I’m hanging up my baker’s peel for a brief respite. Looking forward to some idle time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate.
It’s gratitude I feel when I think over the past year: gratitude for the friendships, kindnesses, support and laughter I’ve shared with members of the Happy Monk community. The customers, the partners, and generous with words of support and substantial assistance.
Baking can be a solitary profession. Hours of mixing dough, shaping and baking in the early hours. It’s lonely and physically demanding. Tiring, too! But the reward is handing over a fresh loaf of bread, catching the smiles and warm wishes. The image of people slicing into their loaves, setting them out on the table or toasting them for breakfast.
Friends made through baking bread — those new and old — have been the highlight of my year, and they always will.
What a year it’s been!
It’s been a productive year! We’ve mixed, shaped and baked almost 3,000 loaves, not including test-bakes and one-offs, like the 300 hamburger buns for a beautiful Pender Island wedding this summer. We’ve provided some upgrades for Mildrith, the wood-fired oven, introduced new equipment. We also fixed some of the back-end business functions to make operations smoother, more accurate and more business-like.
A strange year, too! We baked through an exceedingly hot summer and (so far) record-setting rainfall this autumn. Despite a COVID pandemic, we Penderites have done well. We still miss physical proximity, socializing, hugging, yes. But our lives have not been devastated the way they have in other parts.
The Happy Monk Baking Company will be three years old this March! By that time, we’ll be well beyond 7,000 loaves of bread baked and sold. Orders for the first Happy Monk bake were 14. Nowadays, we’re making between 75 and 80 and could do much more if we baked a second day during the week. Or, perhaps, augmented the operation with an electric oven. 1.
It takes a community
It takes a community of souls to keep a small business like the Happy Monk Baking Company thriving. Through hands-on assistance, inspiration, and advice, an essential group of enthusiasts and supporters fueled Mildrith’s fires. They kept the bread flowing over the past year.
Here are a few:
- Jacques Marmen – Mildrith’s chief architect, natural builder, problem solver, oven surgeon, and caregiver. Wishing Jacques many happy vibes as he moves off-island for new opportunities
- Greenangel Choppers, Dave Hargreaves, George Leroux, Dave Howe, and all the choppers who keep us supplied with forest-friendly firewood.
- Eve and John Pollard, our friends at Corbett House, cheerfully provide the space and place for an essential Happy Monk bread pick-up location for Port Washington residents.
- Suzanne Stirling for her stellar delivery assistance, great business ideas and enthusiasm.
- Roy Villa is not only the wood chopping good samaritan, he’s a joy to watch chop wood. He stepped in this past year to chop wood down to just-the-right size for firing Mildrith, leaving the pile full and ready to go. Chopping wood is a joy, but it’s also a joy to step outside and behold a pile of wood ready to go … that someone else has done!
- Nootka Rose Mill of Metchosin for the grain and flour, top-notch service from their sales and milling crew (and co-owners Byron Fry and Erika Heyrman, my Victoria baking heroes (See Fry’s Bakery and Wild Fire Bakery).
- Barry Denluck of Barry’s Bees, maker of the finest honey — liquid gold — this side of paradise.
- For their apples and inspiring organic farm operation, Black Rabbit Farms on North Pender, Andy Nowak and Mary Reher.
- Davy Rippner, a tireless Happy Monk booster and loyal customer, a great friend, and an able assistant in bagging loaves for delivery
- My amazing daughter and son, Ella and John, who’ve provided spot-on advice, know-how, and artwork (Ella’s drawing has graced 7,000+ bags of Happy Monk bread).
- Mark Dyck and his Bakers4Bakers online discussion forum and the fantastic Rise Up Podcast(footnote)If you missed it, be sure to listen to Mark’s interview with me on Episode #119. While you’re at it, listen to some other of Mark’s interviews of bakers, authors, pastry chefs and other baking legends. He’s a gifted interviewer and widely respected in the baking community for his work on this podcast.(/footnote)
- Endless inspiration from the Bread Bakers Guild of America, The Bread Lab of Washington State University, and The Bread Lab Collective (creators of the Approachable Loaf).
- The bread makers of Instagram and many inspiring cookbook authors who’ve produced great works over the years.
- Most importantly, my partner, friend, wife, and sweet patootie, Jennifer Conkie. She’s been my sounding board, blog editor, business adviser, and zen presence. This whole operation might have crashed and burned without her!
Farewell, Shirley ❤️
We’re still mourning the loss of Jen’s mom, Shirley, the grand matriarch of the Conkie clan. Her passing a few weeks ago has left a hole in our lives, and it’s hard to get used to not seeing her on our weekly trips to Victoria.
Even in her last days, she filled the room with her presence. Now there’s an enormous silence rising out the spaces Shirley used to occupy: the care home where she spent her last days, the apartment where she and Jen’s Dad, Bill, lived and the “independent living” home where they stayed for a short while.
At family dinners and grand functions (like the 50th wedding anniversary), our memories of Shirley have that same silence about them now. It’s hard to remember specific conversations, but her significant presence, her smiling face, the sparkle in her eye loom large. She shimmers before us, her spirit, her energy.
We’re all sad. Shirley’s passing was not unexpected. The note of finality is hard, but it’s mixed with some relief that her slow decline is now over. Jennifer’s Dad and sister are doing well, and we’ve all found occasion to laugh at some memories. We’ll have a small gathering of family, and close friends soon to remember Shirley’s life, then move on to learn more about who she was and what she meant to us in her outsized time with us.
The season for long sleeps
Now it’s time for long sleeps, reading, writing, testing new recipes, and thinking about new ways to make the business run better. But mostly the long rests! It’s winter, after all. Most animals hibernate!
See you all soon when I pick up the baker’s peel again and begin pouring out the bread and love in 2022.
To the staff of life!
CAUTION: this probably won’t be happening soon↩
2 thoughts on “A Year on Bread Island”
Enjoy your much deserved break!
All the best to you and Jenn in 2022!