Watching the bakers make baguettes during The Great British Bake Off’s bread week took me back to the wonderful summer I spent eating fresh food in France. I worked and lived in a community for adults with disabilities. Twice a day we had a delivery of fresh baguettes from the local bakery. Having been brought up eating tasteless sliced loaves, I found myself in bread heaven. All our food including meat and produce was fresh. During a recent visit to Paris I observed the city centre to be a series of mini villages. Bakeries, butchers & grocery shops are buzzing with customers. Sadly where we live in Dublin there is no “village” for fresh food on our doorstep. If I want to eat fresh bread, I have to make my own. For the first time I attempted baguettes. The bake only uses 4 ingredients (flour, yeast, salt & water.) The recipe I used (see below) allowed me to use the dough hook in my free standing mixer. This took out the effort and mess of kneading a wet dough. The result was absolutely delicious and a real treat. I had low expectations as my baguettes didn’t double in size while resting like the recipe described but I’ve discovered skinny (walking stick shaped) baguettes taste good too!
While working in France I quickly had to learn a new way to greet people. It was the role of the person arriving to go around the room acknowledging each individual. Women kissed men and women (one on each cheek). Men kissed women and shoke hands with other men. We asked and responded to “ça va?” (How are you?). Mealtimes were sociable, everyone ate slowly together and no one left the lunch table until long after the food was finished. When pregnant with Conor the idealist in me visualised a lifetime of French style mealtimes with each family member being given the opportunity to talk and be listened to.
As a young adult I moved to Dublin and for the second time in my life I found myself having to think about social greetings. I noticed people asked me “Howaya or how are you?” however, by the time I delivered my stock phrase “I’m fine thank you, how are you?” the person asking would be long gone. I learnt they were simply meaning “hello”.
I’ve had to re-think the question “how are you?” in my new life. Now people who know me and know about Conor ask the question and (usually) wait for a response. I gave my mother a hard time in those first weeks after Conor died. She continually asked me the question and I responded through my sobs with “what a stupid question, can you not see how I am?” Looking back, I think she was probably asking “are you feeling any better – yet?” as it hurt her to see her daughter like this. It has been so difficult trying to think of how to answer “how are you?”. It is such an enormous question and does the person asking it really want to know the depths of the pain I feel? Some mothers I’ve met simply answer “I’m fine” when they know they are not fine. I made a vow to myself from very early on that I would be honest when asked. I knew it would be too exhausting for me to pretend otherwise. I have learnt a new way of interpreting the question “how are you?”; I now hear “how are you … today?” This question is much more manageable. I answer honestly according to how I am on a given day. My new stock phrases are “I’m having a good day/I’m having a bad day”. I hope on bad days I get a chance to talk and be listened to. Why ask me how I am if you are not prepared to go with the answer? I know that my honesty leaves some people feeling uncomfortable. However, I know that for them this feeling will be temporary and they will quickly get back to their own lives. I would have a lifetime of pretending if I simply said “fine”. In learning to live my new life I know honesty is my best policy.
We all know people struggling right now with grief, depression, illness, stress etc. My message to you is to think about how you greet and ask that all important question. Don’t just say hello but think about asking;
“how are you … today?”
Please spread the word and share this message.
Here’s the recipe. I wouldn’t attempt this without a free standing mixer. There are no preservatives in the recipe so you’ll need to eat the bread on the day you bake it.