Making bread while the snow falls


It’s been a very “exciting” few days here in the icy wilds of Northern, Virginia. The DC area has been ground zero for the winter storm of the century, with back to back blizzards making this the snowiest winter on record for the Mid-Atlantic region.

The landscape around my house is… well snowpocalyptic — giant drifts of snow overcome fences, a totally collapsed roofed trellis litters my neighbor’s backyard, and a relentless wind whips powder into white-out conditions. I have to admit, it’s actually a little scary. I had to muscle and kick my way through banks of snow leaning up against both my front and back storm doors Wednesday morning, just to get them open. I haven’t been near a grocery story since the first drubbing, but friends who have say it looks like something from a post-apocalyptic zombie film, with largely empty shelves and wide-eyed humans running around grabbing anything edible they can gather into their arms.

If this keeps up, I might end up as one of the hungry horde moaning for food. I’m running low on supplies. I ran out of bread a few days ago (which took french toast, tuna sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly off of the menu). Last night, I’m sitting here thinking: Wait, I might be able to bake bread. I doubt I have all the ingredients, but I can check.

The supplies in my cupboard were sad. I found one bag of flour that was impressively rancid, but then, I miraculously found another, in an airtight bag, that smelled okay (even though it was at least a year old). Then I pried up some yeast packets stuck to an unidentifiable sticky goo on the door of my fridge. Three years old. I wondered how many yeastie beasties were still viable in there. And some crystallized hunks of honey in a forlorn-looking plastic bear with his nose punched in.

I dug out my old copy of the Tassajara Bread Book. Back in the day, in my communal youth, I knew the recipes in this book like mantras and I did some sweet-ass baking for a hundred hungry hippies. I figured the bread would likely be a dense brick-like disaster, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. I combined the flour, the yeast, and warm water, the honey (after I’d dissolved it over some heat), and some oil. A bunch of kneading, rising, punching, and more rising later, and I had high hopes for the two respectable-looking loaves I was popping into the oven. As they baked, and I blogged, and the wind whistled around and under my sun-porch home office, the smell of the bread was indescribable. Maybe it was driven by an unusual sense of need, stuck here in my cottage on ice, or the fact that I hadn’t baked bread in close to a decade (outside of a bread machine — which is really a robot doing all the work), but these loaves smelled like all good things rolled into one. If there’s truth in wine, there’s the bosomy comfort of home in bread.

And as you can see from the above phonecam image, the results didn’t look half bad. And let me tell you, they tasted far better. I speak in the past tense ’cause way too much of one loaf is already feeding my wind-whipped soul (I froze the other loaf). Now I’m antsy to make something else with the limited provisions I have left. Tonight, looking through Tassajara, I realized I have everything I need to make cinnamon rolls. That’ll be tomorrow night’s cabin-fevered entertainment. So, grab a shovel, hop onto your snowmobile (snowboard for you, Goli!), and come on over for sweet rolls! PLEASE? It’s getting really lonely here and the wind is creaking the snow-laden roof of my house in new and entirely unsettling ways.


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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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