This is a story about taking time for things you love.
I love food, I love how it tastes, I’m fascinated by how it works. I enjoy reading about its history and cultures. Food science is amazing. I’m also passionate about the way food brings people together, it builds communities and families and friendships. Food marks festivals: the Christmas ham, the Easter lamb, the whole salmon I poach for our birthdays each year.
This story, then, is just a little meditation about the things we love, and taking time for them, and how it’s okay if they drop out of your life for a while, but how good it is when you can get them back in.
For the last three years I feel like I’ve just run around like a crazy loon, working stupid hours and being tired and busy and a terrible friend. That’s not the whole story, thank goodness, but there was a lot more busyness than I would have liked, or than was healthy for me.
It wasn’t always like this. When I was doing my PhD, I had a glorious allotment with rocket and raspberries and beans and horseradish and potatoes and carrots….
And I used to make bread. I started with a basic white loaf, played around with Morrocan sourdough, and progressed to German Landbrot, and French pain de compagne and occaisionally, if I really had time, baguette.
I did have time, and I made time, and I took time.
I also worked two part-time jobs, commuted 3 and a half hours each way to Oxford, was a full-time student who finished her PhD in 3 years, produced conference papers, wrote a couple of articles, and some poetry.
The wonderful thing about a PhD is that it while it is long and hard work, it is also extremely flexible. And while working alone from home can be isolating, it also means you can spend your breaks making bread or putting on a load of washing or watering the veggie patch. I would make slow braised stews because putting something in the oven 6 hrs before we were going to eat it was efficient and warming.
I kept up the bread-making, through a trans-continental move, juggling multiple jobs, and, obviously, having to get a new sourdough starter up and running.
Then, three years ago, my partner got an extraordinary promotion right in the middle of my Web Project of Doom. (The blog posts from that period talk a lot about failing at getting stuff done….) A year later, I got an extraordinary promotion of my own, and we took a while to grow into our new responsibilities, and to shape our roles into something we could sustain.
This year has been better. I’ve managed to catch up with friends every week. I have a storehouse of quick soul food recipes. And we’ve started going to the gym (and you can read about that in my two posts on Excercising like a Girl, and its follow up post).
And then Facebook started reminding me that four years ago I made the most amazing loaf.
This loaf was the bread of dreams. The best crust. The best crumb. The best rise. The most incredible smell. The most delicious taste. It also meant I had to get up in the middle of the night to shape the loaf, so I only made it the once. But this loaf was extraordinary. (It’s from Tartine Bread, if anyone wants to have a go.)
And so a number of my friends had enquired about my starter, and I’d given them a yoghurt tub of sourdough goop, and some instructions, and they went off and made bread and gave the goop to their friends… and now they were remembering what it was like the first time they made bread from this starter…
In the meantime, my starter had died. I’d got busy and stressed and the fridge broke down and I ignored it for too long and it was horrible and dead. And so I have not had a starter in my fridge for a few years now.
This is a happy story though.
This week, I met one of those friends for coffee, and he brought me a yoghurt tub of sourdough goop. On Sunday, I’ making a loaf. It won’t be the most extraordinary loaf I’ve ever made, but it will be a good loaf, a loaf that took time.
And there you have it. A long rambly story about memory and friends and life and food and how it matters to me and how it has woven in and out of my academic journey.
We are not just learning machines, we are embedded and embodied in enormous human networks of love and culture and hunger and need. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of that.