Bread is Life

I don't bake. I'll leave that to my sister in law (loaves pictured are all her handiwork) and my godmother, whose recent foray into the art of breadmaking has produced sourdough and ciabatta loaves to rival any extorted for $7 a pop at continental bakeries. She assures me that it is the simplest and most satisfying of pastimes, and has even shared with me her most foolproof of recipes. I am, however, no ordinary fool. At the very mention of "feeding starters", "pre-ferments" and "oven temperatures", my eyes glaze over and I start to daydream about pork...

Truly, anything remotely connected with flour needs to be attached to a
recipe I can memorise and is impossible for me, the serial improviser of
ingredients and "that'll do-er" of quantities, to screw up. My pancake
batter is based on a ratio of 1:1:1/2 (1 cup of flour, 1 egg, 1/2 Pint
of milk - yes pint, when my current jug with increments denoting pints
wears out, I'm stuffed - and double or triple as needed). Similarly my
pizza dough is 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 cups warm water
(added to a sachet of dried yeast and a pinch of caster sugar) and even this I can't help but mess with by kneading in fresh garlic, dried
oregano or, in the case of dessert pizza, which I rarely bother with,
shaved crystallised ginger. Recipes just smack of being told what to do
and when it comes to baking, you need boundaries and a well behaved
oven.

I have neither.

The day I discovered that, by choosing to bake mud cakes over those
infernal butter cakes for my children's birthdays, I no longer needed to
cream butter and sugar, I did the Belki Bartokomous dance of
joy
in my kitchen. Imagine
my delight. Combine the butter, chocolate, water and sugar in a
saucepan, allow to congeal (oh alright, "cool") a bit so you don't
scramble the egg you're about to swizzle in, then add dry ingredients.
And I buy pre-sieved because no-one has the time for that. Bit like
ironing really.

So yes. Bread. My memories of this staple are as colourful and diverse
as the loaves themselves. From the plastic bag of Tip Top Swiss Maid
residing on my Godparents' otherwise traditional Italian table
(presumably to cater for my fibre adverse uncle) to the dense varieties of my mothers choosing who, as a student of weight loss gurus Scarsdale
and Pritikin, stocked her pantry with Roggenbrot and Pumpernickel. My
tastes lie closer to the latter, preferring a dark, chewy rye above any
other, though the sandwich of ham, salad and pickled onion on white
bread recently made for me by my godmother really hit the spot. She gets
it. I'm normally the sandwich maker, though. As the Condiment Queen and
purchaser of Too Many Smallgoods, I take perverse pleasure in seasoning
every layer and ensuring the correct sequence and texture of each
filling, but having one made for you by another expert is pretty good
too.

Mixed memories of family tables. The mouth-shredding crusty loaf. The
hunched form of my white singleted, hairy shouldered Nonno mopping his
plate. The killer knife that sat upon the breadboard would have looked
more at home in a tackle box than at my uncle's elbow. Here bread was
reserved for the patriarch; the literal breadwinner.

Open the oven door in any of my family's kitchens, now or 30 years ago,
and it wouldn't be unusual to find bread ends that have been drying at a
desperately low temperature the previous day. They'd be destined to be
blitzed into breadcrumbs for cotoletti (crumbed chicken or pork cutlets)
or used for stuffing capsicums. Back in the day it was a heavy rolling
pin, sheets of baking paper and thoughts of violence that were recruited
for this task and not the Bamix. Though I prefer to use panko mixed with
grated parmesan now, I still keep bum ends of unsliced sourdough or
continental loaves in the freezer for this purpose and more recently for
Migas, Picada and croutons. Nothing like the oily, garlicky crunch of
day old fried bread.

There's the familiar practice, certainly not isolated to ethnic
families, of dripping or beef lard on bread, and my uncle would enjoy
ricotta sprinkled with sugar on white bread as a change to his 67
savoiardi biscuits with milky coffee after his day of of tiling or
bricklaying (I'm not even joking).

I'm going to be controversial here. Bread is savoury and NOT FOR
PUDDINGS. I don't care what Pannetone leftover rescuing, Galliano-laced,
custard and summer berry stuffed or Jamie Oliver inspired thing you
plonk in front of me, it's soggy bread, people! Don't even get me
started on rice...the comparisons I draw between rice pudding and
bleached cat vomit will not please if you are a fan. In general, the
idea of sodden bread; dishes such as the bread salad Panzanella; give me
the wiggins, but on the matter of French toast I can be persuaded, given
enough cinnamon sugar. The sopping up of juices at the bottom of the
salad bowl was also a coveted treat.

So bread is life, is it? If I'm honest, I feel more lively if I avoid
it. Yes, I've done the low carb, grain free, borderline-Paleo,
just-say-you're-gluten-intolerant-or-diabetic-for-gods-sake-this-is-too-hard-to-explain-to-the-waiter-guy
"eating plans" but it's really just a gut feeling. (Sorry). I've always been more of a protein worshipper, but I challenge even the most rampant
carb evader to cast their minds back to bready memories and not feel at
least a little more connected to it all.