I learned this habit from my father and I'm not about to un-learn it any time soon: When I'm grocery shopping, I reach first and ask the price later—if I ask at all.
Robyn does not find this amusing.
Case in point, I was headed toward the pita-bread display at our local Middle Eastern store when I spotted a shelf loaded with Armenian cracker bread. I plucked a bag in a flash and placed it gently on our growing check-out pile.
When Robyn got a look at the receipt on the way home, she informed me that I'd just paid $16.50 for a little under a pound of bread. I instantly corrected her: I did not pay for bread at all. I paid for a trip back in time.
My mother didn't bake this sort of bread because she baked everything in the soft, butter-rich style of her mother's Dikranagertsi family. But her father's sister, Aunt Veron, paid homage to her native Kharpert by cranking out a constant stream of crisp sheets flecked with brown bubbles.
I observed the ritual as a boy during our annual visits to her home in Somerville, Massachusetts. Aunt Veron—Emmeh, as my mother called her—trudged down to the basement at the crack of dawn to fire up her old wood-burning stove. She insisted the new-fangled kitchen stove just wasn't hot enough for good bread.
She carried tray after tray up the steep steps, keeping up a constant conversation with her cat in Armenian.
I gobbled that bread as fast as she could bake it, and I think it made her as happy as it made me. I'm not going to tell you this bread was better than my mother's, but it was every bit as special.
Now a good 50 years later, I'm sitting in my living room in Boynton Beach, Florida eating Armenian cracker bread and thinking about Emmeh and her cat and about the grandfather I never met and about the far-off city he left more than a century ago.
That's a lot of joy for $16.50.
Footnote: Nostalgia aside, you can't beat Armenian cracker bread. It's the perfect snap-crackle accompaniment to Armenian cheese, and it's just as good crumbled into stew or soup. A sprinkle of water or gravy softens it up nicely if you prefer.
Or just take a bite and wait a moment. Proper Armenian cracker bread melts in your mouth.
Americans seem to have caught on, as flat bread is all the rage lately. But they haven't quite got it right. A lot of what passes for flat bread is wooden or (even worse) leaden.
Luckily, my $16.50 bought the real article, genuine Armenian bread from Valley Lavosh in Fresno, California.
Even luckier, while I was busy eating bread some smart person invented the Internet, so I was able to discover that the Valley folks will ship the very same 15-inch rounds for less than half what I paid in the store.
I'll remember that next time I get nostalgic about Armenian bread, assuming I don't spot a display within reach first.