Ah, friends, so many things to tell you in order to relate a simple story. I should write at this blog more often. I’ll do my best to be succinct.

In March, I wrote a post at my fitness blog asking which whole wheat bread is best? I picked up one of every loaf from Safeway, compared ingredients and price, and then asked six people to taste test each loaf. I concluded that Milton’s Whole Grain Plus offered the best bang for the buck.

After some advice from readers, I tried a couple loaves from Trader Joe’s, and ultimately decided that I liked Rainier Organic Sasquatch Grain & Seed Bread. Eating a slice of that stuff is like eating a field of wheat.

But during that discussion, Brad suggested I should try making my own bread. “That’s crazy,” I thought. “Making your own bread is too much work.” But Brad pointed me to a Mark Bittman recipe for No-Knead Bread. Soon after, Kris and I discovered some refinements from Cook’s Illustrated. Over the past few months, she and I have been regularly baking an easy and cheap home-made bread that is far better than any store-bought stuff.

When I wrote about our breadmaking experience at Get Rich Slowly, several readers told us we could make the process even cheaper by purchasing our ingredients at Costco. On Friday, we headed over to pick up two pounds of yeast and fifty pounds of bread flour. (We also met Rhonda for lunch, where we talked about clothes and clubs, but that’s a story for later.)

While Kris was looking for breadmaking stuff, I nosed through the books. I found a title called Back to Basics: A Guide to Traditional Skills, which I fell in love with immediately. It’s an illustrated how-to manual for people interested in homesteading and self-sufficiency. It features lots of advice on growing your own food, both vegetable and animal.

This afternoon, Kris went across the street to chat with our neighbor, Patrice. I eventually went over to join the chat. Patrice was offering to let us pick more from her cherry tree, an enormous old thing that may never have been pruned. While we chatted, we started talking about the property she rents from John.

“This used to be a farm,” she told us. “In fact, John still calls it The Farm. The barn was actually a chicken coop. That’s where the vegetable garden used to be. And he had cows and horses. He was pretty self-sufficient.”

This is unsurprising. In addition to the old cherry tree, he has several large apples, rows of raspberries, and the best grapes in the neighborhood (which grow wild along the fence and up into the trees). When we moved in, John was the one who gave me wood and advice to set up our own grape and berry arbors. He’s happy to see us growing our own food.

This evening, Kris and I went back over to pick cherries. We’ve already picked all the low-hanging fruit (which led me to understand finally what that phrase actually means), so we carried a ladder over. Kris climbed into the tree first, but she chickened out. “You’re a girl,” I said. “I’m a boy. Let me at it. This is boy’s work.”

I loved climbing trees when I was a boy, monkeying around from branch to branch. I did something similar this afternoon — in a 39-year-old man sort of way — snagging all the gorgeous cherries. (While I was in the tree, I thought I was doing a very Joel-like thing. “My new motto should be WWJD — what would Joel do?” I thought.

As we were finishing, the new neighbors came down to pick cherries, too. While Kris went inside to make some cherry preserves, I stayed outside to meet them. I let them use my ladder to climb into the tree to pick fruit of their own. We chatted a little to get to know each other.

“This is a strange neighborhood,” said one of the new neighbors. “It feels so old-fashioned. We’re so close to Portland, but it feels like we’re in the country. I mean, here we are all getting together to pick cherries.”

Exactly. That’s why we love it here. In a way, it feels like getting back to basics.

2 Replies to “From Bread to Cherries”

  1. luneray says:

    Yeah, I never knew why a certain piece of firefighter/construction equipment was called a “cherry picker” until I was an adult and saw a cherry tree in full fruit.

    And after my friend got some chickens, I finally understood all those poultry phrases like “henpecked” and “as protective as a mother hen”.

  2. Amy Jo says:

    We are beginning to feel more at home in our Oak Grove abode, although our part of the neighborhood feels very different from yours. I think it has something to do with the proximity to the river and unlike your street, the oldest house was built sometime in the 20s, and most are much newer. Our house, 1948, might be the second oldest on the street. We have good, kind neighbors and lots of quiet, which is lovely after living in such a noisy neighborhood before.

    And self-sufficiency, it is wonderful, isn’t it? I made my first batch of bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day this morning. It felt so good to bake bread again. I hope Ossley grows up spoiled like I did, with fresh bread on the table every day (well, until my grandmother died).

    One quick question about the yeast and the flour. Do you plan to store them in a fridge? I usually do. Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that they’ll last longer that way!

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