This week has seen our household knocked down by colds. Nothing actually serious, but instead that dreary, endless low-level poorliness that struggles to justify time off or desertion of duties. We have armed ourselves with lemsip and positive mental attitudes, as if we can think ourselves well. My desk is a graveyard of balsam tissues and vitamin blister packs. But there is only one thing that has made me really feel a bit better: porridge.
Almost six years ago to the day, I completed my graduate diploma in law. A month later, I secured pupillage at a fantastic set of chambers, and prepared myself for a lifetime of criminal law. I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be a criminal barrister for the rest of my working life. But, four months ago, I handed in my notice. And yesterday, I left the bar.
For a long time, I didn’t really understand breakfast. As alien as ‘eat to live not live to eat’ is as a mantra to me, breakfast always struck me as something of a chore, a waste of a good meal. As a child, it was a non-negotiable sit-down affair, and the food as boring and repetitive to a child as the routine; porridge or weetabix, maybe toast if we were lucky.
Brioche is amongst the loveliest of breads to bake, and the most rewarding. But it’s also one of the most daunting. You don’t fall into brioche. You don’t find yourself accidentally making it at 10pm at night. It requires planning and perseverance and a lot of eggs. This is serious baking. This is reading a phone contract before you sign it bread. This is buying bin bags before the last batch have run out dough. This is consider getting a pension, realise you can’t afford it, and then consider having children, so that they can look after you in your old age kneading. Brioche is grown up baking.
In Alice Through The Looking Glass, the White Queen offers Alice ‘jam tomorrow’:
‘It’s very good jam,’ said the Queen.
‘Well, I don’t want any TO-DAY, at any rate.’
‘You couldn’t have it if you DID want it,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.’
January has been hard this year. January is always hard, I suppose. But this year felt more brutal, more raw than previous ones. Perhaps that is always the case. But now January is over. And I am celebrating with scotch pancakes.
Learning to cook will, for me, always be bound up with two other things: grieving for my mother, and my relationship with Sam. One death, one birth, both preceding my first foray into the kitchen by such a small margin that I struggle to unpick the different strands of my own narrative.
It was around this time of year, and it seems appropriate that, as I celebrate one and remember the other, I cook a dish that connotes limbo. Sadness and joy. Patience, and quiet triumphs. That dish is Shakshuka.