Hobbies sometimes rise out of unusual circumstances. Take Ed MacMullan and his discovery of his love of baking bread.
MacMullan is a 64-year-old Eugene resident who retired three years ago after 28 years as an economic consultant, among other duties, at ECONorthwest, a consulting firm. He was busy enough with volunteer work, including service on the Governor’s Earthquake Advisory Council and being a stepfather to a high school-aged girl.
Still, something was off in May 2020, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was the isolation,” he notes, not being able to chat openly with his tight-knit Whiteaker neighbors.
Then one day that month he opened up a two-page spread in The New York Times — “How To Make Bread At Any Skill Level” — complete with instructions on no-knead bread, quick breads, sourdoughs and enriched breads. “I never made bread before, or pizza dough,” MacMullan says.
He embarked on a multi-day task of making that first loaf, following the directions closely. “And my God,” MacMullan declares. “It came out not crappy. It was good.”
So good, in fact, that he kept going — loaf after loaf, getting better and more confident in the process, which, from fermenting the starter to kneading, pre-forming and resting, can take up to a week for just a single loaf.
He pokes around on YouTube for tips and shops locally for ingredients, a favorite of which is the flour from Camas Country Mill Bakery.
Then he gives it all away to his friends in the Whit.
It is, he explains, his way of staying in touch with the Whit community in these socially distanced times. Perhaps there will be some bartering, MacMullan says, but money will never be exchanged. One neighbor, he notes, has marked every Friday as “Bread Day” and is always eager to see MacMullan pull up with that day’s loaf.
He aims for feedback because he can’t sample all the bread he bakes. There’s just too much of it, and not enough room at his home to store it. So far, MacMullan says, all the reviews have been favorable.
“I’ll believe them,” he says. “If they like it, I’ll keep doing this.”
Even Eugene Weekly, which has devoted recent Slants to bread and received emails from readers regarding MacMullan’s bread, got into the act recently when MacMullan let us sample his “Country ‘Everything’ batard.” A batard is shaped similarly to a baguette but shorter. And every bite of this one is worth it.
This always will be a hobby, MacMullan says. “There’s really good bakers in Eugene. I don’t want this to be a job.”
Yet, as anyone engrossed in a hobby can attest, some expansion may be necessary. MacMullan says he’s kicking the tires on converting the basement of his family home into a bread kitchen, if only to give his wife, Angie Bradford, an assistant at Arts & Technology Academy, the home’s main kitchen back.
“I would do it every day,” MacMullan says, “but my wife would kill me.”
For now, a chance to visit friends in the Whit has made MacMullan’s bread baking hobby worth enduring the pandemic. And the bread is outstanding, too.