A Day on the Road

We went to lunch today with two of our most awesome friends – cousins Martha Foose and Leanne Gault.

It was lunch. Not usually a big deal, right? Not this one. We went to Greenwood, MS for our lunch at Taylor Bowen Ricketts’s Delta Bistro, a place where a sandwich isn’t just a sandwich. After drooling lustfully over Taylor’s custom Viking range setup, we ate well. Fried green tomatoes can be bland during winter to say the least. The ones at Delta Bistro were crisp, tangy, and absolutely delicious. Her sweet potato fries were crispy on the outside and sweet and creamy on the inside. Yes, I could have eaten a whole lot of those.

Of course, because we are foolish people, we thought it would take us 3 hours to get to Greenwood from Memphis. It doesn’t. It takes an hour and a half with Paul going ever so slightly over the speed limit. So, we had time to kill before our lunch. This is a very very dangerous thing when you’re talking about us.

We made our first stop to spend all that extra time at the big honking Viking store. Of course, it’s fun to look at all of the nifty gadgets that we don’t need/already have, but that really wasn’t why we were there. There used to be a nice little cafe at the front of the store that went by the name of Mockingbird Bakery. We loved that place so much. The food was good, but what really made it special was the bread.

Donald Bender (AKA Mr. Martha Foose AKA the better half of that equation) was the reason that bread was so great. When the cafe went away, the bread stayed. There’s always a table of bread at the Viking store where, for not much more than the cost of a loaf of Wonder at the grocery store, you can get some of the best bread in the South. When you eat in Greenwood, odds are you’re getting Donald’s bread. Chefs know good when they taste it, and they pick up fresh bread from Donald’s kitchen every day.

We got to hang out with Donald for a couple of hours this morning while he was working on the bread. The smells of rising dough, baking dough, and sourdough are enough to make you hungry no matter how much you ate before you got there. Watching hot loaves come out of the oven is pure torture when you have to be good and let other people have it. There are lots of good things, but nothing says really good things like fresh bread.

Watching Donald work is a huge part of the experience. The dough just likes him. I’ve made bread. It was edible. It was actually kind of fun to knead the dough and shape it. But seeing Donald with the dough makes you realize just how much of an amateur baker you are. Sure, some of it is practice and being used to a routine, but there’s more to it than that. He loves what he does. It shows as he refines his recipes, always making them better when you think nothing could possibly be better. And the way the dough acts in his hands is a thing of beauty. Loaves shape perfectly the first time. The dough doesn’t stick. Rolls rise to perfection. And then the bread is pretty when it comes out of the oven.

It’s just not fair. But I don’t mind so much when I get to bring home a loaf and not share it with anyone in the house. That’s right. This bread is all mine. Unless, of course, I am bribed sufficiently. Then someone might get a slice. Maybe. It better be a really good bribe.

What to do with really good bread? Not a whole lot really. Toast with butter is good. A grilled cheese is really nice. A BLT is good anyway, but good bread takes over into great territory. Making anything with it is good — Donald’s dill bread is fabulous with a smear of mayo and a slice or two of thin bologna (good deli kind — not the stuff from the lunchmeat aisle). Personally, I love sourdough French toast, but only if the bread is getting stale.

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