My mother is my greatest inspiration.
Despite the rain, it was Christmastime and spirits were high. I decided it would be a good day to set up a table outside my mother’s real estate office in Pacific Palisades, California and see if anyone would like to order some of our special family bread that we made every holiday season. I set up a toaster oven and proudly presented rows of our fresh, braided, homemade bread. I wore an apron over a long sweater with bright yellow rain boots.
An elegantly dressed woman walked up to my table. I quickly greeted her. “Happy holidays! Would you like a free sample?” I asked, and held out a piece of warm, toasted bread with thick chunks of melting butter on top. One could smell the magical aroma of the fresh-baked bread all the way down the block.
“Mmm,” said the woman, “smells delicious, thank you,” and after taking a bite, “Oooooh, yum! I’d like to order two loaves. This tastes incredible,” she said.
The smile on the woman’s face made every moment worthwhile. This was the beginning of my first business. I was 14 years old. I sold 75 loaves that afternoon within one hour. But a little history first…
One of my greatest and most cherished memories was making this bread with my mom. Every Christmas she’d make it, and she would always share extra loaves with our friends. She taught me -- as well as her other four children -- how to do each step. Making and eating this bread was the highlight of every holiday season for our entire family.
After mixing the ingredients, she showed us how to knead the bread and incorporate air into it. Then she’d put the big ball of dough into this huge yellow bowl, (the same bowl that she made the bread in with her mom), and cover it with clean hand towels and sometimes even a couple of down jackets! Then it was time to go to bed and let it rise over night.
“Wake up, Honey, it’s time to punch the bread dough down,” my mom would say. The sun was just about to come up. My legs dangled off the side of the bed. I’d yawn, put my hand in my mom’s hand, and then suddenly we’d be in the kitchen, opening the oven where the bread had been rising all night. “Wow, that looks like there could be a basketball inside there,” I’d always think to myself, as we’d remove the layers of towels.
This was the most exciting part. “OK, now gently give it a punch right in the middle,” my mom would say. One nice punch and the dough would make a “poof” sound, and then slowly deflate back down.
At this point we’d let it rise again for a bit, separate the dough into five sections, and divide each section into three thick strands. Then we’d braid it, and brush the tops with a slightly-beaten egg and melted butter. This would give the bread a beautiful golden crust.
One day I announced to the family that I wanted to make this holiday bread and offer it to others, and always leave some extra for people in need who might be hungry.
My mother always stressed the importance of being grateful for what was served to us, and how lucky we were to have food on the table.
You see, my mom grew up in Allentown, PA during the Great Depression. Many people were left hungry. Because so many people had their wages cut, my grandparents’ family struggled as well. But still, my grandmother would make this special bread with plates of dinner and leave them out on her back porch for passersby who were hungry. This is how people helped each other out in the 1930’s.
After each loaf was completely cool, it was wrapped in saran wrap, aluminum foil, and then covered with white tissue. A thick piece of red yarn was tied around it, complete with a pretty bow. The weight of the loaf and the texture of the tissue paper with the soft bow felt good in your hands. The best part was the moment of giving it to someone -- that simple act of placing a loaf of bread in a person’s hands. People who received these loaves knew how special they were.
As the youngest child of five kids, my childhood was filled with many happy memories around the dining room table, laughing and enjoying my mom’s amazing food. Even to this day, food is still a major subject of conversation, especially these days on our weekly zoom meeting. Sharing recipes of our favorite dishes and baked goods is a constant joy.
My mother is an amazing baker and chef, as are all members of my family. She inspired us as kids and still inspires us today with her amazing cooking and baking.
Now I am eager to share what I’ve learned with you by making delicious vegan products.