I love baking bread. There is something comforting about the whole process – kneading, proving and watching the dough double in size, knocking it back, shaping, proving again and finally putting it into the oven.
But however captivating the process might be, baking bread is a complex exercise as so many things can go wrong. I’ve learnt that simple things like using water at the right temperature or fresh yeast can make all the difference.
But the best advice I’ve ever received was from my grandma years ago. Before I started school I used to spend a lot of time with her, watching her cook and bake. ‘Dough is alive, it has a mind of its own’, she used to say. ‘You must only make bread if you are happy, it feeds on positivity. If you are not happy while you are making bread, the dough won’t rise for you.’
And that advice became my own lucky charm, superstition and one of the fondest memories of my grandma. I have never made bread while I was unhappy. I couldn’t risk it.
Linda was leaning on the breakfast bar in my kitchen and enjoying her third glass of Prosecco, while I was getting the ingredients ready for sundried tomatoes and olive wholemeal loaf. ‘Exactly what is he waiting for?’, she slurred. ‘We’ve been together for four years – we got a mortgage and a dog together. I’m not getting younger and my biological clock is ticking. Why isn’t he proposing?’
The reason Chris wasn’t proposing was because he didn’t have the slightest interest in marrying Linda and was regularly caught with the trousers around his ankles by Linda herself. And each time she forgave him and took him back.
Meanwhile, I had a dilemma of my own – I had all the ingredients for my loaf but I wasn’t sure about the yeast. It was still in date but I know from experience that date on the yeast means nothing. If it’s been open long enough, it won’t work.
‘I do everything for him – I clean, cook, wash, iron and shop. He doesn’t have to do anything,’ – the bottle was almost empty and Linda was now struggling to sit upright and was half-laying on the breakfast bar. ‘Am I that undesirable? What is wrong with me? Why won’t he marry me’, - she wailed.
I replaced the flute in her hand with a glass of water and pondered if I should take her to the lounge and settle her on the sofa. On the other hand I wanted to prepare bread dough and leave it to prove. But looking at the sorry state of Linda I decided to leave the bread making until later and took her to the lounge.
‘Tash, what if he will never marry me? What if he finds somebody better than me and leaves me?’, - suddenly sober and her eyes were gleaming, as if she had just discovered Penicillin. I knew that my response wasn’t required, Linda was merely voicing her thoughts and talking to herself – I just happened to be sitting next to her.
As I listened to her stream of consciousness, I couldn’t help but wonder, when it comes to relationships and baking, is it worth starting something if you don’t have the right ingredients? And if you are already half way through, do you keep going and hope for the best or do you bin it and start from scratch with the right ingredients? At what point do you whisk away?
I didn’t make bread that day – didn’t want to start it with bad yeast and an upset girlfriend. But Linda didn’t follow my suit.
She came to a conclusion that she should leave Chris before he left her. Two days later she called and said that Chris proposed. There was no ring as he ‘is saving up’ for a special one, Linda ate that right out of his hand.