It started with some grapes. They showed up in my refrigerator looking all innocuous but hiding a deep dark secret.
They were delicious.
Seriously, black grapes are my spirit animal. Which led to me think, as I always do when really good grapes make their way into my house, ‘I should make foccacia’. I haven’t made foccacia, or any bread really, in a while; it requires one thing I do not have – time. It takes two days to make this stuff. I’m sure there are faster ways to do it, but bread shouldn’t be rushed.
Bread is love, it is tangible patience. There is something about the feel of dough as you knead it , incorporating more and more flour and pressure until the gluten develops and what was once a sticky mess becomes something soft and pliable. There is a smell that rises as the yeast begins to wake up and eat and work. Rampant expectation as the dough rises not once, but twice: overnight in the refrigerator and then in a warm place for an hour. There is a particular pleasure in dimpling the surface of the dough with your fingertips just before thrusting the whole mess into a hot oven and baking it until your kitchen fills with the scent of warm olive oil and joy. The crunch of the first bite that you steal before it’s cool enough, and therefore wise, to do so. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, foccacia is an exploration in taste and texture.
Or, you know, bread is bread.
I topped mine very simply with sea salt and pressed grapes into the dimples on half of it before baking. They add a delicious sweetness to the salty and umami flavors. But the bread is just as good without the fruit. Really, there are a thousand ways you could top it. Garlic oil and rosemary, thinly sliced caramelized onions, a thin tomato sauce, the list goes on and on. Slice it and serve with butter, dip in oil infused with herbs, or make a delicious sandwich, if you can keep yourself from just standing over the bread board with a sharp knife in one hand, slicing off just one more little piece until the thing is half gone.
I’ve often espoused the relative therapeutic qualities of baking, but bread has to be among the most soothing. This is a season of stress in my life. Not only mine, quite a number of the people in my social circle seem to be falling apart. Sickness and injury, personal heartache and disappointment, too much to do and not enough time to do it. With Christmas just a few months away, it’s certainly going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t have any wise words to offer. I can’t teach the world to sing in perfect harmony or anything, but if you’d like, you can come over for some homemade bread, and for a minute or two, maybe everything will be okay.