The summer I turned sixteen, I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Europe with my mother, her sister (my Auntie Em), and my cousin Rachel. It was two weeks that were filled to the brim with unforgettable first-time experiences for me. The first time I saw the Mediterranean, for example, in all its glistening azure glory. It gave me reason to believe that it must have inspired the vivid blueish-green “cerulean” color in the Crayola crayon box, my personal favorite as a child. So THAT’S where they came up with that color …
It was the first time I tasted alcohol, however minimal it may have been. Fluted glass in hand, I tried a Kir Royale while sitting on a street side cafe in Monaco and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that cool.
It was the first time I’d ever tried fondue, a uniquely enjoyable food experience that you don’t soon forget.
It was my first time seeing (and hearing) a herd of bell-wearing goats being ushered through the street by a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair isle sweater-wearing Swiss boy. It was my first instant crush on a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair isle-sweater wearing Swiss boy. First and last.
It was my first slice of real-deal Italian pizza … my first time petting a pigeon (ah, Venice) … my first time really wondering where in the world I was going to end up, what small corner(s) would be my one-day, someday homes.
I also saw my first Ferrari on that trip, at least the first one I can remember.
I was sitting down to dinner in a small restaurant in a similarly small town on the French Riviera, outside Nice. I had ordered gnocchi, which I guess is a bizarre choice, but I was 16 years old and creamy, cheesy potato pillows sounded good, be they French or not.
I can distinctly recall seeing a very well-dressed man pull up to the curb in this outrageous car and walk into a bakery next door. I returned my attention to the aforementioned gnocchi and proceeded to devour it until I noticed the same man exiting the bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. He had a look on his face that almost made it seem like he was on a mission; all business this guy was. But as the dapper gentleman was getting ready to step back inside the Ferrari from whence he came, he stopped for a second. Truly, I think it was no more than one second. He stopped not to admire his car or his own well-coiffed reflection in the windows but rather, he stopped to smell the bread he’d just purchased.
So there I sat, I’m guessing with my forkful of gnocchi paused in mid air, watching in amusement at this memorable sight. I’m confident it wasn’t all the “firsts” going on at the time that made it so memorable for me – not the first Ferrari, the first gnocchi, or my first dining experience on the French Riviera – it was that bread, of all things. It was the catalyst for my remembering, of that I’m quite sure. One of the world’s most familiar and ordinary sights, a simple basket of bread made that little moment unforgettable for me. The juxtaposition of such luxury against the genuine appreciation of such a humble, meager good was significant to me even then.
Life is a series of millions of little moments, all woven together to make our stories whole; some extraordinary, some perfectly ordinary. Some, like this particular moment of mine – this small snapshot – are an interesting combination of both. So, I’ll see your luxury car and raise you a loaf of bread. Because sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest impressions.
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” –M.F.K. Fisher
This week’s post marks the two-year birthday for this little blog of mine, a truth that I can hardly believe. An endless source of personal enjoyment and inspiration, this online space has grown from a simple idea into something that means so much to me. I am so appreciative of those of you who take time to read my words, enjoy my photos and try out my recipes – it means the world. But rather than celebrate its second birthday with some showy cake or fancy meal, I’m doing it with bread, of all things.
These garlic knots are little more than a simple pizza dough recipe that has been dressed up, ever so slightly, with some butter, herbs and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. I made them for Christmas Eve dinner last week, to accompany the lasagna and salad that I served, and I’m happy to report that my one-year-old, three-year-old, and I all enjoyed our fair share. My husband had to work overnight on Christmas Eve, so it was just the kids and me this year … another first. My first Christmas Eve without my family, without Lucas. I was, however, determined to celebrate – to make it special – and as is so often the case for me, I opted to do that with food. A spiced homemade kettle corn and mugs of hot chocolate accompanied a viewing of It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas, Elle’s first time seeing it. Trays of red and green sprinkled chocolate chunk cookies lined my kitchen counter that afternoon, completely delighting my 1-year-old as he sampled one, his first ever.
The standouts though, were these garlic knots. The dull, white patina of bread flour covered the surfaces in our kitchen for the entire day as we worked on them, and it actually spilled out into other rooms in the house. This is, I guess, to be expected when your assistant baker is three years old. Adds charm to the experience, I suppose. But the satisfaction gained from crafting and kneading and shaping dough into something so delicious as freshly baked bread is hard to beat in the kitchen, and it really contributed to an extra special dinner that night. Elle was so proud that she’d helped make those garlic knots and she beamed with pride as we devoured them at the table, my two kids and I.
Familiar and ordinary it may be but simple, fresh, homemade bread can also be one of the most wonderfully satisfying things no matter where you are, be it the French Riviera or your very own kitchen. It’s just special that way. For us, it was celebration bread that night and as such, it seemed fitting to share the recipe on this celebratory post, this birthday post.
So, I blow out the candles to another year of Harvest and Honey and look so very forward to what 2016 has in store.
Happy New Year to you all.
RECIPE (adapted from Kelsey Nixon)
1/2 recipe pizza dough (recipe follows)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2.5 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
8 – 10 garlic cloves, grated (if they’re really big, 8 should do it)
2.5 teaspoons Kosher salt
Mix the butter with the rosemary, 2 tablespoons of Parmesan, and the garlic.
Turn the risen dough out onto a floured surface. Stretch the dough into a rectangle. Spread half of the butter mixture on half of the dough. Then fold the dough in half, covering the butter with the dough.
Using a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into 18 strips. First cut through the middle, then you can cut each half into 9 pieces. Stretch each strip and tie into a knot and tuck the ends underneath the center of the knot. Place the knots onto a baking sheet.
Sprinkle the knots with some of the remaining cheese and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the remaining herb butter.
Once the knots come out of the oven, baste them with the melted butter and sprinkle them with the remaining Parmesan. Serve warm and enjoy!
Pizza Dough Recipe
1 3/4 cups warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra for the bowl
4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting (you can use All Purpose, if you prefer. Bread flour just contributes to a more chewy texture)
2 teaspoons salt