Lovely to Look Upon, Heaven to Touch, It's a Real Shame They've Got to Cost So Much

The $6 bread is now $9 at the natural foods grocery store.


Of course, we should value good food and pay accordingly for nutrition and fulfillment, but is $9 bread worth $9? On initial consideration, a $9 loaf of bread seems equivalent to a $27 handcrafted cocktail or a $115 rib-eye -- prices I've paid, but also questioned. Were the $27 cocktail and the $115 rib-eye "worth it" in retrospect? 

Distilling spirits is not easy. Neither is making glassware. I could not create my own cocktail (or glass) from $27 of raw ingredients. So that service might be worth $27 if the view is nice or the barstool is comfortable.

Finding, killing, and butchering a cow cannot be pleasant -- seems nightmarish. Completely detached from my food chain, I have never earned a rib-eye, regardless of price. So $115 is a fringe price to confront me with, but seems the type of penalty I should occasionally pay, given my lifetime of charred bovine consumption.

But for $9, I could buy the raw ingredients to make 100 loaves of bread, assuming I knew how to make bread, which I do not. So what gives with this $9 bread?

The distiller and the cow killer are strangers to me. But the baker of the $9 loaf of bread may be a neighbor. My $9 is staying in the community. Does that make the $9 bread tolerable?

Most $27 cocktails and $115 rib-eyes will be slightly disappointing, likely for the person paying. But at least the $27 cocktail and the $115 rib-eye will be ingestible as would be customary -- meeting basic expectations. Does $9 bread even meet basic expectations for what we consider to be bread?

For starters, $9 bread comes in an open paper bag. Mind blowing.

All my life, I've strived to close the bread, and to remember where the plastic doodad is long enough to put it back on once the toast is in the toaster. I've learned from the Internet that the color of the plastic bread-closing doodad is symbolic of the day the bread is baked (i.e. if the doodad is yellow, the bread was baked on Monday). 

But $9 bread is sold in a paper bag, stored open to the air, no plastic doodad, and maybe that’s haute. Or environmentally sound. But it seems the opposite of everything we've been taught about bread and air and freshness -- removing the plastic doodad does not make the bread immune to the environment.

Another annoyance is that $9 bread is not sliced.

We have a bread slicing board, but it does not have the proper dimensions for slicing one of these crusty footballs. Slicing $9 bread cracks and splinters the free-range crust, creating an unpredictable cascade of chunks and crumbs. Slicing $9 bread is like an old garage being demolished by a backhoe.

$9 bread is undulating -- each loaf with an elaborate, uneven surface landscape – impossible to slice to any consistent thickness.

You err on the side of thick. But, with the weird shape of $9 bread, geometry fades and your slice thins to nothing. Or you overcompensate, use the vice, and hacksaw-off a $3 slab, too fat for your toaster.

Some $9 bread is dense. But most $9 bread is light and deceptively oversized, from being injected with expensive air. Our last $9 loaf had the look as if it were formerly all puffed-up and air-pressurized, but once out of the sack, it was drooping and sagging. Crack it open and it was eroded from the inside, literally imploding. Even if you can manage to cut a uniform slice, the resulting swiss cheese boomerang is too long or for the toaster. You could try to cut the air-puffed slice in half, but then you have more crust shrapnel. This leads to the toaster moon where the butt of your toast is hanging out while the other half toasts, leading to a daring toast flop and re-toast, guaranteeing the middle will be ruined. 

We have a vacuum sealer, so I did an experiment on my next $9 loaf. I put the $9 loaf in the vacuum machine, and sucked the expensive air right out of it. The $9 loaf deflated like a Patriots football. In the end, the $9 bread with the air removed was bigger than a Triscuit, but smaller than a bagel. 

Next, I tried one of the $7 loaves of bread they hide on the bottom rack.

The $7 loaf had a small string to tie at the open end of the paper bag – quaint.

With the $7 loaf, I knew I was at least getting something of value -- the string. The loaf was harder to find -- notably smaller than the $9 loaf.

The $7 loaf was sliced, so that was convenient and less of a mess. Each slice of the $7 loaf was the size of a toddler’s hand. But those demure slices fit in the toaster, and left no shrapnel.

But eating twelve pieces of toast for breakfast is embarrassing. So I went back to the $9 bread and all of its complications.

I have some weird satisfaction-and-resentment that the $9 is contributing to the local economy -- the same weird satisfaction-and-resentment finding out my mechanic sends his children to the most expensive local private school.

Once COVID hit, many turned to baking. We tried a loaf -- not quite a doorstop, but nothing special, or worth $9. So, we probably did it wrong. We have a buddy who figured it all out -- his loaves cost $9 to make and are heavenly. His entire neighborhood is grateful for the effort.

Spokane used to smell like Wonder Bread. When was the last time you smelled Wonder Bread? 

$9 bread keeps me wondering.


Sleep in the Stars, Don't You Cry, Dry Your Eyes on the Wind -- La La La La

If you need tips on making your children cry, I have a few.

My parents had a hands-off sixties/seventies parenting style. Seemed a success at the time. "Your generation hasn't invented anything. Just don't lie to me." Libertarian parenting. Every other parent was evaded or fed crap. Not my father. "We're going to a kegger. Home by 2."

I tried the same bluntness as a father myself, with mixed success. Each child understood the consequences of their school lives, their homes lives, their personal lives.

Each child saw the objective value of education. Each child saw the value of creativity as a path of education success.

One child wrote a fable of neighborhood harmony, using lessons from the collective behavior of Japanese felines. The other child made a self-portrait collage, including her red hair, where each red strand was a headline clipped from The Economist. Likely, you're not surprised.

But no one likes being told what to do. Especially if the demanding party is an old man with an agenda, and an investment at stake. So I applaud my children for tolerating me at their educational decision points -- like eighth grade.

I prefer the Canadian affectation -- grade eight -- but either way, eighth grade is a weird moment in life and time.

My children spent grade eight in a Montessori Middle School, one of the fancy ones that still takes leftover Italian Lira if you have a garage full of it. The Montessori Middle School experience is consistent with libertarian parenting -- the children have farming tasks as well as mathematics, all at their own speed and choosing.

There are no Montessori High Schools -- grade eight is as long as you can ride that train. But many of these eighth graders have been in the Montessori system, questioning authority, for twelve years, starting in pre-school. Lucky for me, my children understood the world by grade eight.

But I still abused my luck and unnecessarily caused moments of tears. Some skills I can communicate; some I cannot. Do not ask me to teach you to drive a stick. But if you want to understand the role of education in finding a career, that I can communicate. Regrettably, however, either way, tears may be involved.

Did your high school do a stellar job of explaining college entrance requirements to you? I somehow survived two years of high school Latin and had no intention of one more year of that -- until learning that elite colleges required three years of foreign language. If you only have two years, you might be stuck at one of the colleges that do not care, like Washington State University. That was an immediate concern. I was surprised this was not better advertised. Many students permanently stunt their options in life, with no path better than Washington State University, by skipping that third year of foreign language -- because no one warned them.

My children were warned. They were warned about it all. Here is your green pad and three pens.

What do you want to be in life? Where do they teach that? Where are the ten best universities that teach that? What are the entrance requirements for each of those ten universities? What are the commonalities of those requirements? Which high schools cover the most of those common requirements? Which of those high schools have the best programs of those commonalities? What are the historic college placement statistics for those high schools and those ten universities? What are the entrance requirements for those high schools?

And you have to figure all of that out -- NOW -- in grade eight. Not in the spring when admission deadlines have passed. Your life on this green pad -- NOW -- while the leaves are still on the trees.

So these children did all of that. It worked. Twenty years later, both children are happy and secure in life. But that is not the point of this story.

The point of the story is that Montessori teaches sassiness.

A lovely spring day. It's the final parent-teacher conference of my thirteen years of being a Montessori parent. Younger child, grade eight, afternoon, spring parent-teacher conference. The parents are there on time, and the teacher is there on time, but the child is "in the art room". One of the lower school pages is dispatched to collect the child.

The child arrives wearing a fire helmet and a trench coat. She announces she is working on an art project of "what's in my pocket", which is displayed to us like emptying a purse, if your purse includes a dead bird. 

"Your child has unfinished homework. It's uncharacteristic, but it is noted right here. Three instances...." The remainder of the conference is not much different.

I remember my own parents' parent-teacher conferences, which never went well. "It's too bad your son and his mouth are a package deal..." So, I try to be cool about it -- but it seems like a concern -- especially at this vulnerable, grade eight, time. I decide to confront her about it -- "That was weird. Three instances?"

"Well, dad, as you know, eighth grade doesn't really matter. The colleges will only see my high school grades and reports, and I am already enrolled at the ideal high school for the career I want, via the college I want, via the high school curriculum I want. You know, like we have on the green pad."

It's a Harvey Korman moment. I break character like Adam Sandler on SNL. I have to acknowledge she is correct. She even appreciates the humor of my being concerned, looking like a chump paying all this money for this fancy school with a slacker eighth grader with three instances, a fire helmet, and a trench coat with a dead bird. She saw the humor in it then, and she's seeing it now. 

The child wins -- using my own strategy, which was my dad's strategy, which is her strategy.

It's a win for me too, but I can't let on. Until now.