Bread is a basic staple that doesn't need to be reinvented. There are so many varieties that it can make anyone happy, except for those poor souls who are trying to keep it out of their diets...I feel sorry for you all.
One of my most vibrant gastronomic memories has to do with a warm loaf of bread coming out of a family oven in the French Basque Country. During that trip, I was so enamored by all of the haute cuisine gracing my plate, that I was actually told that I said in my sleep one night, "Oh my god, that was so delicious!" I wouldn't doubt that for a minute.
On this trip, my lovely roommate from Austria invited me into her family's home to celebrate the New Year. Of course we took a little day trip to Perpignan to have champagne on the beach at midnight, while throwing an around the world party with sample dishes from whatever country you dressed up as (I brought a Quiche Lorraine, dressed as a French woman...I know, how ironic). Then the rest of the trip was spent frolicking around the Basque Country, which is akin to the Shire for all you LotR fans, and much French-style celebrating was had.
It was one of those magnificent trips where you genuinely feel right at home, even though you don't speak the language, have a very limited knowledge of their traditions, and are worried which cheek you should kiss first--at some point you're just going to have to accept the fact that you will kiss someone's sister on the lips, as the pattern changes per village it seems. The family was warm and welcoming, they complimented my preposterous attempt at French, and they kept the fresh bread and cheese plate coming without fail. Oh yes, and they served tea afterwards in beautiful bowls that warmed both of your hands while you enjoyed the infusion--thank you.
Aside from the homemade fois gras from my roommate's grandmother, the perfectly cooked duck confit, the terrine of celery root and carrot, the fresh salads, and the little sips of wine, there was the bread. Let there be bread, I say, as it shines its warm glowing happiness all over the place. Sliced beautifully, offered liberally, and thrown on the tablecloth next to the plate for easy access. This bread came in a new form everyday because it was baked fresh everyday. Perhaps it was my lack of French, or perhaps it was that I felt like I was in a dream until we landed back in snowy Austria (another great story), but I neglected to get the recipe...ANY recipe before I left. Silly me.
However, three years later I am still dreaming of that trip. I finally got around to asking for the recipe, so I could try to recreate that magical moment on this side of the Atlantic. And my friend's mom kindly obliged! The result was a deeply flavored double-rise bread with a crispy, but not hard crust, and a beautifully spongy inside, perfect for sopping up sauces, absorbing olive oil, or melting sweet butter into its pockets.
It's reassuring to know that I can carry my friends around in my memories, and that they are always going to be there for a good catch up and some recipe swapping. A warm slice of this bread really does taste like that time of travel and adventure. What a powerful product made from four simple ingredients and some heat.