March 10th, 2017
Many moons ago (so the story goes), when my mother was pregnant with me, a cranky old obstetrician instructed her that the only weight she should put on during the pregnancy was the weight of the baby. I imagine him peering down a long nose through a pair of pince-nez, glowering at her and saying "A total of 8 pounds is all that I will allow". The horror! I can feel a collective gasp from you readers as, yes, this was some crazy-ass, 1970s advice. Okay, okay. I am sure to be exaggerating, as Mum can't remember the instruction exactly, but for the sake of this story it was 8 pounds. So, my mother starved herself. According to legend, she was all ribs and bones, and a baby bump. Meanwhile, as she did what she thought was healthy, she craved bread (of course she did, she would have been craving anything). She craved it so badly that she stock-piled loaves of it in the guest room of their little Sydney flat. I imagine a guest bed, with one of her loud 1970s quilts, piled high with delicious, crusty white bread. Bags and bags of it. I'm not sure if that's how it really was, maybe it was just a couple of loaves, but in my mind her story has always been of a teetering, tottering, tower of bread that she nurtured and sang to, stroked and pined for. My poor mama. And so - as my own story goes - I was a small embryo deprived of bread, and as a result bread is that craving I will always have. My forever lost-to-me soul mate. My ultimate in comfort. I will endlessly walk the globe, searching for that elusive loaf.
In my search I have often taken to baking bread myself. It seems to be something I tend to do in times of chaos. When Lily was a newborn I staggered around and cried a lot, but I also managed to make a loaf of bread every day. I clung on to it in amongst the mess of diapers and feeding, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. Cooking with yeast is a cakewalk compared to looking after babies. Making bread feels creative, it feels nurturing, and maybe it's even a little physically therapeutic. The repetitive rhythm of hand-kneading a loaf for "at least ten minutes" (according to all recipes) must have been soothing. One night, in an exhausted state, instead of patting Lily gently to sleep in her crib, I realised I was actually kneading her like a loaf of bread. I stopped but, trust me, you parents of babies, it seemed to do the trick.
This week I started baking bread again - life feels chaotic. I throw the dough around, kneading, wooing, pounding and singing to it as it rises (okay, maybe not quite, but you get the picture). In all this I have discovered that the perfect antidote for what ails me is River Cottage's basic bread recipe with a handful of grated cheese and a chopped, gently fried onion stirred through before kneading. Highly recommended and really not that hard.
Go forth and find your elusive loaf!
Finding Vivian Maier - I remember hearing about this when it first came out but now it is on Netflix. It's so good, and slightly unsettling. For forty years, Maier worked as a nanny, but spent much of her time roaming the streets taking photographs of strangers and passers-by, more than 150,000 in total. She never published any of her work and many of the negatives were never printed. Most interestingly, she didn't tell a soul about her passion. It's always intriguing to hear about an artist who has absolutely no interest in sharing their work, not even with those closest to them. These days, in a world full of Instagram likes, self-promotion and external-validation, it's a rare and exotic bird who works purely from a creative urge and then hides it away for no one to see. (thanks Carrie).
On this note, my dad wrote (after proofreading this):
"By chance I was listening to ABC FM in the car driving to Canberra today (Mum was asleep) and the announcer started talking about Bizet's First Symphony. He wrote this in 1855 at the age of 17 while he was studying music in Paris. However, his teacher didn't think he was any good, so he didn't show it to him. In fact, he didn't show it to anyone or tell anyone about it, and it got lost. It was rediscovered and first performed in 1933. Now it is one of his most well-known works and is often performed. "
When Your Greatest Romance Is a Friendship - is an article in the New York Times I found to be extremely moving. "Some of the greatest romances of my life have been friendships. And these friendships have been, in many ways, more mysterious than erotic love: more subtle, less selfish, more attuned to kindness."
And also from the New York Times Modern Love series - a love story about a baker, and bread.
The seven Wise Women on the Design Files this week, who are featured in celebration of International Women's Day. At the time of writing this, fashion designer Lisa Gorman, artist Stanislava Pinchuk (aka MISO) and entrepreneur Zoë Foster Blake have been profiled. I look forward to the next four.
No, I'm not. Not really. So I really appreciate that the Paris Review is publishing some of "the dullest, most soporific texts available in the public domain" - in their series called Sleep Aid. In keeping with my opening post this week, check out The Art of Breadmaking, from The Bread and Biscuit Baker’s and Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant, an 1890 book by Robert Wells. But only if you aren't sleeping.
For reasons that continue to baffle me, there is a need in our household to be always creating backing tracks for rap songs. Mostly these raps are a little like Flight of the Conchords songs, and lot less like [here I would put the name of very up-to-the-minute rapper, if I knew one]. Regardless, the "rhymes keep dropping", and apparently they are "lit". I was just getting used to saying that my eyebrows are "on flick". I can't keep up. For these tracks Garageband usually does the trick, but last week we discovered Sampulator, which is an simple online (and super fun) sample board that you can use with your computer keyboard. You can save and share the tracks if you have a twitter account. I managed to while away an hour before getting tired of it. (thanks Suzanne)
Marseille’s Remedy Traditional Thieves’ Oil from Salt Spring Naturals. In case of bubonic plague, or if you just want your hair to smell nice, I can't recommend this oil enough.
It seems to be a mixture of something like cloves, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary. While it's pretty potent and might frighten away small domestic animals, it feels like a very healthy and delicious mixture to be wafting around.
Friday Five Favourites - guest-starring Jan Robertson
My Mum! Bread is not on her list these days... but check out the sauce recipe. It's a doozy.
1) On Sydney Harbour
One hot evening after a 38 degree day we walked down the steps past Wendy Whiteley's house and her secret garden
to a little jetty on the edge of Lavender Bay. Across the harbour a fog was rolling in from the sea engulfing the city buildings...next to us a group of people were practising their tightrope walking on red straps they had tied over the water around an old wharf structure. That was a perfect evening.
2) Tomato sauce
In country New South Wales, in Binalong, an hour north of Canberra, Donna gave me her surplus tomatoes from this year's crop...so I have been in full laboratory mode boiling them up to make sauce/ketchup using my friend Ina's not-so-secret-anymore recipe. Apparently I have modified her recipe so much that I am not breaching copyright laws by linking to it
. Since I use empty whisky bottles [with dregs] to store it, it is very double whammy. Zoe up the hill calls it liquid gold.
3) Mick's Binalong sausages
The tomato sauce goes extremely well with Mick the Butcher's famous Binalong sausages. He serves his meat from behind a flywire cage...to keep the blowflies out of his shop...lamb chops are sawn from a lamb carcass from his coldroom...he still has all of his fingers...a very dexterous chap...mince for Bolognese is made from beef scraps on the spot. But it is his fragrantly delicious beef sausages
(another secret recipe) that compel people to make the 30km detour off the Hume Highway to seek them out.
The colour in my life is the stash of sock yarns in a box in the sleep-out. A friend gave me the original sock pattern book 45 years ago...I have transposed the pattern onto cards...the original is almost illegible now. The most beautiful multicoloured hand-dyed yarn I have is from Alberta and Nova Scotia...this comes in twisted hanks and if I get impatient winding it into a ball I end up with a fearful mess of wool that looks like roadkill. Sorting out the tangle takes almost as much time as knitting the socks.
5) The Shepherd's Life
While I knit socks I clamp on headphones and listen to talking books courtesy of the library. One of the best I have heard is The Shepherd's Life
by James Rebanks. His family have had the same sheep farm in the dales of the Lake District in England for 600 years. They raise Herdwick sheep...a tough breed that climb up into the mountains to eat the hardy vegetation on the heights and are brought down by trained sheepdogs to be shorn. The farmers of the dales are fiercely proud of their sheep...giving them facial grooming for the local sheep shows. This is a totally engrossing and charming book...there is a podcast of Richard Fidler interviewing James
at last year's Sydney Writers' Festival.
See you next week!
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard
p.s. The quote in the subject line is pretty obscure this week, but I liked it and it's bread related, so I stuck it in anyway. 500 points if you get this one!
Last week was “A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut”, which is of course from Monty Python and The Holy Grail.