On my last morning in Berlin, I had the pleasure of not only meeting Ms Malin Elmlid, but of also sharing in a bread exchange. Those of you who’ve been with me for a while may recall the concept of the bread exchange, but if you’re just tuning in, allow me to explain. Malin started the Bread Exchange in 2009 in what seems to be an accidental miracle. After cutting bread from her diet because of how it left her feeling, Malin decided life was no fun without a bit of baked, crusty, wholesome goodness to spread some cheese on. After cultivating and nurturing her own wild yeast, Malin began baking sourdoughs, experimenting with recipes and offering the finished products to friends-turned-guinea pigs in exchange for honest feedback and the occasional jar of jam, concert ticket, hotel stay, bike repair…Thus, the birth of the Bread Exchange. Since its inception, Malin has done over 1000 trades in a variety of countries. There’s only one rule at this party, so don’t be the pooper – not everything can be bought. Malin will accept well-intentioned trades, but not money.
You’ve all been warned.
On my end, I brought a German translation of Patti Smith’s beautiful book, Just Kids. I picked it up before going to Aruba a few months ago and devoured it within a week. Patti is an incredible storyteller, purposeful with an amazing sense of detail. As a writer, I was inspired by her technique, and I wanted to share this experience with Malin.
Where I had bought this copy of Just Kids in Berlin, Malin’s bread for me started much further away. How far? Afghanistan.
Malin prepared for me a sourdough with Afghani mulberries – I’ve never seen a mulberry before! Sure, I’m familiar with the designer brand and I lust after their gorgeous leather handbags. But an actual mulberry? As mythical as Zeus and Bigfoot.
Yes, I exaggerate.
I’m patting myself on the back again as I write this because somehow, the loaf made it home in one piece. Customs didn’t nab it and I didn’t hoard airline butter and devour it somewhere over the Atlantic. This is now the loaf that traveled across 3 continents.
Oh if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 18 times – if it’s not going to be made with love, don’t make it at all. A person can almost always tell when they’re cutting into malice, and there’s something so uplifting about eating what’s been prepared with only the best intentions. This was how I felt about Malin’s sourdough. While I experimented with putting cheese or butter on it, this was a loaf perfect on its own. I stopped eating a lot of bread (and, subsequently, baking it) when I started feeling off, but I experienced no relapse after Malin’s bread. My parents said they noticed a higher salt content than what I use in my baguettes. Perhaps using a natural yeast (as opposed to store-bought instant rise) necessitates a higher salt level? While I couldn’t say for sure if that’s true, I do know that bread does require a surprising amount of salt. And, apparently, my parents have refined salt palettes. Way to rock, Mom and Dad!
The world is such a wonderful place for people who are open and willing to explore it. It starts with an idea that turns into a manifestation that is written about in a magazine article shared with me so that one day, almost a year later I could sit with the baker and discuss food and culture and travel. And all because of a humble loaf of bread.