Joan Leotta


Yesterday, I shook out a book, an old novel I’d finished years ago, before adding it in the donation pile. A piece of notebook paper in grandma’s handwriting, with three teardrop stains on it wafted out.

Her bread recipe! Instantly I recalled the time she wrote it. I was reading this very book while staying with her for the weekend, that last year she was alive. She wanted to make bread together, to show me how to do it. I was hesitant.

 “Bread’s so hard to do,” I protested.

“Nonsense,” she countered. “The knowledge of making bread is in your blood, my little one.”

She wrote out the recipe and then, together, we stirred the ingredients with

her wooden spoon, beating the spoon on the edge of the bowl to loosen and let fall in, any

errant bits of flour before we put in our hands to knead that yeasty mass. My fingers, palms, did the kneading while Grandma directed. Her hands had been drained of strength by her illness. She “assessed” the efficacy of my work with a short push and pull or two to ensure that I had worked the flour , water, and yeast to the correct consistency. While the ball  rose, under cover of a damp tablecloth in a bowl on the warm place at the back of her gas stove, we laughed and talked about the time I had overrun her kitchen with my efforts to make mulberry jam. Taking the hint, I washed out what was no longer needed. Soon it was time to punch the dough down and separate it into greased pans for the final rise before going into the oven. We laughed and talked some more, now breathing in the heady bread aroma of her bread.

I washed what needed to be washed. When the timer signaled we could take the bread out, 

I was so anxious to taste-test my efforts that I sliced into one loaf while it was

still warm, still in the pan. In doing so, I also sliced my finger–not a terrible wound–

but before I could run it under water, three drops marked the recipe. 

As we enjoyed the bread, I put the recipe into the book, as it was, marked with those three bloody tears of joy for this last time, regret for the realization on both our parts that this was probably the last time we would work in the kitchen together. 

Looking down on the recipe, yesterday, I wondered if my hands would still, thirty years later, recall that afternoon’s lesson. Today, I added yeast to my grocery list. After all, making bread is quite literally in my blood.


Before learning that tossing bread to gluttonous geese was a breach of eco-etiquette, I would, on occasion, take my little ones to feed bread crusts to Burke Lake’s geese. One morning, parked as close to the water as allowed, handed my toddler, Jennie, the bag of bread crusts, then telling her to wait with me while I got her little brother, Joey, out of his car seat. Perhaps she didn’t hear me, but while I was still fumbling with her brother’s straps so I could lift him out, she began to toddle toward a rather large white goose who evidently had seen our car and was not about to wait for us to amble down to him at the lake’s edge. Jennie reached into the bag and held out a piece of bread. 

“Here goosey!” she called, trustingly. But the devil goose then ran at her, honking, wings flapping.

Jennie screamed and began to cry. She was too frightened to run. The next things happened in a blur. The goose got closer to her. I left my son in his car seat and ran at the goose, shouting, making honking noises, and flapping my arms. The goose stopped. Surprised. My daughter, also surprised, dropped the bag of bread.

  “Run to the car, “ I called at her. She ran back. Putting myself between her and the goose I advanced a few steps on the goose, who retreated one or two waddles.

Then, still shouting and honking  I began to back up to the car. If the goose put a webbed foot forward, I shouted, honked louder until it stopped. I fastened my dear ones into the car, all the while shouting at the goose who never took his eye off of us and occasionally flapped his wings menacingly at us.

Then, I hopped into the car, and we sped off. In the rearview mirror, I saw the goose strut back to the pond in triumph. I decided on ice cream as a decompression tool for the three of us—no matter that it was 9:30 in the morning. Joey was just a bit confused by everything, but happy to get ice cream.. Jennie, like me, needed the consolation of the cone. After a few minutes of sweet distraction we were laughing together over the goose’s antics. That goose was as big as she was! We wondered if it thought she was a goose from another flock. Or was trying to get her to drop the bag –all for him? Or if the goose thought if I was a mama goose protecting her when I ran at him? We never went back to feed the geese again. We felt much better about everything when we learned that it is more ecologically friendly to let geese forage in the local reeds and weeds instead of gorging on bread crusts. We were glad to know our fear of the large white goose was in reality an early step forward in ecological soundness and  healthy goose-dom.

Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. She performs tales featuring food, family, nature, and strong women. Joan Leotta’s writings have been or will appear in Snapdragon, Ekphrastic Review, Pinesong, anti-heroin chic, Gargoyle, Ovunque Siamo, Verse Virtual, and others. She’s a nominee for 2021 Pushcart,  Best of Net 2023 and a 2022 Frost Foundation runner-up. Feathers on Stone (chapbook, Main Street Rag) will be out soon.