Hat says, ‘There’s something wrong with the bread; I don’t think it’s meant to look like that’.
She means the bread I’m making; the loaf that is ready, judging by penetrating beep of bread machine, but has yet to be removed and sliced for breakfast.
I got it for Christmas from Best Beloved. The bread machine. He gave it to me because we cannot always buy bread in the Outpost and because he could not bear for me to attempt to make my own unaided as I did in manner persuaded to me by Isabella Beeton when at 23 and newly married and naïve I thought the ability to make yeast come alive with fat bubbles and elevate dough to glossy springiness was fundamental to a happy marriage. Luckily it was not: though the yeast stayed stubbornly flat and the dough was the consistency of a cannon ball and the bread utterly inedible, though best beloved suggested I sell it to demolition mobs that were breaking down old buildings in the city we lived in then – Dar es Salaam – in favour of newer ones, we have remained together.
So. Almost twenty years on and because we no longer live within a 20 mile radius of a reasonable bakery, I was presented with a bread machine. Something small and dainty and sparkly in trademark blue Tiffany bag might have been nice to own, might have impressed my friends, something from Prada might have done too. But neither are of much use in hard-line, out-lying Outpost. So a FastBake it was instead.
The family watched as I fastidiously measured the ingredients for the first attempt into the tin with the precise little measuring spoons provided and regular reference to recipe in accompanying booklet. They observed as I carefully set the timer and they applauded when my fat, light loaf appeared on the breakfast table the next morning.
Three months later, though, and I had become a little slapdash. Remembering there’s no bread for breakfast at 11pm when you’ve had a few glasses of Red isn’t a good approach to cooking. In my rush to get the necessary done – ‘I must just put the bread on’, I’d say importantly to BB when he enquired (by hollering through house) if I was planning on coming to bed anytime that week – I began to carelessly gauge amounts, quite disregarding the ominous little warnings in booklet: Please use measuring cup and spoons provided accurately. I also cut back on the salt – two tablespoons of it – since I thought it’d please my doctor if I did so whilst simultaneously displeasing gathering cellulite which I understand thrives on a diet stacked with sodium secreted into benign looking foods like homemade bread, for example.
On Hat’s ‘I don’t think it’s meant to look like this’, I got up to examine the fruits of my midnight labours. And she was quite right: bread’s not meant to look like that. It’s meant to look arched with pride and deliciously, inviting promise. Not slumped with soggily, grey misery.
Hat is quite a stickler. Unlike her sloppy mother.
‘I think we should look them up in the book again, Mum’, she said, ‘the instructions, she pressed.
Who’d have thought you could troubleshoot a loaf of bread?
It said: if you are so slovenly you can’t be bothered to measure things out properly or if you think you know better than us and begin to invent your own recipes or if you ditch the salt because you a vain cow who would rather have sleek thighs than feed her family properly, your bread will sink disastrously in the middle and be hard and lumpen and you might just as well use it as demolition fodder. Or words to that effect. I got the message though.
I made my bread at 7 last night. Before I was too tired to see my way around the kitchen and before the Red had interfered with my eyesight so that I was unable to decipher the calibrations on the cups and spoons.
I will – as a consequence – be able to set before Hat for breakfast today a loaf that has risen to perfect roundness, a loaf with a firm, brown crust and innards the consistency of warm marshmallows upon which her butter will melt just as she likes.
And I shall be able to bask in both her praise and a very, very rare glow of domestic and maternal success.
I am going away for a bit. Far away. For a fortnight. I shall begin my journey tomorrow and arrive at my destination 48 hours later. I like to think I’m going where I am because I’m needed there for now, might make a difference. I’m not sure I will.
But I have to try.