Chapter 1: No Loafing Around

 Bread + Friendliness. The confluence of food and virtue started most unexpectedly over the dough hook of my parents’ KitchenAid mixer. What occurred next in the kitchen of our home in Chapel Hill, N.C., and how other transformative food experiences shaped me and my three siblings, is rather unusual. Twenty-eight stories chronicle what happened, beginning with a few extra loaves of what came to be known as “Friendship Bread.” 

Dad was often in the kitchen when I got home from school. Not threatened by wearing an apron, he had taken over our family’s weekly bread-making after Momma’s return to work. “How are things?” he’d ask simply, then scurry around assembling the ingredients: two packets of yeast, bags of bread flour and brown sugar, a bottle of molasses, leftover oatmeal from the fridge, a prized stick of Land O’Lakes butter.... 

Hovering behind him in our galley kitchen—fridge and stove on one side, sink and dishwasher on the other, shelves all around—I would pour out my worries. It was pre-teen stuff like no phone calls from Skip, the heart-throb who’d transferred to our junior high. Or not understanding my French teacher with her heavy Southern accent and lisp. Or a stern ultimatum from Momma to get rid of the mice caged on a shelf above her clothes closet. 

On that afternoon I’d told Dad sheepishly, “I know they had babies suddenly. Occasionally litter flutters down, but the mice were for my science project. Remember? I got an A. Besides, I thought I had two females.” 

  Friendship Bread

Friendship Bread

“Those mice babies could soon surprise us with their own babies,” said Dad, now grabbing the salt. “I read someplace that mice reproduce in twenty days and if nothing is done there can be nearly one million of them scampering about in a year. A million, all above your mother’s clothes.”

Yikes, I thought, Momma must have warned him the mice had to go. I could almost hear her words still hanging in the air, “Today, John! It’s your turn to convince her... today!” My usually laid-back father had clearly done some fact-finding on mice reproduction to make a stronger case. 

“I know what we can do,” he said. “I bet the students in my life-drawing class at the art department would like to sketch them. Mice models, you know, like Mickey and Minnie. Surely some student will want to take home such an adorable mouse family.

“Okay,” I agreed, “as long as I don’t have to let them go outside. I didn’t know what to do.” 

Like butter melting on a slice of the soon-to-be-made bread, my worries disappeared, whatever they were that day. I began to help Dad regularly with his baking. A little scientist, I loved to see yeast bubble up after warm water and a teaspoon of sugar fueled its dormant cells. I gave weather reports for atmospheric changes over the KitchenAid mixer as we shoveled in ingredients: “Clouds are forming. Floury clouds.” I used a stopwatch to time how long it took the mixture to inch up the dough hook, curl over the top and cling on tenaciously, the motor straining from such a heavy load. And on the dough hook chugged as we added more flour....