Before I knew it, I was driving to Giant. I disinfected and walked through the electric doors, my hands held in the air like a surgeon. There, smack dab in the middle of a bare shelf, sat a box of Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast. Yes! I pulled a wipe out of my pocket and shook the box. Empty.
Off to the Safeway. My heart thumped as I encountered a checker I recognized restacking shelves with boxes of tapioca and cake mix. “Thank you so much for being here,” my sincere greeting to all the grocery store and pharmacy workers I’ve encountered in these past weeks. I will confess to discreetly examining the bottom of her cart, trying to catch the scent of my prey. “Got any Fleischmann’s in there?” I asked. She laughed in my face. “Yeast is about as hot Purell right now.” My Facebook feed would later yield photo after photo of maiden challah baking journeys.
Deep inside of me stirred a familiar drive. When I was pregnant, I hunted down and read every book featured in the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, and when a family friend passed, I scoured the stores in search of ripe bananas for the eight breads I baked and mailed to her husband for the shiva I could not attend. Fixating on scoring books, bananas, and yeast sure beat worrying about my baby’s health, the loss of a loved one, or a wily virus. My awareness of my state of mind, however, still didn’t hamper my quest for yeast.
I sat in the Safeway parking lot imploring myself to think. think. think. Who did I know who baked bread? Kasey, our across-the-street neighbor who wakes up at the crack of dawn on weekends and bakes the most delicious bagels I’ve ever tasted in my life, delivered to our back door by his adorable daughter. I texted Kasey’s wife, Vanessa, from the Safeway parking lot. I was too impatient to wait for her response, so I journeyed on to the hippie-dippie food co-op a few miles from our house. Surely most of their patrons were now gluten free. Better odds for me. No luck at the co-op either.
As soon as I entered the house, Vanessa pinged me. Vanessa never lets me down. She left four and a half teaspoons of dry acting yeast in a baggie and put it on her fence post. We were back in business, or so I thought. My daughter mixed the yeast with sugar and warm water and waited for the mixture to foam. Waiting for Godot, it turned out, and we’re still trying to figure out why. She felt badly about wasting the eggs and butter she’d whisked but quickly said that she’d come to peace with the fact that this project might have to wait a week. I nodded in agreement, but she can read me like a Joan Nathan cookbook. “It’s okay, Mom,” she said tenderly.
Later that afternoon, I happy-hour Zoomed with my down-the-street neighbor Heather. The story of my thwarted efforts to find yeast spilled out of me. “I found it at the co-op today,” she said. The co-op? My compulsion twisted on itself and turned into something ugly. I reminded myself how much I love Heather. “What time?” She told me noon. They must have restocked just a few hours after I’d left. Shoot.
And then a special thing happened, I swear I heard k.d. lang and Jane Siberry singing “Calling All Angels” in a two-part harmony. Heather said she’d leave some yeast in the mailbox. I waited a respectable amount of time before sprinting outside. No yeast. I took a photo of the empty mailbox and sent it to her. “I meant my mailbox,” she apologized for the confusion which was gracious since sending the photo was a little obnoxious. While leaping up the steps from our mailbox to our front entrance, my flip flop caught on the welcome mat and I went flying into the house, banging my ulna on the door. I cursed the mat and sent my teenaged son to retrieve the yeast from Heather.
My son returned with all three packets in his hand. A bigger person would have returned one, since I knew we only needed two to bake. I kept all three. I texted a thank you to Heather. I apologized to my family for my outburst. They offered me ice for my injury, and I declined. I didn’t deserve it.
Yeast in hand, I felt calmer. I laughed. I would be of no help to my daughter because I had no idea how to bake bread. I had, however, figured out a thing or two about leavening agents. In the proper circumstances they can activate both your superpowers and kryptonite, and make them rise.