How Richard Nixon Made Me a Bread Baker

By Mike Feinsilber

Mike Feinsilber with bread_DSC0688 horizontal

Mike Feinsilber, when covering President Nixon for UPI, was encouraged by an AP reporter to learn to bake bread.

Richard Nixon did awful things, but let’s face it. He was capable of some good deeds. Like making me a home baker of bread.

Here’s how that happened: In the spring of 1974, the House Judiciary Committee conducted closed hearings into whether Nixon’s Watergate and coverup misdeeds warranted impeachment. (He quit before the House could act.) I covered the House committee’s proceedings for United Press International, which, back in those days, was still a player.

Reporters had to hang around to wheedle information from members of Congress when they broke to hurry to the Capitol to vote on legislation. Generally we sat on the lawn outside the Rayburn House Office Building, preparing for what seemed to be the certain future by reading Impeachment: The Constitutional Problems. (Maybe in publishing that book two years earlier its author, Raoul Berger, a constitutional expert and law professor, was prescient.)

Over the weeks, instead of reading Berger, I became a friend of John Beckler, my AP counterpart on the impeachment watch. Then the Becklers invited the Feinsilbers to dinner.

He served French bread he had baked himself. It was warm. It was crusty. It was good. He showed me the pans he used.

On the way home, I told my wife, Doris, “If the AP can bake bread, dammit, so can the UPI.”

That weekend, we visited Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and, en route, stopped at Kitchen Bazaar on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C., and bought pans. We were staying at a borrowed beach house, and dinner was to be at the home of friends.

As Doris left to help prepare dinner, I told her: “Don’t buy bread. I’ll bake some.”

I followed the recipe that came with the pans (still use them), and that evening I walked down the street with three loaves of crackling bread under my arm. It was as good as John Beckler’s.

Forty-one years later, I’m still baking bread. Sometimes I improvise, adding poppy seeds, polenta, cornmeal, nuts, currants, granola. In those cases, people ask: “What kind is this?” I never know how to answer. I don’t want to say “improvisational,” so I choose a name: Harvest. Country. Rustic, Long Loaf. They all sound wonderful. People are satisfied.

It ain’t great bread. It will cause no Frenchman to cast away his baguette. But it ain’t bad either.

I told some of this story a few years ago in an article in the Washingtonian magazine. My piece argued that baking bread is easy, not hard, if you want it to be. At the end I offered to email readers a wonderful, and easy, recipe for orange bread made with a whole orange, skin and all. I got about 65 requests for the recipe and they still trickle in. So I renew the offer: Write me at [email protected] and I’ll share the orange bread recipe with you.
Mike Feinsilber spent a quarter century with UPI in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Harrisburg, Newark, New York, Saigon and Washington and a quarter century with AP in Washington, with a spell as assistant bureau chief and a stint as writing coach. He was a deskman, reporter, and editor and he covered Congress and 18 political conventions.


  1. Reading this, I could almost smell the bread! Thanks!

  2. Ron Cohen says

    I have supped on the Feinsilber bread, and can aver that it won’t cause the French to abandon their baguettes. But it is damned fine bread, anyhow. And Mike is right. Anything AP can do, UPI can (or at least could have 20 years ago) do just as well — often better.

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