One of the saddest images that I have ever conjured in my mind dates back to my childhood and while I cannot remember it happening specifically to me, the image itself touches some strange corner of my mind that inevitably feels the deep pangs of sadness that give the image its power. It is of a child looking expectantly out into a crowded cafeteria, a loaded tray trembling slightly in their hands as they search for an empty seat, a life vest in the middle of that tumultuous social ocean. I imagine that child unable to find a safe port, scanning the faceless crowd for something recognizable; I imagine their helplessness, the pit that creeps into their stomach as they start to watch others watching them and as they wait silently for the ground to turn merciful and swallow them whole.
I have since imagined this with adults, with people I love in place of that child and it has brought tears to my eyes in a way that not even the saddest recollections would have done.
But why? I have asked myself this question and I have asked myself what it is about that context, the crowded (or not so crowded, I am never sure which is worse) cafeteria that sends such a wave of sadness through me and I think finally it is because no one likes to eat alone. Yes I know, we've all experienced those sophisticated moments where we bring our book with us and we proudly ask for a table for one and we are content with how mature we are. But even if we like eating alone (and something about it is quite nice at times) we do have to point out to ourselves and others that we are eating alone (and proud of it, as the case may be). Because it is somehow strange to eat alone, isn't it? Somehow, it feels like we are missing something integral in the experience of eating itself that is as essential to the flavour of the food as the right amount of salt.
And indeed, what family or culture or group or society doesn't have somewhere in its traditions the act of coming together over a meal? At the core of nearly every social unit there is the act of eating as a celebration. Because we do not rally the family, congregation, cult, team, etc together to huddle in corners and chew at jerky, do we? No! We cook with colour, we pull out our time honoured recipes, we spend way too much money on things that will be gone before we have even had a chance to realize they were there! Eating is a spectacle and one for which we turn up in large and thriving numbers, and there are too many examples to even consider. When we go on a date we know its real if we're going for dinner; dinner is the most basic unit of measurement for the time we spend with others. At the heart of ViaMedina is this idea, if we're honest; we know ourselves and each other through the time we spend together, and we spend this time together cooking, and eating.
Companions. Those with whom we share ourselves, through whom we know ourselves. And at the very root of this idea of companionship is the act of breaking bread together. The very word itself comes from 'sharing bread' and it holds then that this act of sharing bread binds us to each other in some intangible yet wholly understandable way. Our companions are those with whom the ceremony of eating commences, with whom we laugh and fight and yell and cry and change and live and watch time pass, together. And somehow, that very symbolic moment wherein we grab the ends of a loaf of bread together and we feel the crust beneath our fingers giving way to the soft density of its middle, somehow this physical motion says what our often pithy words cannot. It says that we are in this together, that we will not forget each other and that with that bit of bread we will not have to feel lonely. We feed our bodies and we wash away the wave of sadness that comes from looking out onto that ocean alone.
So yes, I know. Bread is all horrible and evil and carbs and gluten and everything that is wrong with the very fabric of the world itself. I get that, and I don't pretend to not feel it myself at times and I don't doubt the validity of any of it. But still, remember that moment when you have scanned that crowded room, looking for those faces that you know. Remember those times when you have sat at a table with those dearest to you for whatever holiday or occasion mattered most. Remember those times when you were curled into a corner booth with the one person who made your heart sing. Remember how much it means to share that moment and all of those little moments with someone, and remember that it is with that very small act of breaking bread that the very notion of friendship came to be what it is. A safe port, a friendly face, your hand in mine.
Country Bread (Pane di Genzara)
- Biga 26.8%
- Flour 44.6%
- yeast 0.6%
- water 26.8%
- Salt 1.2%
- 450g Biga
- 750g Flour
- 10g yeast
- 450g water
- 20g salt
- Knead ingredients together
- Place in a flour covered bowl and cover with plastic wrap
- Leave to rise until the dough has doubled in size
- Knock back the dough
- Place on a baking sheet and cover with a cloth, leave to double in size again
- Bake at the hottest temperature your oven will allow for 10 minutes
- Turn your oven down to 200 degrees C until the bread is crunchy on the outside and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf