A few weeks ago, I sat down for coffee with a family from Syria. I was teaching an English class in our apartment complex and afterward the mother of this family invited me into her home. They arrived in the US very recently. If you’ve paid attention to the news, then you might have a dim view of this family’s background: They faced suffering and the threat of violence; they most likely fled their country in an arduous journey; they had to wade through camps and bureaucracies to make it all the way here, to the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, where they are the first of their community to be resettled. You might have images of boats and tents and mothers clutching their children. But I have in mind a more immediate, more personal image: I was sitting in a sparsely decorated living room drinking coffee that was served thick and dark and sugary in tiny red cups. I drank it, even though it was late in the evening and I knew I would pay for it later. I drank it because that coffee contained a part of this family's life and heart and culture, and to reject it would be to reject it all.

I came to this realization with a start as I watched the most recent season of The Great British Baking Show. If you are not familiar with this series, a few caveats are in order: Yes, it is a reality show from England centered on baking, and yes, it is the best thing to ever air in the history of television. This might sound hyperbolic, but I am addicted to the show in a way that is hard to explain. When I’m having a hard day—which truth be told, is often—I play an episode and get absorbed into its gentle perfection.

The concept is simple: 12 bakers are faced with various challenges related to baking, and each week ...

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