$70 Bread: A Holiday Story

It was priceless, and this isn’t a credit card commercial.

Dude, this was $70.” I plopped down a loaf of bread. It was the second morning of my friend Chuck’s visit, and this is how I greeted him.

To be fair, this was not just any loaf of bread, but a panettone airlifted from Milan. And to be fair, I got it as a holiday treat for my love, Christine, to atone for the time I ate half of her Whole Foods panettone and reclosed the box to make it look like I didn’t do it.

Still, I felt a mix of embarrassment and excitement. I mean look: I just spent 70 bucks on loaf of bread, as if the global economy wasn’t in full collapse. On the other hand, I was going to get to eat a $70 loaf of bread, and I was amped.

But Chuck, I knew, would not judge me for my lavish irresponsibility. Chuck is maybe the only man in America who perfumes his home with $65 candles while wearing a 15-year-old t-shirt from a nosebleed-violent Los Crudos show. (They’re pure hardcore punk rock, and they don’t sing about raw fish.)

And so, because I knew he wouldn’t judge, because I had to get my purchasing of this bread off my chest, I detoured on my way to the shower to show it to him while he stumbled from the couch to make his morning coffee.

“Seventy bucks. Wow. And I’ve never really liked panettone. When did you say Christine was getting here?” he asked.

“Not ’til Sunday,” I said. We looked at it, round and brown sitting on the counter. Sunday was half a week away.

“We should probably see if it’s worth it,” I said. Chuck nodded judiciously. I got a knife.

It started slow, and by that, I mean we took small slices from the edge, but also that the charms of the panettone were not immediately apparent. It was nice enough, a subtly sweet dough with aromatic dried fruits.

“Hmm…this is pretty good,” Chuck said.

We took another slice and started noticing the texture, tender like rich breads are, but with a little bit of chew at the end. And we started noticing the beauty and the balance of the fruits, the fragrance of the orange peels, and the juiciness of the raisins.

“Oh, this is really good,” Chuck said.

More slices. The browner bites of the crust were intriguing, complicating the sweetness by being almost bitter. We took sips of our coffee, and the aroma of orange came rushing back. Now the butter was kicking in, making all the flavors round and ringing.

“Argh! This is unbe-f——g-lieveable!” Chuck said.

We started digging into the crust that was stuck on the wrapper, getting it all over our hands, under our nails, in our mouths, and on the backs of our tongues.

“It’s like the difference between a hot mama and a beautiful woman,” Chuck said. “If you set this next to a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, everyone is going to do the chocolate cake. But this…this is really beautiful.” Then he added, “Christine is a lucky lady.”

Yeah. I looked at the panettone, brown and half gone on the counter. I did it to her again. I reached for the box and thought about another cover-up, but then used it to package her Christmas present instead.

She loved her half-loaf of panettone. Later we had a lovely Christmas, at the table with platters of octopus and salt cod and her big, raucous Portuguese family; around the tree with presents and a beautiful, clapping baby. I love the holidays, the gathering and sharing, the traditions and the rituals. But I think back to that moment with Chuck, two old friends barefoot and sharing a treat, and I think this is what I most love about the holidays: the little moments on the side, the ones outside of the traditions, and the rituals but made possible by the season.

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