all are welcome

(Photo by A.V.Crofts)
(Photo by A.V.Crofts)

In a primary season with sharp language around immigration, two articles beg to be read widely. Both feature programs that use the shared experience of food to strengthen the bond between immigrants to their new hometowns.

The first article profiles Hot Bread Kitchen, a top-shelf bakery committed to producing high-quality loaves of all kinds. The brainchild of New York baker Jessamyn Waldman-Rodriguez, Hot Bread Kitchen employs recent immigrants and trains them in all aspects of the bakery: from making dough from scratch to pulling fresh-baked loaves out of the oven at the perfect time. Not only do their breads sell to some of the fanciest restaurants and shops in the city, all of their bakers are placed in full-time positions after completing training.

Two hours south by train from New York sits Edible Alphabet, a project under the care of the Free Library of Philadelphia and in partnership with Nationalities Service Center. This program offers a new twist on English language training by blending language acquisition with cooking. Ingredients are the vocabulary lesson and each class ends with a shared meal. NPR recently showcased some examples of dishes, all designed for affordability and the varied tastes of Philadelphians, wherever they come from.

Baking—and breaking—bread together is a form of welcome. Given the less charitable sentiments that keep surfacing in the bluster of the primary season, I pledge allegiance to programs like Hot Bread Kitchen and Edible Alphabet who happily celebrate many flags.




nobody bakes a cake as tasty…

Image courtesy of

Earlier this summer I was visiting my neighbor the day before flying to Philadelphia for a family reunion. My neighbor’s daughter was also visiting, and as soon as she heard I was headed to the City of Brotherly love, the conversation turned to Tastykakes.


Tastykakes are an iconic Philly food tradition–though I realize some might argue the point as to whether a Butterscotch Krimpet, illustrated above, is truly food. Their trademark jingle (see the title of this post) is a fixture in the brain of anyone who grew up in the greater Philadelphia area. They’ve also been in the news lately, as the New York Times reported recently on their plans to open a new factory location in the gussied up Philadelphia Navy Yard.

It turns out my neighbor’s daughter had spent a year living in Philadelphia and became addicted to Chocolate Juniors, one edible delights of the Tastykake family, though perhaps not as famous as their krimpet cousins. I vowed to send her some upon my arrival, and true to my word, three family packs of Chocolate Juniors graced her doorstep a week later.

Soon after that the New York Times ran a story about how the ease of internet purchase power does not replace for some the act of kindness that brings “food souvenirs” from afar:

“Although Internet buying makes sense — why haul a treat through Customs if a computer click brings the same result? — plenty of purists favor lugging over logic. For them, a treat bought at its source and carried home by their own (or a loved one’s) hands is somehow more genuine, more delicious, more earned, than one secured in an easy, remote transaction on the Web. This is particularly true now, with the height of summer travel upon us. Food souvenirs are food, but they’re also souvenirs, and as such are evocative of people and places.”

When I got back to Seattle, I learned that two boxes of the Chocolate Junior’s had been happily eaten, and one remained. It is being rationed, as it is the last.

That is, until my next trip to Philly.

bread as a bridge

Photo by adactio

I just returned from four days in Philadelphia, where I stayed in my childhood home and remembered what it feels like to be warmed by the summer sun. I also got to revisit a childhood taste memory: ice-cream made with milk from local cows and sold by the same creamery. Goodnoe opened in 1955, and it was our go-to destination after Quaker Meeting on Sundays. Sure, they served full food fare, but you went there for the ice cream. Goodnoe closed its doors a few years ago–lore has it one customer bought as many pre-packed gallons as she could for her deep freezer–but miraculously, the younger generation of the Goodnoe family decided to revive the business, so they’ve opened a new location just this past year that scoops up their trademark enormous cones the size of softballs that won’t dent the wallet. My maple walnut single-scoop never tasted so delicious.

On outings, the taste of a Goodnoe cone is a touchstone for me. But if we’re eating in, the house I grew up in is one where we break bread–loaves and loaves of it. That’s not to say that my mother doesn’t have a healthy supply these days of ice cream in the freezer–she could serve a dozen unexpected guests sundaes without leaving her kitchen–but in the house where I grew up, bread rules the roost.

Bags of it occupy the cutting board, now famously concave from years of sawing through bagels and slicing chewy rye for sandwiches. It takes up space on the top shelf of the refrigerator, where bags relegated to the chill await their fate as French Toast, having used up their shelf-life on the cutting board. More loaves await defrosting in the freezer, both purchased and in the case of banana bread loaves, baked by my mother. No matter how many social engagements I cram into a visit home, Mom’s always got a loaf I can grab as a gift for a host. It’s a magical never-ending supply.

Little wonder then that the Boston Globe article on Lynne Christy Anderson’s new cookbook, “Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories From Immigrant Kitchens’’ (University of California Press) caught my eye.

To be fair, Anderson’s cookbook goes well beyond the realm of bread. The story is a great one: as a professor she used food as a topic of conversation to engage her immigrant students–a classic nod to the universality of cooking and eating, even if what we eat and cook is distinct. The term “breaking bread” immediately brings to mind hospitality, community, and cooking. Happily though, in the breaking of bread, bridges of understanding are built.