This is Real Right Now.
Bread is simple. It’s only four ingredients. You have to use your hands to make it. And each time you do it, you get better. Like all baking, it requires patience and care. Baking bread might be my favorite way to spend a few hours. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time, and this idea that we should somehow be spending it better. It’s so easy, especially as I am getting older to feel that I’m wasting time, or it’s moving too quickly, or I should spend more of it working, or figuring something big out, or a million other anxiety and guilt inducing things. But we are all worth more than our productivity, than our paycheck. These hours, they’re mine. I get to choose how to fill them. We all do. Just like I get to choose what I put into the world, get to choose how I am known, every single day. And so do you. I don’t mean to make this choice sound easy. I know that for most of us, it isn’t. I know that for many more of us, it doesn’t feel like a choice.
The world demands a lot. Too much, sometimes. It feels like a lie to say that the world is kind. Lately the world has not felt very kind. And as I open my news app every morning and brace for the next awful thing I’ve also been thinking a lot about whose stories we hear. About what is considered valuable. And about the kind of ideas, products, and people that are allowed space and time and volume. I’ve been thinking about who is asked to make themselves smaller, and why, and who gets to be big and brave and real and loud.
Things like baking and knitting and sewing are still considered women’s work, and although more men than ever also enjoy these arts and pursue them both casually and professionally, they are undervalued. They aren’t considered important products or labor in the same way other industries are. Women’s stories (and gay people’s stories, and trans people’s stories, and non-white people’s stories) are finally starting to take up a little more space. Baking and knitting and sewing and other women’s work are part of those stories. Our stories aren't niche. And the things we make aren’t silly or worthless just because they lack a prescribed monetary value. Women’s stories have value, and not just to other women. To everyone. Sometimes trying to find these stories feels elbowing through a thick crowd of people, but by telling them ourselves we push a door open with our shoulders because our hands are so full. I don’t think we’re asking for much when we walk through. I don’t think it should be as hard to remember that our small details are important.
Baking isn’t just about the end result. It’s about a tradition of people who have made these dishes in the past. It’s about who I’m baking it for, or why. Every time I knead bread I think about the women in the French Resistance in World War II who baked messages into their loaves to pass them undetected by Nazi soldiers. They took something they did every day, a thing considered normal, boring, and unimportant, and used it change things. To help in the way they could. It was because they were underestimated that they were able to risk everything and succeed. Those women trusted each other. Their love enabled them to do this amazing thing. Together. To tell a different kind of story. To be louder, larger, and braver rather than hiding themselves away.
I think from a young age women are taught to value romantic relationships above all else. I’m all for some romance, don’t get me wrong. But there are all kinds of love in the world. And sometimes it seems like the platonic love between women is considered less real, less important, than those other kinds. It’s as if our friendships are just training for our later “real” relationships with men. But I wouldn’t know how to bake or knit without women I love. There is so much I would have missed without those relationships. I first baked baguettes with a friend who knows me better than any man I’ve dated or loved, and who has seen me through some of my worst and best days. Our friendship isn’t training for a marriage or a future I can’t predict. It’s real right now. This blog itself was born from a female friendship. These relationships, be they long term or temporary, new, old, volatile, calm, aren’t a layover. They’re more than my becoming; they’re what I love. And that is how I want to be known.
The friend who I made this bread with and who took these pictures said it tasted like spaghetti and meatballs in a loaf. It was a compliment and a joke. This tomato basil bread is simple, but a good next step if you’re tired of a basic white bread and want to add a little fun and flavor to your dinner or your sandwiches. I used Paul Hollywood’s basic white cob recipe, but any basic bread recipe your prefer will work, just add:
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
½ a cup of fresh basil, chopped
½ a cup of grated parmesan (plus extra for topping)
I also cut the salt a little, adding 5 grams instead of 10, and used a little less water, since the tomato paste is very wet. This amount of tomato produces a strong flavor, for a more subtle approach, use 1-1½ tablespoons. For a truly special loaf, try adding sundried tomatoes or olives after the first rise as well.