This blog is, on the whole, about charting my successes (and occasional failure) in the world of baking. It’s quite straightforward really. However, the other day I began thinking about why I enjoy baking so much. If it were just about having something sweet to eat, surely I’d just pop to the local cafe or bakery as an easier means of getting my sweet fix!
The truth is the very act of baking is the part of the process that I find most enjoyable. I find it therapeutic and calming. Unlike life, you know that, for the most part, if you follow a set of instructions and processes you’ll get a known outcome. I miss that sort of certainty in the rest of my life at the moment – my PhD feels a bit like one large amorphous being without clear stages and, at times, with no end in sight. I’m not entirely sure where my life will head after I finish either. I know I’ll get married next year, but from then on it’s a bit of a mystery. That’s okay – at 30 I don’t need to chain myself to the spot just yet, but a bit of directionality is always comforting. Those afternoons when I can easily spend a few hours pottering around the kitchen, or just reading recipe books, planning when some new doughy delight will make its mark on my world, make that train of life slow down a bit and give me some real ‘me’ time just to think, enjoy life, and take in what’s around me.
This made me think a bit deeper (I know, dangerous territory) about how so many of life’s important moments are punctuated by memories of food. Now this may just be relevant to me, but I have a feeling there are other people out there who have memories made of taste and smell, as much as sight and sound. I hate to admit it, but my earliest memory is of being in some sort of fast food restaurant (might have started with Mc – you’d have to ask my mother). There were tables shaped like trains, and on that day I was more interested in driving the train than eating the food; a habit that didn’t last but I was only three.
Brought up in a traditional Jewish household, it’s unsurprising that food has plays such an important role in my life. The old saying that Jewish tradition is all about fasting and feasting is no joke, although I’ve never been one for the fasting. Seder nights are one of my favourite times of year. Yes I will always will the service forward at break-neck speed so that we can get to the eating part, but having that evening, when the whole family gets together and we share in the joy of stuffing ourselves silly over a long, drawn out night together can’t be beaten.
I remember my great-grandmother via the smells of roast dinners and the memory of salads with grapes in (terribly exotic when you’re five), my first proper holiday with Mr. Bandit included a beautiful night spent eating barbequed suckling pig and local red wine that our lovely landlady brought us – it literally tasted like holidays.
Food also plays a part in the bigger events life throws at us. When my grandfather passed away a few years ago the day of his funeral was spent mostly helping my mother butter what felt like a million bagels, and through providing all his loved ones with some culinary comfort, yet another person in my life became linked to foodie memories (although he was already famous for his refusal to eat anything that might have been remotely good for him. At 87 my mother way lying to him about what went into his dinner to get him to eat his greens).
This brings me to the food item most wholly associated with marking a life event – the wedding cake. Now a lot of people these days aren’t that bothered with a wedding cake. On the whole they are extortionate if you buy them from a bakery, and most sensible people don’t want to be making one in the days leading up to their wedding. But for me, this is one of the few wedding day traditions that I genuinely love. Cutting a cake, feeding each other’s souls both symbolically and physically and having something big enough that all your loved ones can join in that feast is a special and poignant moment. It’s not about how much icing, what tops the cake, how many tiers or what flavours – it’s about sharing a moment that engages all the senses.
So in a week that has brought life changing news to several of my nearest and dearest, news that will change lives for better and worse, I’ve thought a lot about how I remember the people and moments in my life. Some may read this and think I need to remove my head from my backside, others may identify, but I just wanted to put it out there, and share my thoughts on how something so simple as making a cake, baking a loaf or just sitting down to a meal with the people who mean most to you, can give you a moment to breathe, think and get a little perspective on what’s important.
Normal service will resume in the next post. For now, thanks for listening.