Besides running the wood fired oven workshops, Pat runs Hains House as an AirB&B. In case you haven’t been traveling much lately, this is a system like those home stays and farm stays that are so deservedly popular in other countries. Three bedrooms and a bath upstairs, one bed and bath downstairs. So in the four nights I spent in the Log Cabin room under the eaves, Vasu had another of the upstairs bedrooms and the downstairs room was occupied Friday night by Frank and Elaine from Victoria, B.C. and Saturday night by Emily and David from Northern Ireland. And it must be said that in the case of Hains House, “bed & breakfast” doesn’t really cover the experience.
Breakfast seems intended to feed several high school football teams. Beginning with coffee or tea, progressing through several kinds of breads, scones, cheeses and charcuterie, yogurt, oatmeal, eggs (from her flock of hens) and bacon, home fried potatoes…I may have left something out, but you get the idea. Also, she’s not above turning to people who’ve just arrived to spend the night and saying, “Are you hungry? Why don’t you just eat dinner with us?”
When Frank and Elaine were there we dined on seafood lasagna that Pat threw together during the day in between checking people in and teaching the bread class. Oh yes, and this was during a power failure that lasted several hours. We ate by candle glow and firelight. With Emily and David we all made our own pizzas in the wood fired oven with the dough that Pat and I had put together and refrigerated Thursday morning.
As if all that weren’t enough there were other comings and goings. Friends. Children Grandchildren. Pat had a smile and time for a chat and a cup of tea and plate of food for everyone. And she kept Vasu and me busy kneading our fingers to the bone. Every night I stumbled up the stairs with no wish to blog or read or watch a movie or even to wash my face and put on jammies before falling into my wonderful rustic bed and sleeping the sleep of the hardworking righteous.
With only two of us, the class was structured but flexible enough to accommodate different interests. Having already baked a lot of bread, I was mainly interested in fire management. I got that in spades on a rainy, blow-y Sunday when Vasu and I were responsible for firing the oven. We built the fire, and after it was going well we pushed it to the back in order to heat the whole chamber. We tended it, adding more wood. When it burned down we spread the coals and shut the door to let the heat equalize. We scraped out the coals when the temperature was right, and cleaned the hearth with a metal bristled brush and then mopped it with wet towels wrapped around the end of a banjo peel. We loaded the oven, timed the bread and unloaded it. But in addition to all that, I found that my baking skills were honed by the kind of one-on-one instruction I’d never had. And two techniques (for shaping and docking loaves) were worth the price of the class all by themselves.
Vasu was a bread virgin. He loves to cook, but he was interested in going beyond the Indian flatbreads he grew up with. He especially wanted to learn to make focaccia for a woman who introduced him to it in Portland. It was fun working with him because he was so open to everything and asked great questions and was fearless about trying things. Beginner’s mind…
The whole purpose of my trip was to learn about making the fire, how it burns, how the oven heats and cools and how things bake in a wood fired oven. On Day 2 I learned to stop worrying about all the carbs I was consuming and to just taste everything and enjoy it. On Day 3 I learned that you can do everything right and still have minor (and major) disasters. If bread teaches you patience, a wood-fired oven teaches you humility.
And by the time I left, I’d re-learned that there actually is enough time to do whatever you want, if you just use and enjoy every moment.
That’s the part I want most to remember.