Eating in the Now

Have you all heard about the now? It’s kind of big at the moment, if you’ll excuse the tautology. It’s big because mindfulness has become so fashionable that even the government thinks it might be good for us and that’s usually about the time that a craze is o-ver. But let’s not hold that against the now. At the risk of being annoying I would just mention it is all we’ve got. Yesterday, you will have noticed, has popped off somewhere you can’t get at it any more and tomorrow, well we all know about tomorrow, that temptress who never delivers.

in-the-now

If you’ve been told you’re too fat since you were just a child you may be standing at the fridge eating just because you can! There’s no-one to look at you and make you feel uncomfortable. Overeating can be a way of having your own back on your past but because it’s not very kind to your body, it is a strategy that could do with some adjustment. Overeating can also be an unconscious behaviour. When there’s a serious derailment of our connection with our body we often behave unconsciously. Smokers who light two cigarettes at the same time are unconscious. Over-eaters on autopilot are unconscious as they wolf down a burger on their way home to a Weightwatchers dinner they spent their weekend making.

So what does eating in the now mean? It means not eating off other people’s plates, or straight from the fridge, or standing at the kitchen counter without getting a plate because those are ways we sort of pretend we’re not actually eating. You know that joke about food being calorie free if someone else ordered it? It is just a joke, sadly!

Eating in the now means being present as you eat, enjoying what you eat, noticing that you are eating, noticing what you are eating and how you feel when you start and how you feel when you stop. As I am writing this I realise that it means being grown up around food and if that feels scary take as much time as you need, as often as you need to look after the part that isn’t ready to grow up.

Let’s own up to eating! We’re allowed! Let’s make pizza and eat it in full consciousness and without apology. What is the right amount to eat if you’re not having your own back or pushing yourself but having a good time?

Pizza!

pizza

Bread Dough

500g strong white flour

1 x sachet easy bake yeast

0.75 pints of hand warm water

Salt to taste

  1. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and bring together with a flat knife into a dough that you can eventually tip onto the counter.
  2. Knead briefly and scoop back into the bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
  3. While the dough is proving make your passata by barely simmering some good chopped tinned tomatoes, or over-ripe chopped fresh tomatoes, or bottled passata with a garlic clove, a little salt and a good splash of olive oil.
  4. When the dough has grown and has visible air bubbles in it after about an hour put your oven on its highest setting and set a shelf half way down the oven.
  5. Tip the dough back onto the counter with some flour and knead it back and forth until it feels like a baby’s flesh, soft and springy. Roll it out as flat as you can and put it on a parchment lined baking tray. Use your hands to stretch it to the edges of the tray.
  6. By now your pasta should be thick and oily and you can spoon it onto the dough and spread it to the edges.
  7. Again leave for about half an hour – because it’s pizza not bread we don’t need the full rise.
  8. Now you can add your pizza toppings of choice, bake on high for 20 minutes and eat. More delicate toppings like mozzarella or prawns can be added half way through the cooking.

Toppings

sliced mushrooms

salami or ham

tuna or crab or prawns

basil or oregano

roasted peppers or aubergines

cheese : mozzarella, goats’ cheese, cheddar

cooked spinach

Bread

When I was little we used to visit the local bakery, Bromwich’s, where my mother would buy bridge rolls, cob and cottage loaves, tea cakes and iced buns. On a Thursday, my half day, we would take custard tarts and pineapple tarts from Bromwich’s to my grandmother’s for afternoon tea. This was an old fashioned bakery with a wonderful smell, a long queue and a great selection of plain, English bread, buns and cakes. My father, unaccountably, always sent a  request for a macaroon and this increased his mystery for me.- for who could choose a macaroon when there were pineapple cream tarts in the offing?

breadHome-Made Bread

Be patient if you haven’t made bread before. Even if this is your first attempt your bread will be totally irresistible when it comes out of the oven. Once you get familiar with the dough you will be able to make bread that is also delicious cold.

 

1000g strong white flour

2 x sachet easy bake yeast

1.5 pints of hand warm water

Salt to taste

  1. Put your oven on its highest setting and set a shelf low down for the bread.
  2. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and bring together with a flat knife into a dough that you can eventually tip onto the counter.
  3. Knead briefly and scoop back into the bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
  4. When the dough has grown and has visible air bubbles in it after about an hour tip it back onto the counter with some flour and knead it back and forth again. When it feels like a baby’s flesh, soft and springy, it’s ready to go into the baking tray.
  5. Cut some baking parchment to cover a baking tray and divide the dough in two. Roughly form two loaves and put them side by side in the baking tray.
  6. Again leave for 45 minutes to an hour – maybe on top of the oven which is heating up. After an hour or less the dough will have expanded and this time it is ready for the oven.
  7. Bake half an hour at your oven’s highest temperature and then check the bread is cooked. Turn the load upside down and knock on the base. When it sounds hollow it is cooked.
  8. Cool on a wire rack.

If this is your first attempt your bread will taste delicious hot but may take some practice to be edible cold. Make bread each week and you will quickly get to know the texture that will bake into good bread.

Now rejoice. You have joined thousands of years of bakers. You are celebrating your links to thousands of years of history across many other cultures. Before the Flood they were eating bread like yours.bread-2

With bread like this you can upgrade all kinds of meals from shop-bought hummus to home-made soup. A lettuce, a piece of cheese and a home-made loaf is all you need. Or to quote Omar Khayyam ‘A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and Thou!’ I have a feeling this is the loaf he had in mind.

After a month or so you when your bread is pretty reliable you can try variations. Add cooked onion to the dough for a wonderful sweet onion bread. Top with seeds or grated cheese. Add pitted olives to the dough and some olive oil for an authentic Mediterranean taste. You can let your imagination off the leash here. There is nothing you can add to your bread that won’t be worth trying. Let me know what you do!

Radio Four’s The Food Programme

p048l5sm.jpg

Syrian Bakeries

The World Food Programme supplies ingredients to support the running of Syria’s bakeries.

Today I want to pay tribute to one of the most intelligent radio programmes on the airwaves, Radio 4’s The Food Programme. It has been going as long as I can remember and it tackles pretty much all aspects of food including the political. It informs, it educates, it delights and without fanfare it also investigates ethical and scientific questions around food. What is good for us? Who can afford to eat what is good for us? Who is making our lives better through their attempts at more ethical farming? Which small businesses are winning prizes for their new foods? The foods may be cheese or beer or biscuits. Quality and innovation and integrity are championed by this splendid programme.

Recently there have been two TFPs on the food of the Syrian people affected by conflict. Despite bringing the suffering of that war-torn country much closer and making it more personal, these programmes yet contrived to include the uplifting face of our own humanity. I was especially moved by the interview with the lady who had taken her small family caravan from the UK to Calais and from its limited facilities now feeds hundreds of refugees every day. On TFP website you will see pictures of her undertaking. Thanks to The Food Programme I learned how such food as reaches Syria succeeds in doing so but I also understood something about  the attacks on aid convoys and how people can starve surrounded by fields of healthy crops – a tragic conundrum that I had not understood at all. There is no hand-wringing here but real respect and fellow-feeling for the people and the aid-workers because food is something we all have a relationship with. When we hear that Syrian bakeries have had to close for want of flour and firewood we can relate to that. Bread is a cornerstone of our diet as it is of theirs.

The Food Programme has a venerable history and I shall come back to it to share with you the pleasures of its archive. For today just let me add that when a controversial subject is explored there is very little finger-wagging because they let the facts speak for themselves. Most often in the external world the facts do not arrange themselves so simply that blame falls squarely and conveniently on one party but if that does happen Dan Saladino and Sheila Dillon assume we are all intelligent enough to notice for ourselves. For me this beats being hit over the head with the interviewer’s opinion hands down. (Today and World At One, please note!)

Tomorrow the recipe is for bread. For today the recipe is to offer ourselves and others some of the warmth and respect in our hearts, even when we know we have not done our best and to refuse to indulge the finger-wagging part. As one of my wise sons said to me, ‘People know when they’ve messed up, Mum. You don’t need to tell them.’ Spot on.