Just over 10 years ago, Jennifer and I moved to Pender Island from Vancouver.
It was a cold, windy November day. The power went off for a few hours. A neighbour came down the driveway while we waited for the moving truck to arrive. “Welcome to Pender Island,” he said. “You better get used to this weather!”
The moving truck finally arrived, and I remember the miracle of the movers setting down Jennifer’s grand piano in the living room. No mishaps or broken pieces.
Our new home had been owned by John and Isabelle Roberts, two prolific Penderites. John was an architect and builder of many homes on the Island and the Pender Library, and Isabelle was a painter. When someone asked where we lived, we’d say, “In the Roberts’ old house,” they’d immediately know the place.
We lived for a while in the Roberts house, got to know the neighbours and the land around us. We built some stairs down to the rocky beach, put in a hot tub, looking out onto Boundary Pass. I’ve used those stairs and hot tub almost daily, going for cold ocean swims warming up in the hot tub. Our own spa facilities.
An architect came over from Vancouver one day. He measured the rooms, made sketches, but spent most of his time outside walking the property, looking at the ocean, the view of the San Juans, hillock beside us. He came inside to tell us what he thought. Everything he said about the property and house made good sense. It was music to our ears.
“Bring the outside, inside,” he said. “The hill, the rocks, the trees, the ocean.”
“Keep the house quiet. The land is where you live.”
Within a few days, we had the architect’s drawings. Modest changes, a few structural fixes, more windows, but the same bones to the house.
It was a fun time, watching the new home take shape. We used a local builder, we got to know the workers. There was an air of excitement as the project took shape.
And at last, we moved in. It was still the old Roberts place, but now it was more ours.
We lived our lives here
We’ve lived our lives here; finished our books; made many new friends. Jennifer overcame some significant health challenges.
We celebrated Pender Island. The land was good to us.
Three years ago, in the Fall of 2019, Mildrith, the wood-fired oven, was born.
We cleared a small space just off the driveway, built the oven out of Pender rock and clay. We erected a shelter of fir posts, beams and island-milled rafters, all made of Pender Fir. Mildrith was born of Pender and made on Pender.
Born of Pender, made of Pender
And thus, also was born the Happy Monk Baking Company, now officially three years old. The first bake day was March 14, 2019. Just over 200 customers have ordered over 7,000 loaves of bread.
That number staggers me, but it’s important to remember many bakeries make that many in a day. They may not be wood-fired operations; they may not be solo bakers like myself. But every bake day, I wake up and wonder how the hell I’m going to turn out enough bread for everyone! We’ve come a long way in three years!
Being a baker takes a lot more time than I thought it would. I bake one day per week, but I’m busy for at least another four days. It’s physically demanding, mentally challenging.
But the rewards are immeasurable!
Bread is the staff of life! We eat it every day, love the smell, savour the taste. I notice how people hold their loaves at pick-up times; I love how they talk about their bread. Bread is magic, as it transforms from base ingredients — flour and water — into exquisite flavour, aroma and sustenance.
It is an honour being one of the bakers of Pender Island. The Happy Monk Baking Company has been an entrée to a much broader community for Jennifer and me. And many have stepped forward to support us, from customers to volunteers.
The Greenangel Choppers deliver the wood to us. Roy Villa keeps the wood properly chopped and stocked for Mildrith. Davy Rippner helps bag the bread, getting it ready for deliveries. Suzanne Stirling does the deliveries when she can, and now, so does her Mom, Micki! The Pollard family allows us to use their front porch at Corbett House as a pick-up location for the Port Washington people.
Jacques Marmen, the prime builder of Mildrith, left Pender Island late last year, and I’ll miss his deep knowledge of natural building materials, spirit, and humour.
There are so many others to whom I owe gratitude, but none more so than Jennifer, my partner, friend, wife and Hunny-bunny. She’s been my sounding board, blog editor, business adviser, and zen presence. This whole operation might have crashed and burned without her!
It belongs to all of us
Pender Island has changed since the two of us moved here. Now, if Jennifer and I tell people we live in the old Roberts house, fewer people would know where that is.
But if we mention Mildrith or the Happy Monk Baking Company, there might be a few more nods of recognition!
Cinnamon-Raisin bread, an enduring Happy Monk favourite. And here’s proof of Mildrith’s (the wood-fired oven) recent health check, as she just baked 41 loaves of this (and another 40 of Seed Feast) with lots of heat left to spare. Long live Mildrith and long live Cinnamon-Raisin bread!
Happy Monk Tidings - November 2, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: A Vancouver Neighbourhood; BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan [ See LinkTree in Profile ]...
Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab...
Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard!...
Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]...
It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly....
Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc...
This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?...
On this note, we acknowledge that this land is the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, including SENĆOŦEN speaking W̱SÁNEĆ (Saanich) First Nations and Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group.↩