Homesick

By M.M. O' Toole

The smell of baking is said to entice buyers if you are selling your home. The mantra of real estate agents all over the world – bread or cookies. Maybe it works. Maybe it just makes everyone hungry.


She sits with feet curled underneath, sun streaming through the window and a dream of good bread whiles the morning into the afternoon. The scent of frothing starter wafts around the room – it is only imagined. She searches through old notebooks, amongst the packing boxes, for the secret recipe. Passed from her Nan to her, one rainy afternoon, when she was twelve. Yeast bread or pizza if the mood is right. Magic bread from elsewhere, laughter and heartbreak kneaded in.


In a jug add hand-warm water to the fast action dried yeast and wait. Wait for bubbles to pop-pop, slowly into a bubble bath of growing elixir.


Sieve the flour and salt, add the sugar and rub in the butter. It looks like the crumbliest of breadcrumbs.


Into the centre of the well of white, pour the frothy yeast and olive oil. It slops over her hand, white dust on a river of greasy blonde. Knead until it starts to come together. Mix and turn, mix and turn, into a mound of off-white, sticky slop.


Knead for ten more minutes. Using the heel of her hand she presses down, squelching it up through her fingers. Roll over in the bowl, repeat until squelching no more. Baby-bottom soft round of dough bounces back when tickled on the side.


Dribble olive oil in a ribbon down the side of the bowl and gently rest the dough, tuck in with cling film, leave to prove. Back and forth between the Chinese ivy and the jasmine, the best spot is found for the perfect amount of sunbathing.


She smiles and rewards herself with a cup of tea. Tea sent through the post by amused friends and mum. Send decent tea, please –  sure tea is tea. But no, it is not.


On the window sill a monster grows. In the heat of the suntrap, it consumes all empty space, fed by the ribbon of oil. Bubbles of air, puff the dough towards the sky. Pulling back the blanket of cling film the aroma of beery joy is released into the room.


Tear into clumps and with oiled hands roll and caress the petite balls into shape. Ten balls sit proud and soft – awaiting their crowning glory.


What topping will grace these nuggets of home? The local market overflows with unfamiliar colours and textures. But there will always be the red globes of tomatoes – call to home and tomato soup when blue. Alongside are smaller jewels of red, yellow, orange and even green – grape, Valencia heirlooms, Green Zebra. Till now untasted, sweet and tart in one bite, a good marriage with garlic or balsamic vinegar and for the crusty dough leave to rise again on the worktop.


Preheat the oven. Shape the dough. Pull and flip, holes like Swiss cheese. Roll back into a ball. Careful this time, knead in circles. Never a perfect circle. Sprinkle with cut tomatoes, bake until golden and the flesh is charred.


A glass filled with honey-coloured wine, cool to the touch with notes of citrus. Unopened until the oven pings and only then can the dinner of home be relished.


In one bite, she sees a child gleefully telling her mum about the spelling test given that day in school. She had spelt RAINBOW correctly; her teacher had said she was very good.


A rolled-up slice popped into her mouth and a whispered night-time secret with her oldest friend floats into her mind. The boy across the road, James, with his beautiful blonde hair, “Would he know who she was?” “No,” said her friend, but then “he doesn’t know anyone.” She clarifies to soften the blow. Her first slice of rejection, triangular in its edges, softened by others that followed.


A burst of garlic across her tongue and her ears fill with the heavy beat of feet thumping the floor. The heat of the club pricks her skin and she sips her wine to cool. Her heels click out the rhythm to the soundtrack of her 20’s. Her head bobs along with the dreamy din in her ear.


The glass of wine shrinks as the small rounds of pizza are swallowed. A satisfied full feeling in both stomach and memory. The aroma of real estate agents across the world, maybe they would prefer people not to move home.


Keywords: 
recipe, bread, baking, home cooking, memories, family, a cuppa