At the beginning of the Atkins craze (this was the late 90's), I had a roomate who had been on the diet for a year or two and had lost a tremendous amount of weight. I would sit in the cafeteria and watch her unwrap her sub sandwiches, remove the meat and vegetables inside, and rewrap the bread to throw away later. Or she would eat the hamburger patty and leave behind the bun, naked and bereft on the plate. I tried it for one day, and lasted only until sunset, when I realized that I could never give up bread.
I once saw, in a magazine, a photograph by Helmut Newton (I think) of a hunk of dark bread and a glass of water against a blank background, perhaps a few crumbs for adornment. In my mind I could imagine the smell of that bread, deep and complex and mysterious, like red wine, the taste of it, like life itself. The simplicity of the image underlined the simplicity of the basic essentials - bread, for nourishment, and water, for refreshment. What else do you need? That moment when your teeth bite down through the crackling crust, fighting their way into the soft depths within, the elasticity of the tender dough, the scent of grain and yeast or the tang of naturally leavened bread, the trail of crumbs that sprays across your shirtfront.
There are breads thick with seeds, poppy and sesame and grains that promise to clear out your digestive system whether you like it or not. There are breads fragrant with herbs or studded with nuts or olives or raisins or other fruits. Or there is plain bread, which is not plain at all, which tastes pure and sweet and natural. It seems a travesty to sully the stark perfection of good bread with butter or olive oil, although there is a certain joy to fresh bread spread with sweet butter or dipped into a pool of fragrant green-gold olive oil (with or without a swirl of balsamic vinegar, a sprinkling of herbs). Life without the oil-drizzled foccacia, the slender, finely-crumbed baguette, the thick-crusted pain de campagne, the tweedily-textured multigrain, would feel empty indeed. And that is just the beginning.
For breakfast there is a plate of sausage, sliced and grilled, a glass of juice, and some bread. The bread is dark brown and studded with walnuts, their fatty richness enlivening the reassuring plainness of the bread. This bread comes from the Columbia City bakery, one of my favorite places in the city. K. handed me a small bag with several slices yesterday, said, here, take this for your breakfast tomorrow. I can see her bouncing down the hill, along the road to the bakery (as I have walked with her along those streets before), standing eagerly at the counter, choosing all sorts of pastries and breads for her family, who are coming to lunch. I see her walking swiftly home with her bounty, which she will share with us all, strudels and cinnamon rolls and croissants and pains de chocolat. But all I need now is some crusty bread, some hot, fragrant sausage, and it is enough. More than enough. Perfect, simple, happiness.