Baking bread has become my ritual.
I bake bread when I am feeling upset and scattered and insecure (so every Tuesday.) When I was suffering with anorexia, bread was one of the many things that made me anxious – I would get a physical flutter of anxiety in the pit of my stomach at the thought of eating bread, especially bread with butter. I would feel ill at the thought. I now think that a large part of my avoiding of Forbidden Foods was a need to protect myself against that sick, frightened feeling, the horrible physical sensations that accompanied the forced eating of them.
Occasionally I get those fluttery anxious feelings again, aroused by unexpected things. They surprise me when they occur – yesterday, for example, I had a pinch of panic in my belly when my mother brought gave me a box of Hallowe’en biscuits she had made, shortbread covered in milk chocolate. I was surprised because I have eaten shortbread, and milk chocolate too, since recovering – I never much liked milk chocolate so I don’t eat that much of it, but I am not certainly not afraid of it in the same way I used to be.
I think it is important not to give those sensations more power by denying them and feeling horrified at their arrival. After all, it is understandable that after any long-term illness, occasional symptoms will linger in the system, showing themselves at the most unexpected moments. I should rather be grateful when they come up, so that I can acknowledge them and let them pass away, and let that hopefully be the last of it. I tried to sit with the fluttering in my stomach, breathing in and out. I said to myself, “Don’t worry, it will be okay. Everything is going to be okay.” After a moment, I felt a little better. I ate a few biscuits and shared some with friends.
It is at such moments that the act of baking bread grounds me, brings me back to myself, reminds me that I may become as stressed as possible about my English literature modules, the horrors of Number Theory, difficulties in my family (never a dull moment) and the need to decide once and for all what I want to be when I grow up – but in the end, all I really need is my daily bread. I love the feeling of dough in my hands, the smell of flour when I’m sifting it, the calm routing of it, the way it divides my afternoon into neat half-hour slots in between folds, in between which I tend to get more done, strangely enough, than I would have done if I had faced a big stretch of uncommitted time.
Small tips on baking bread
- Get some equipment. I tried to bake bread three times without a proofing basket, dough scraper, or heavy-lidded casserole pot. It just about worked, but it was a horrible palaver and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.
- Find a good recipe that works for you. Beware of sourdough recipes that seem really short and simple. They might be easy, but they won’t work. I found Izy Hopsack’s sourdough recipe a really nice balance – thorough, but not unnecessarily complicated.
- Give yourself enough time.
- Start with a clean kitchen.
I like to eat it with…
- Hummus and grilled vegetables, for example courgette or aubergine.
- Tahini and dark chocolate and sea-salt.
- Cream cheese (at the moment I’m using a soy-based one) and dill pickle
- Mashed chickpeas with olive oil and garlic.
- Almond butter and dried apricots.