying it, too, godanadamit! This is organic field corn from @fieldstoneorganics of Armstrong, B.C. … and the hard red whole wheat from Metchosin, B.C. make this Happy Monk take on Anadama a bona fide west coast phenomenon! Just sayin’!
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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

These corn kernels are headed to the mill to make cornmeal for Anadama Bread this week. It’s a bread with origins on the east coast, but that shouldn’t stop us west coasters from enjoying it, too, godanadamit! This is organic field corn from @fieldstoneorganics of Armstrong, B.C. … and the hard red whole wheat from Metchosin, B.C. make this Happy Monk take on Anadama a bona fide west coast phenomenon! Just sayin’!
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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

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Morning Breadsong (volume up!) A pile of Salish Sourdoughs just out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven. 
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#breadsinging #breadsong #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Morning Breadsong (volume up!) A pile of Salish Sourdoughs just out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven.
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.
.
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#breadsinging #breadsong #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
...

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It just needed a few more minutes. That was three hours ago. Saved my best for last!  #showusyourfuckedloaves

It just needed a few more minutes. That was three hours ago. Saved my best for last! #showusyourfuckedloaves ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - February 16, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sourdough Sandwich Loaf; Blog: Festival of Fornacalia - All hail, Fornax! Goddess of the Ovens! [ See link in Profile ]

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John-boy’s got his arms loaded with a bunch of Happy Monk bread, one of his favourite states of being. He’s generous to a fault, though, and spread the loaves around his close circle of friends. That’s m’boy!

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The 2kg Desem miche is out of focus, in the back ‘cause it would have drowned out the little 1kg Durum Sesame loaf in front. The miche is a monster but every bit as delish as the Durum loaf! The Desem’s coming soon! Won’t be a miche, though!

The 2kg Desem miche is out of focus, in the back ‘cause it would have drowned out the little 1kg Durum Sesame loaf in front. The miche is a monster but every bit as delish as the Durum loaf! The Desem’s coming soon! Won’t be a miche, though! ...

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  1. Desem Bread is a strange kind of whole-wheat sourdough bread from Belgium. Alan Scott was a champion of the bread, along with his famous neighbour and cookbook author, Laurel Robertson, whose book “Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book” contains the definitive recipe for Desem bread.

  2. Well, that used to be the case before COVID!

1 thought on “The Good People of Pender

  1. Monk, As you know I am an acolyte! COMMUNITY! What else is there. DISCIPLES OF THE MONK! Breaking bread and sipping the grape. But, the best thing is leaning on the fence and connecting with those around us. The fence might be the beach, maybe the roadside of Gowlland or maybe bread pickup at the Monk. We connect! What better thing to happen in these Covid Times than to connect! your servant and ardent admirerer. humble pie. s

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