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The Year in Bread … and Gratitude

One more bake, and we’ll close the books on Happy Monk 2022. The baker’s peel will be relegated to the corner, the proofing baskets cleaned, the baking room will be tidied and organized, and sense will be restored from the chaos in my “bread room.”

It’s winter. Time for long nights of sleep, slow-moving days by the fire, blankets and good books. A glass of wine, a feast or two, new Netflix treasures.

The family’s in town soon, and we’re all looking forward to reconnecting, all looking forward to the slow-down, telling our stories, venturing new plans, looking at the lines on our faces, taking stock of this year on Bread Island.

Buttered and jammed

We put a lot of bread on people’s tables. It was sliced, buttered and jammed, made into sandwiches, French Toast and croutons for salads and soups. It appeared on platters at dinners and feasts and was toasted, fried, grilled and eaten straight up. Some of it barely made the journey home, as it was wolfed down on the way back from the pick-up. Others apportioned their bread carefully across the week. Or they froze it until needed.

Happy Monk bread was gifted to others. It journeyed to tables in Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. It was taken on camping trips and even flown to Mexico.

Let me tell you: baking’s hard work. Long hours mixing dough, hefting large bags of flour and heavy dough tubs around the kitchen. And much as I gush about the pleasures of early morning work in front of Mildrith, the accrued sleep debt is wearing, to say the least.

This is what it’s all about

But there’s always a moment on bake mornings when I realize the week’s labour is almost done. The car is loaded with bread for Port Washington and Medicine Beach. The bread packages are laid on the table beside Mildrith for the South Pender customers.

And all that remains is meeting up with those who’ve ordered bread (most of them), handing over their bags and exchanging a laugh. Bread days! There is an air of celebration, a shared sense of accomplishment: we’ve brought bread to our table. We can rest easy now, pass on some news, gossip, a movie recommendation or a book. We deepen our connection with our Pender neighbours.

This is what it’s all about. It’s the justification for all the labour, the sleeplessness!

A community of souls

As I stand on the cusp of 2023, I feel mostly gratitude looking back on 2022.

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:

  • Davy Rippner, the tireless Happy Monk bagman, can bag bread like nobody’s business and make great conversation while doing it. Also, a Happy Monk booster and loyal customer, a sober and gentle adviser, and a great friend.
  • 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.
  • Tracy Calvert, who brought her building wisdom and cob oven skills to us from the very beginning … and this year, she became Mildrith’s chief oven surgeon! The September oven overhaul brought new youth and vigour to Mildrith’s baking prowess. We all owe Tracy our gratitude!
  • Greenangel ChoppersDave Hargreaves, George Leroux, and all the choppers who keep us supplied with forest-friendly firewood.
  • Nootka Rose Mill of Metchosin for the grain and flour, top-notch service from miller Jennifer Mah. Advice and wisdom from the Nootka Rose co-owners Byron Fry and Erika Heyrman, my Victoria baking heroes (See Fry’s Bakery and Wild Fire Bakery).
  • Suzanne Stirling and her mother, Micki Stirling, for their stellar delivery assistance, sterling business ideas and enthusiasm.
  • Josie Spaxman, Jo-Jo to most, brings warmth, cheer and welcome energy when she arrives on bread days to clean up the kitchen and wage battle against the piles of chaos throughout the house.
  • Andy Nowak and Mary Reher, for their apples and poppy seeds and inspiring organic farm operation, Black Rabbit Farms on North Pender.
  • Barry Denluck of Barry’s Bees, maker of the finest honey — liquid gold — this side of paradise.
  • Steve at Truss Farm Foods is an inspiration at Medicine Beach, with endless energy, a cajoler and a larger-than-life presence …
  • 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, his Bakers4Bakers online discussion forum, and the fantastic Rise Up Podcast.
  • Endless inspiration from the Bread Bakers Guild of AmericaThe 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 eternal 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!
  • A toast and tip o’ the hat to two Happy Monk supporters who left Pender Island this year:

Roy Villa was the wood-chopping good samaritan who stepped in over the past year to chop wood down to just-the-right size for firing Mildrith. 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 for you!

Jacques Marmen was the first chief architect, natural builder, problem solver, oven surgeon, and caregiver to Mildrith. I think of him every time I light a new fire and all the fun we had building her. Wishing Jacques many happy vibes with his new life.

Thanks for the dance

Best of the season to all! We’ll be back in February, full of new ideas and inspiration. Have lots of warm, deep rest until then, with lots of dreams and joy.

So turn up the music
Pour out the wine
Stop at the surface
The surface is fine
We don’t need to go any deeper

Leonard Cohen, “Thanks for the Dance”

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