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A Favorite Slice of Life Kneaded in Childhood

Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Bread. It has long been called the staff of life, and it certainly is for this Life staffer.

The aroma of brewing coffee may be the morning wake-up call, but it is the promise of an accompanying toasted bagel, a delectable combination of crunchy and chewy, or a sweet and buttery raisin roll that will get me out of bed and into the breakfast mood.

For me, thoughts of childhood almost always include breads and cakes.

Trips to the home of my aunt and uncle, who lived in gluten-deprived Central California, involved multiple phone calls and complex logistics to ensure that the much-needed bagel and corn rye rations would arrive intact and still fresh. Visits from relatives in the city, to our house in the suburbs, always meant enough surplus bread supplies to fill our sizable freezer.

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Breads and cakes also featured prominently in the upbringing of Laurence Hauben, the writer of today’s cover story. The only difference is that the memories of Hauben, a native of France, involve baguettes and brioches, not bagels and bobka.

“I started being sent out to the bakery when I was 6 years old,” Hauben said. “It was my favorite chore. Our corner baker was good, and from 7:30 on Sunday mornings, there was a long line out the door waiting to take home the treats. I didn’t mind the wait. I just used to stand there, basking in the smell of warm bread and musing about what combination of sweet rolls I might take home that day.”

Thirty years later, Hauben once again found herself queuing up for bread. This time, in Ventura County, where she spent the better part of a month looking for the best local loaves and pastries.

A tough job, but someone had to do it.

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“I love good bread,” said Hauben. “Few foods are as satisfying to me as a slice of bread still warm from the oven. I can tell as soon as I walk in the door of a bakery if the bread is going to be good, and whether butter or shortening was used in the pastries.”

Clearly a useful skill during the season when visions of sugarplums dance in our head and the full array of holiday baked treats--Christmas breads, cookies, cakes and pies--slide down our throats.

It may not be as easy to find quality baked goods in Ventura County as it is in France, but it can be done. And if you once again let the holiday get away from you, some bakeries are still taking last-minute orders for specialty Christmas cakes.

Before it gets away from us, we would like to extend to you our wishes for a Merry Christmas.

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