Saturday, December 29, 2007

Miche (the whole miche, and nothing but the miche)

My love of miche has turned me into a neurotic freak! Ahhhhhhhgggggggg!

I've hit the wall. My need for a loaf of bread, even if it is a sublime loaf of bread, has taken over my life. Thanks to Bo for the illustration above (RHB is for Red Hen Baking Co., where I work. If you want to see more great silk screened images (on organic cotton t-shirts, no less) go to eatmorekale and check out Bo's business.

If you want to see what Red Hen says about Miche go here: bread varieties and scroll down to Mountain Miche.

Mountain Miche is a close relative of pain de campagne (bread of Campagne, France). I did a bit of research and found this map here, which I instantly recognized from the (old) break room wall at Red Hen! I can't read this web version, but it made me feel better, knowing I was on the right track.

Tracking the origins of my love of this bread, that is.

This is a long story, so pull up a comfortable chair and perhaps something nice to drink.

In 1983 I became a student at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. At that point in Goddard's history this was just about the nadir of it's student attendance record, due in large part to a massive retrenchment of the college's programs about 2 years before (it took awhile for things to get really, really bad). One of the silver linings of the retrenchment was the great attachment many of the faculty, staff and students had for the central Vermont region.

A couple of these stalwarts were Jules and Helen Rabin. Jules had been a professor of history (I believe) at Goddard before the retrenchment, and Helen was/is an artist. Sometime between 1981 and 1983 Jules decided to write a book about the history of bread baking in France. And towards that goal he built a little brick oven in his back yard, just like village bread bakers of France have been building for maybe the past thousand years. And started baking a variety of regional breads of France. Maybe the oven and baking came first, and then the book idea came second, but for the purposes of this story, it's not so important.

Sometime before fall 1983 Jules and Helen decided to start selling their breads in some local stores, under the name Upland Bakers (aka Rabin's Bread). They sold a stout baguette, a rye, a whole wheat, rolls, and a pain de campagne. There may have been a couple of other varieties, but these are the ones I remember.

The little convenience store just down the road from Goddard (aka The Red Store) sold the baguettes at the checkout counter, naked as the moment they were pulled from the oven. I don't mind the bags bread is required to be sold in these days, but there was something about these loaves of bread lying bare-ass on the counter which facilited them quickly landing in hungry students hands. Um, also, they were only .99 cents.

I was fully prepared for my introduction to Upland Bakers bread by my mom, who loved, loved, loved a good loaf of home made bread. She spent probably a quarter of her time in the kitchen baking bread, and this is saying something, considering she spent a quarter of her waking hours in the kitchen cooking or baking. But that's another story. All you need to know, for now, is that I inherited my love of food directly from mom.

Many loaves baked and consumed later we come to the sad sad day when Jules and Helen decide to retire. I think this was in the summer of the year 2000. I, along with a good portion of central Vermont, was bereft. What to do? How would we survive without the crusty crunchy chewy wonderfullness of Upland Bakers (insert bread variety here)???

Perhaps not so coincidentally the year 2000 saw a remarkable surge in artisan bread bakers all over the state. When Upland Bakers started there were no other artisan bread bakers in central Vermont. There were, perhaps, several others in the state. By the time the Rabin's retired there were so many artisan bread bakers there wasn't enough shelf space to accomodate them all. Not that any of these other bakers came close in quality. Or at least that's what I thought, until I had a sample of Red Hen Baking Co.'s Mountain Miche at the local farmer's market. Initially it was the memory of Upland Bakers' pain de campagne in Red Hen's Miche that pulled me in, but eventually the miche itself kept me coming back.

About a year and a half ago I started working at Red Hen. One of the first things I recieved as an employee was a bakery t-shirt (see illustration above), with a silk-screen of the infamous miche pictured. Sometime in the past 6-9 months I started getting an employee standing order of one loaf of miche each week. At first I was able to get it on Thursday nights, at the end of my shift. But the bakers' schedule changed and the loaves were coming out hours after my shift end. So I switched my order to Fridays and picked it up at the farmer's market on Saturdays. Miche is meant to settle overnight, so although this sounds unlikely, this was actually an ideal solution. Until I started coming up to the Red Hen booth at the farmer's market looking for "my" loaf of miche first, and visiting Randy, the owner, and the other people who worked at the booth, second. Unghgh. I really wanted my miche. I really wanted to visit. I really, really wanted my miche. Then the farmer's market season ended. But wait! One Saturday each month there will be an indoor market in my town! Oh boy. At about the same time the bakery moved six miles closer to where I live. So I decided to start driving to the bakery on Saturdays (one of my days off) to pick up my miche. Awesome you say? Sort of.

Today I picked up my miche. I'd asked the packer to set aside a loaf of Friday's bake for me to pick up on Saturday, instead of switching out a loaf the wholesale manager would set aside for me on Thursday (switching a day-old loaf for a fresh loaf). The packer wrote "(D)Eva - me miche" on the bread bag he'd set aside for me. Diva? Oh man, I thought, this is getting bad. But the real corker came just a few seconds later.

Randy, one of the owners, was at the bakery when I stopped by. He asked me if I wanted to have breakfast at a restaurant off the regular delivery route, if I could deliver bread there for Red Hen first. I agreed. But I got all flustered on my way out and left one of three bags of bread (holding probably 20 loaves) behind. I didn't realize this until I arrived at the restaurant. I delivered the two bags I had, collected payment for the three bags, and turned around to collect the third bag to finally deliver, which I did without mishap.

Then I ordered some lunch, as it was getting late for breakfast. I went for the catfish gumbo and home made biscuits. Tasty, but way too hot for me. I seated myself near the door (silly, I know), and as I was finishing the gumbo there was a delivery, and then a bunch of people coming and going, and the door got left open. Brrr. One of the people coming in and leaving the door open was David Mamet, who lives nearby part time. I recognized him instantly. I tend to stare (it's an artist's burden, I can't help it, really) and this case was no different. Between feeling unnerved at his arrival (lots of his family and friends as well) and the door hanging open (and asking someone to catch the door on their way out) and finishing my gumbo, I decided it was time to go. I got up from my seat and instead of waiting for the check I walked up to the cash register counter and waited for the waitress to take note of me. The chef was paying for the aforementioned delivery and asked if I'd been helped, so I explained. Eventually, between him, the waitress who took my order and the one who served me, I paid my check and left.

I'm thinking I may have to give up the miche, if restaurant mortification is what is becoming of me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The pink and green truth

Full disclosure: I used some white-out (!!!) in this version of the wall-washing drawing.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Where Mom Left Off, part 2

My parents are second from the left 
(Mom standing, Dad sitting) in this Richman family portait taken in 1961. 
They got married about six months later.



Here's a couple of photographs commemorating Dad's promotion to Lietenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, in 1969. That's my brother with the bow tie, and my mom and I with matching dresses for the occasion. Dad's got on a nice silk tie.

Friday, December 21, 2007


It's Friday. I woke up at 6:21 AM. I had been dreaming I was telling my friend Gina all about a crush I was recovering from. It was true to real life detail for detail (except I haven't talked with Gina about any of this, yet). The only thing that was different (than real life) was following Gina from room to room while I told her what had happened between me and my crush-ie.

Thursday morning my therapist asked me to think about how dreams effect real life, and vice-versa. Or, did he ask me how dreams and waking life interact? Or what it means to have dreams, and how they effect us, whatever is going on in our waking lives? Now I can't remember.

I do remember responding to his suggestion with sarcasm, as he knows I have issues about this subject, since my late mother was a Jungian psychoanalyst. Dreams and all that hoo-ha. Interestingly, my dream life seems to be effecting my waking life, despite my mistrust of psychoanalysis. But when my dreams act like my waking life one quarter step removed? I'm sorry, that's just weird.

My weekend is on Fridays and Saturdays. I spend a fair amount of time wandering around the internet during my time off, and today I've been spending some time on Maira Kalman's blog: here

I also ran into an aquaintance who is a bookbinder, who also has a blog and a website: maydaystudio

Both very cool, in totally different ways.

At 7:45 AM I tried getting my car out of my snowfilled driveway. It's only December 21st and I've already gotten stuck three times (front wheels spinning on ice under the snow). My next door neighbor took pity on me and helped me back out. But she said she's gotten stuck just as many times. WTF?! Winter is less than 12 hours old.

Mercifully this didn't take very long, so I made my appointment at the mechanic right on time. He replaced the purge valve, but first listened to another customers's engine, and then, while working on my car, took two or three phone calls and a visit from a potential business insurance provider (who he apparently knows personally...he kept making references to some awkward voice mail messages from someone they know in common). All this in less than an hour, and no more "check engine" light on my dashboard!

I park my car on the other side of my apartment building (where the traction is better) and walk downtown to mail a birthday present to my niece, who will turn 11 on December 24. I got her a little leatherette covered blank book and a graphite pencil. Last year I got her 12 Prismacolor markers and a big sketchbook. I am the art aunt.

I wander into my beloved independent bookstore, which can also be accessed at Bear Pond Books and I page through the 2nd edition of the cream of the crap, "The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker" by Matthew Diffee and Robert Mankoff. It's awesome, partly for the cartoons, but mostly for the seriously silly questionaire all the artists fill out (or ignore, or cover with graffiti, depending). They also have all been asked, apparently, to provide a photograph of 1. a self-portrait; 2. the inside of their refridgerator; 3. drawing a cartoon; 4. their feet; 5. their studio/work space. I love seeing all these artists riffing on the posibilities in these requests. The guy who photographs himself drawing a cartoon, with a handcuff attached to his wrist, also abligingly provides a photo of his foot drawing a cartoon with a (foot?)cuff attached, made my bookstore visit. It's 9:45 AM.

On my way home from downtown I start thinking about posting more of my mom's story on the blog, but first I pop some biscuits and chicken in the oven (I kind of skipped breakfast). I usually check out my main e-mail account, Doonesbury, dykestowatchoutfor, Found Magazine, my hotmail account, alas, a blog, and drawn!, before doing anything else on the web, including look at my own blog. And look at the personals hosted by my local free alternative weekly, Sevendays Personals.

Yeah, that's where I saw the ad for the guy I've had a crush on. He's the sweetest, but not for me. Oh well.

I did a little shopping at the food co-op a few hours ago, which was pretty busy at 3pm, but I knew it would be even busier later. Holiday frantic energy. Two advantages to being single and a Jew at the end of December: a short gift-giving list and it's all done before Dec. 25th.

I did write a bunch of holiday well-wishing cards to my co-workers earlier this week, though. I work at the Red Hen Baking Company, which just moved to Middlesex, VT (from Duxbury) a little over a month ago. I also work for Anne Davis, who is the artist who creates the greeting cards, calendars and now children's books for her company Anne Made Cards, which I used for the aforementioned holiday greetings.

Time to log off and relax on the couch with the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine.

Happy Solstice everybody!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Taking Up Where Mom Left Off, part 1

In January 1994 my mother and I planned a trip to New York City to celebrate my birthday. My mother wasn't feeling well, but decided to make the trip anyway. She lived in Boston, I lived in Vermont, so we met at the hotel in NYC. After a few hours together we realized we needed to do something, because mom was sick, really sick, and could barely stand or walk on her own. I took her to an Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat specialist, because mom complained mostly about something feeling like it was stuck in her throat. But the specialist said we should go to the hospital, because she (the doctor) couldn't figure out what was wrong. At New York hospital my mother ended up in the ICU, because sometime that night she went into insulin shock.

Mom had had diabetes for 10 years by this time. She had chosen to treat her diabetes without taking insulin, or other medical intervention. She ate well (loved to cook), walked everywhere and went to the Y religiously, and loved what she did for work, as a Jungian Psychoanalyst and Psychiatric Social Worker. I don't know what kind of medical advice, if any, mom was getting before that trip to NYC, but whatever it was it did not prepare her for almost a week in ICU at New York hospital.

After that she had to start taking insulin, and within six months she started to lose her eyesight. She had a number of laser surgeries, which maybe slowed things down a bit. By 1997 her eyesight was completely gone.

In October 2004 Mom fell down a flight of stairs while visiting a friend, ending up in the hospital.

The hospital people would only let mom out if my brother and I agreed to help her get services set up at home. I took time off from work and stayed on the couch in mom's apartment that first week, while my brother ran errands. My brother John and sister-in-law Kirsten lived 45 minutes from Mom, had already been running errands for mom for years. Since I lived 3 hours away I hadn't been doing much of the leg work, so I decided I would stay with her and provide some relief for John and his family.

Between October 2004 and March 2005 I think mom was in the hospital three or four times. Mom had several diabetes related health issues, including the loss of eyesight. Her kidneys were only functioning at 20 percent. Also, she had advancing neropathy in both her feet. The pain in her shoulder was initially diagnosed as a rotater cuff injury, but after exploratory surgery it was discovered she also had arthritis. She also had high blood pressure. My mother got a new doctor sometime after the October hospital visit, who put her on a low potassium diet. This was supposed to help her kidneys function better, but it killed mom's morale, since it severely limited what she could eat. Mom loved to cook (and eat) and having only a few ingredients to work with (and ones she didn't like that much) was no way to live.

In March 2005 Mom was found unconscious in her apartment, after accidentally taking too much insulin. During the ensuing hospital visit we (the doctors, John & Kirsten, me and very reluctantly, mom) determined mom needed physical rehabilitation before she could either come back to her current apartment, or move into an assisted living apartment. In April 2005 we all decided mom wouldn't be coming back to her current apartment. In the next six months she spent time in several rehabilitation centers and at least one nursing home.

We were all hoping she'd move up the list on the assisted living apartment and be able to move in before winter, but mom's health never recovered. Mom had a heart attack and died in the hospital in September 2005.