Sunday, 28 August 2011

Using my loaf

It's for pulling out of the toaster and covering in butter and jam, it's on a side plate, it's there for dipping and nibbling while you choose what you're having, it's the bit that you hold and which holds the filling, it's for scooping up dips and for fiddling with during lulls in the conversation. It's always there, it's a quotidian object; its ubiquity makes it almost invisible.

The session during Richard Bertinet's course where we sat round listening before we got our hands dirty - Richard passed round a bagged sliced loaf bought that morning from a local supermarket, asking us to read out the ingredients, to touch and squish and smell the slices - really started me thinking. Richard, in the most drool-inducing manner described the experience of choosing some French bread in a boulangerie, squeezing it and feeling the crust yield with a gentle crack, breaking off the end and nibbling it. He then talked us through a bog standard sliced bread sandwich - no crust, no crunch, no anticipation, a wet mass sticking to the roof of your mouth, quick swallowing without much chewing. It all resonated very strongly.

I was aghast at the list of ingredients in tiny writing on that plastic bag. I couldn't stop my eyes straying from it to the water, yeast, salt and flour lined up on the worktop next to Richard, throwing all those extras into sharp relief. Never a big fan of the stuff, I would have pittas for my lunch, but I wasn't averse to sticking the odd slice in the toaster. I tried to think of another foodstuff that I'd happily eat knowing that it contained such things. I couldn't.

So why did we buy it every week? Why was running out of it a disaster to be avoided at all costs? I suppose a mixture of habit and convenience. I've not had a very happy relationship with food over the years, but divorce isn't really an option is it? Choosing better what to have a bad relationship with was starting to seem like a good idea. When Tallboy picked me up in the Circus after the course, the first thing I blurted out was that there were to be no more plastic wrapped supermarket sliced loaves. He wasn't convinced, but didn't want to pop my fresh-baked just-out-of-the-course bubble.

I talked to him about a crust that makes you actively chew, and a texture that is a pleasure to eat. I bored him with lists of ingredients. He surrendered. We haven't bought a loaf since the beginning of July. He comes home from work and tells me how much he enjoyed his sandwiches, how good they tasted, how enjoyable it was to eat them, how he actually noticed he was eating them. I've been actually eating bread rather than grabbing a quick slice of toast once in a blue moon. It's part of my daily food vocabulary.

And that's the thing - it's started to be food, not just something to put butter on, or an outside for a filling. It's nutrition, it's tasty, and I actually want to eat it and enjoy it. Every week I make different loaves so we're not stuck on a treadmill of sameness. And every week I make extras - bagels or rolls or fougasses - for us to enjoy. It's stopped being invisible, and it's started to be something we look forward to. It feels great to make something the boys love, and to take the odd little offering round to the Brazil Nut's. Notwithstanding my lameness with a lame and my tendency to over-prove and have catastrophic collapses unfolding before my horrified gaze, I am making good food that others love and I am proud of it. Running out isn't the disaster it used to be, either. I just make some more...


  1. nice blog - keep going!

  2. He is such an inspiration (Mr Bertinet that is!)