Food for Thought

Since lockdown, bread has taken over a disproportionate amount of time and place in my reality. Long ones, tall ones, short ones, fat ones, brown ones, French ones, seeded ones, gluten free ones. My Insta, Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of recipes, making, baking and faking pics of bread.  Everyone is at it. 


What’s particularly strange (full disclosure) is that a quick sweep of my kitchen reveals the crumbs of two (or is it three?) pandemic weeks (794 dog years) of these bread attempts. In my case: flat ones, stale ones, doughy ones, failed ones, burnt ones, pita bread ones-that-weren’t-too-bad. Thank God the testosterone teens don’t stop to taste before they swallow. Hell, there’s a loaf in the oven now. 

My obsession with bread started to rise (clearly in direct response to some grand Universal need to knead) a couple of weeks ago. I rolled up my sleeves and dusted off a voluminous Kenwood bread maker I bought a few years ago; inspired by my sister Marie’s delectable creations. It has dutifully followed me around, occupying kitchen cupboards in The Algarve, Bangkok, Umbria and now, London. And, much like many life-goals and dreams, there it has remained, largely ignored, ever since. With great excitement I pulled it out of its nearly-new box, shiny with hope and kept-promise. ‘One day’ had indeed come. Well! Imagine my mortification to discover – God only knows where and how – but its kneading arm was no more!  My mind drifted from disappointment back to simpler days. 

It was somewhere back in the 1970’s. American Pie played on the radio as Marie and I eyed each other suspiciously from opposite ends of Grandma’s kitchen table. Sunday was baking day. We each had out own set of ingredients, measuring spoons, scales, spatulas, and a mixing bowl. Mine was red and hers was green – our favourite colours. Grandma had long since realised that sharing anything other than DNA was not going to work for us.

Grandma a ‘few’ years later

How brightly the morning sun shone through the kitchen window of the house on the hill. Bouncing off the light blue and often-turbulent waters of Wellington Harbour. From ‘my’ position I could see the South Island Ferry bounce its way through devilish Southerly winds and the Heads into the Cook Strait; utterly oblivious to our sibling wars. Every Sunday, Grandma watched with ever-ready laughter, tales of yore and (what I now understand) was truly the patience of a saint. We suspiciously laid down our hurts and grudges next to the butter and icing sugar, for the sanctified ritual of choosing the week’s biscuit. The Edmond’s Cookbook (world-famous-in-New-Zealand: Sure to Rise!) was our white flag. A selection of Yoyos, ANZAC biscuits, caramel slices; the Sunday armistice agreement.

Home made pizza in progress

Food for thought

Dammit – I wish we had made bread in those days! Now, up to my elbows in gluten-free flour, the smell of Spring sneaks in through the kitchen window, blending with memories and a sourdough starter I made earlier. As I’m pondering the mass bread making mystery a post pops up on Facebook. Like everything in this wormhole universe in which we find ourselves; it is about bread. Suzie Alexander, who has an organic farm and restaurant in Cetona, Tuscany writes: “It is no coincidence that making bread is the first recipe in my cookbook … because it binds us … it brings us together. All over the world its perfume, its taste and the simple act of sharing it with others: bread has been at the center of our lives and the center of our tables for a long time. When we are in difficulty, there is bread, there MUST be bread. When I realized that the smell of bread, freshly baked, was my first olfactory memory of life, it was as if I had understood many things…”

Bread and raw honey

Mystery Solved

We are all bound

Behind these walls, behind our masks, behind our cultural constructs; we are all connected by the perfume of life. To be fair, sometime it is more of a stench. Nevertheless – we share it. We share the table with each other. Why are some people at our table hungry? I don’t know what to do about it but I know it starts with me

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

I finally had a memory of life after two weeks of ‘winging it’ with substitute ingredients, random measurements and a hatred of scales; a profound inability to follow any form of instruction. Including a recipe. On reflection, people may have been telling me my whole life. C1980, my best friend Valeria’s uncouth dog Ebony, mistaking my delicious raisin scone for a bone, tried to bury it. I’m not sure that sucker ever softened up.

I still hear the old voices: “What will become of you?” Why can’t you listen?” “There’s something wrong with you…”. Ouch. It still hurts… especially when I fear the voices might be right. All I can do is try to recognise that different results will not emerge from the same techniques. Try to grow. The scales are not my enemy but those voices might be. Making bread, I have deduced the hard way, is easier if you follow the rules… and a creative original loaf takes persistence as well as an understanding of… rules. 

Bread is God

Our collective kitchen consciousness seems to whisper that now is the time to dust off that dusty box of dreams. To revisit the secret goals hidden in the dark taking up space. The timer is finally ringing on the negative voices… 
Hidden inside those dark places something might be missing, something might be flawed and sleeping daemons woken from slumber. 
But as I bake my upteenth loaf of bread I am starting to understand things fully loaded with the aroma of bread. 

  1. Love never leaves your side. In every measure, in every pour in every pore I feel my Grandma’s laughter. Love trumps failure and unconditional love can save you.
  2. As the yeast rises and my mind empties, my spirit points me in the direction of the greatest adventure of all: the journey back to myself. Which, given the circumstances, can fortuitously be taken from the comfort of my own home. 

Scales not required.


6 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. Loved reading this beautiful (and wise) piece! You’re so lucky to have those special memories of baking with grandma and Marie. I pray that one day your bread is even half as good as your writing (for your boys’ sake at least).


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