End of the year

End of the year, and the energy drains out of me counter-clockwise like water running out of a basin, making a dash for the plughole. The small foxy dog has a new frenemy next door, a Jack Russell who has a piercing effervescent bark and they stand shouting at one another through a garden wall peephole. The Great Dane is excluded from this and taunted by a squirrel behind hydrangea bushes. He barks at the squirrel in a deep alarmed voice. The small white dog stays  with me and barks for biscuits, teetering on her hind legs and squeaking hopefully. All very endearing and wearying.

 

Made a successful Italian hazelnut and caramel gelato which is so truly Italian that it has stayed semi-freddo (which means it never quite  sets hard). Reading Elena Ferrante and WG Sebald and  Leopardi’s poems in Italian. Working on translations, fiction and  editing. Waiting for  my  blue hydrangeas to flower along with the electric-blue agapanthus, getting up before dawn and then finding myself half-conscious, stupefied by early afternoon.

 

Gave myself the day off on Sunday — no choice because the electricity was cut for load-shedding — and sat worrying about work instead of doing work. Too hot for walking even under the canopied trees, glare, shade, glare, shade, bars of hot arid glare across the road even at 9am. Palm trees rustling in nearby gardens, bougainvillea heavy with saturated colours: dark purple, brick-red, violent mauves hanging in great spillovers from walls and rooftops. At night I wave my arms about as I go into the kitchen and turn on lights, flailing at cicadas and moths, tiny geckos skittering up walls.

 

Dream that I was walking with an old friend who did not seem like a friend but more of a prying stranger and we passed two  dead and blinded horses lying inert on the  winding mountain pass. I was conscious of how much time had passed, how late it was in life for both of us, stiff walkers bent a little from the weight of rucksacks,  time dancing all around us like a a swarm of gilded bees or glittering butterflies, iridescent wings and  perturbed oscillation, time breaking up into fractions of light particles, time swarming and gathering like a wave about to break again, break up into myriad darting fire flies, pinpoints of light that swell and shatter together.

 

 

“I’m alive. Thinking about it, noticing it, is new. You do things and don’t watch. Then all of a sudden you look and see what you’re doing and it’s the first time, really.”
– Ray Bradbury

What flies in the air

Catching the wild yeast! Invisible but omnipresent all around my kitchen are  teensy-weensy near-indestructible eukaryotic microorganisms that do many, many wondrous things in the lively air, but right now a decent percentage of them are fermenting away in and flavouring up my new sourdough yeast starter.

 

Don’t read on if you are an impatient dinner-on-the-table in-15-minutes kind of person. A loaf of homemade sourdough is time-intensive  but low on skills or activity.

 

Flour, water, yeast and salt. Time, hours and hours of mellow-out time. The longer you let the starter sponge ferment, the more delectably sour your bread will be. Between two and eight hours rising time, between 12 and 18 hours in a cool corner of the kitchen. I knead a little, leave the bubbly aromatic dough to develop  for a long time under towels, knead some more or fold and shape a little, flavour to taste, use good olive oil, stone-ground flours, unchlorinated river water. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, black peppers, grains of sea salt.

 

I have a list up on the fridge door of breads to be made, breadsticks speckled with poppy seeds or toasted sesame seeds, focaccia with rosemary and chopped olives, great crusty loaves of wholewheat, polenta and  pumpkin seeds, semi-rye  breads with molasses, caraway and fennel seeds picked from the garden last summer and dried. Pumpernickel, caramelised onion breads, Italian panettone with dried fruit.

 

Breads with character. My coping mechanism for stress relief over the festive season. When the going gets tough, the tough-minded  take a wooden spoon, some flour and a little water and feed the starter. The starter billows up and foams out  of the jar, threatens to overwhelm the kitchen. I stay calm and knead some  silky baby-bottomy dough on a lightly floured board. When in doubt, bake bread. Not the only coping strategy in my toolbox, but a good way to get down and dirty with nourishing results.

Is the world about to end? You’ll find me  stretching muslin cloth over wide-mouthed clean jars of seething yeasty goodness. Upending dutch ovens of  baked round sourdough bread onto cooling racks. Slathering on  real butter and preparing to meet with destiny.