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25 April 2007 @ 16:31
Bread and butter.  
Of all the silly things that are written in the bible, I’ve always thought the worst was the line ‘[humans] cannot live by bread alone.’ I suppose I’d need to drink something as well, but that technicality aside I could happily live on bread alone for some time – although if I had my choice, I’d take it with a bit of butter as well.

In my picky eating years, bread and butter was a precious mealtime treat. My parents knew to watch me or I’d happily ignore whatever we were meant to be eating in favour of bread rolls and butter. I was bribed to eat my soup with promises of another slice if I finished, or another roll if I ate some of my fish – and I would have done almost anything for bread and butter.

I grew up with homemade bread. My mother had a Bosch bread machine which kneaded the dough for her and, she proudly told me, ten minutes in the machine was as good as kneading it by hand for an hour. She never used a recipe but would drop in flour, oil, yeast and sugar until it looked right. Then she set it to rise in a covered bowl before shaping the loaves and baking them. The whole thing took several hours, but the fact that she never complained makes me think she enjoyed it more than she let on.

The few times I’ve tried to make bread, I’ve had that same feeling. I think bread baking is ingrained in our nature; kneading the dough and setting it to rise is a centuries-old ritual. Now, though, baking bread is a skill that amazes people. Nothing impresses like home-made bread, and nothing seduces like the smell of bread in the oven. I find it hard to believe how much we took it for granted growing up. In fact, we thought store-bought bread was a treat; its spongy lightness was a novelty and we devoured the annual bag that came home when my mother made Christmas stuffing. And it’s true that bought bread has a charm of its own. Toast parties in graduate school, peanut butter sandwiches in my packed lunches, and toasties on a cold day all have their place in my heart. But for a loaf of my mother’s bread, I’d forsake them all.

One of my saddest days was when my mother threw out her sourdough starter. Sourdough, unlike other breads, requires a starter that must be fed and used on a regular basis. The older the starter, the better the bread. My mother’s starter began when I was 7. The first few loaves produced were good, but no indication of what was to come. A few years on, the sourdough was amazing. Long, white loaves with a tangy dough and thick white crust, my favourite sandwich was simply two slices with butter and cheddar cheese. I can still taste it now. Unfortunately, the bread has to be made regularly or the starter spoils, and when I was in my early teens it went off. I nearly cried when that floury jar that had lived in the dark cupboard for years was tipped down the sink. We never had another sourdough starter, and I’ve never tasted bread as good since.

When I moved to Scotland, however, I discovered bread and butter pudding. Layers of buttered bread and raisins, topped with cinnamon, sugar and custard, baked and served steaming hot - whoever came up with this dessert should be sainted. But wonderful though it is, I still wouldn't say that it was better than a simple slice of fresh, warm bread and butter.

Maybe man can not live by bread alone – but I certainly could.

***
I went to the French deli for lunch today, an amazing place around the corner from work where nothing costs more than £5 and everything tastes superb. They always bring round baskets of fresh French bread as well, with a pot of salted butter. To me, this is the equivalent of lines of crack to an addict. I had eaten three of the small white rounds, dabbed with butter, before my lunch even arrived, and I used another three to wipe my plate after. Like many people with Oreo cookies, I have my own way of eating it. First I tear off the outer edge, unwrapping a long spiral of crust, folding it and chewing. Then, the perfect inside is left. Soft and light, it folds around the pat of butter and dissolving in my mouth. Each bite is different, and each is perfect. But it’s still not as good as my mum’s sourdough.
 
 
 
Kenny MacDonaldkennymacdonald on 28th April 2007 22:01 (UTC)
Hey I thought as such a fine food connoisseur(sp?) I thought I'd let you know that I found a GREAT place for pizza in Edinburgh. It's called Jolly and is on Leith walk near the roundabout. You should try it.

Next time i'm in town I've got a visit booked for the bangers and mash place too!