I am the west.
I am the drive-through over the home cooked. The shorthand email that replaced the hand-written letter. I work when I could rest. I dance instead of sleep.
I grew up in a central suburb of London, a city almost defined by its pace – heady, rushed, fun and powerful. It’s a magnificent drug this living fast business, it feels productive and successful even if nothing gets done.
And it no longer works for me.
I wish it did. That I was still someone who could fill a day with furiously productive activity and then seek a challenge the moment I awaken the next. I can struggle with my worth sometimes, when I compare my life to peers who are successful, wealthy and seem to manage multiple lives in every day.
But I live at my best – at my kindest and most useful, when I live life slowly.
Running late this morning, I dashed out of the house with my squirming, giggling toddler firmly tucked under one arm, and was unexpectedly captured for a moment by a breeze of beautiful scent from our flowering cumquat trees.
When I returned home, my head spinning with plans to clean the house so I could hide my familial chaos from a friend who was on her way over, I remembered the near-perfect smell and paused for a longer time beside our trees. Standing there, gratitude soaring for the life that’s brought me such moments of easy peace, I decided my friend would see the reality of my house. That, to challenge my fear of being judged, I was going to practise trust, vulnerability and imperfection.
It was hard to act on my decision, but I texted her to let her know what to expect and she responded almost immediately, “So is mine – I’ll fit right in.”
We had tea with handfuls of macadamias and hazelnuts. By letting go of my need to achieve an invisible line, I could simply enjoy her wonderful company as silence and words both skipped happily around the room. I wasn’t perfect at it, apologising more than once for the state of the house, but I’m new to this type of vulnerability and I find that the decision to act differently doesn’t remove my fear, it just takes away fear’s control and offers it to hope.
When I live a filled-up life I’m never able to see this side of people, or of myself. I spent a long time living with beliefs about myself that just weren’t true, but the certainty and power of them helped me feel safe. Like I wanted to have great prestige and power, and that financial gain was worth all the time in my day. It would have been unthinkable to do something frivolous like stopping to smell flowers when I was already running late.
I’m so glad that I’ve stopped trying to be what I’m not and am slowly building a trust in who I am, jumbled house and all.
Food today is a dedication to slower living. My husband loves the Danish rugbrød, or dark rye bread, and I found this recipe on a lovely TV show called Food Safari. The only change I’ve made is to remove their insistence on organic produce – although I try to only use organic foods myself, I’m never a fan of dictating any behaviour onto others, choose as suits you best.
It takes around a week the first time you make this, but once you have the bread starter sitting in your fridge it only takes about a day. I believe it’s worth every moment. For the more health aware it’s very low in fat, contains no oil or processed sugar and is rich in whole grains and dietary fibre. The taste is dark and complex, slightly sour and smokily sweet. This bread is also the base for the Danish smørrebrød – the open sandwiches which can be glorious works of art all on their own. However, as you can see in my main photo and in the sneaky toddler shot below, we often just spread a thick layer of best quality butter (I love Pepe Saya butter at the moment) and an amazing honey (this one is from the brilliant J. Friend & Co) for our gorging!
stage 1 (approximately 5 days)
- 250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk
- 65 g (½ cup) rye flour
- ½ tsp salt
stage 2 (12–36 hours)
- 100–200 g sourdough starter
- 750 ml (3 cups) cold water
- 100 g (⅔ cup) wholemeal wheat flour
- 50 g rye flour
- 100 g (⅔ cup) plain flour
- 75 g (½ cup) linseeds
- 75 g (½ cup) raw sunflower seeds
- 175 g (1 cup) cracked rye grains
- 200 g (1 ¼ cups) cracked wheat grains
- 2 tsp kosher or sea salt
stage 3 (3–12 hours)
- 1 tbsp malt powder
- 1 tbsp treacle / molasses
- 150g cooked barley grains
- 500 g (3 cups) cracked rye grains, soaked overnight
- extra virgin olive oil, for greasing
- melted butter, for brushing
To make the sourdough starter, mix all ingredients in a bowl. Stand, uncovered, at room temperature. Amounts given are approximate; mixture should be quite fluid. Add more buttermilk or water if starter thickens too much. You can also use good plain yoghurt instead of buttermilk, but add water if you do. Stir with a spoon at least once a day. Keep it loosely covered with paper or foil from the second day. Don’t refrigerate.
From the second or third day, little air bubbles will form in the starter, and it will probably have a more greyish colour than it did at first. It should also begin to smell slightly sour, but the smell disappears upon stirring. Usually the starter takes about 5 days to make. It’s ready when it has swollen somewhat in volume and the air bubbles are plentiful after resting for about 6 hours. The quality of the starter is not terribly crucial; rugbrød doesn’t (and shouldn’t) rise very much during baking, especially not the no-knead type. With many grains and very little flour, high-yeast activity would produce too-crumbly a result.
If you can remember, discard a little of the sourdough and feed it with water and rye flour a couple of times per month. Make sure it is fairly thick, though, to inhibit yeast activity and make it less vulnerable to forgetfulness. (see note)
To make the sponge, mix 100–200g of the sourdough starter and the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Cover with a wet towel and stand in a warm place until the next day, or for at least 12 hours, but up to 36 hours is fine. Sourness increases with standing, but won’t be very predominant in the final result anyway. Dampen the towel when dry to prevent moisture loss from the sponge, which could affect the final result.
The sponge is very thin and liquid when just mixed, but will quickly become quite thick from the grains absorbing liquid.
To make the dough, add the malt powder, molasses, cooked barley and soaked rye to the sponge and combine well. Pour into a lightly greased 2-litre capacity loaf tin. If you think you’d like to make this bread again, save 1 cup of dough to use as a starter next time. Put this in a jar, sprinkle with 2 teaspoons coarse salt, cover tightly and refrigerate. The dough should be wet and just barely liquid, like a very thick porridge.
Stand bread to rise in loaf tin, covered with a damp towel, for at least 3 hours, or a day, at room temperature (or warmer if you use the shorter rising time.) The longer the proof, the more sour the taste. The bread won’t rise very much, perhaps only an inch or so.
Paint the top of the bread with melted butter or cold water. At this point you can liberally sprinkle poppy sand sesame seeds over the top, as I have done in the photo, but this is purely optional. Put it in a cold oven and set the temperature at 190˚C. From the time the oven is warm, the baking time is about 90 minutes. If the top looks like it’s blackening, cover with foil.
It can be difficult to tell when the bread’s done. Take it out of tin and knock the base with your fist. If it doesn’t resonate hollowly, it certainly isn’t done. If it sounds hollow, insert a bamboo skewer into the centre. If the tip comes out clean, it’s probably done. The crust should feel quite hard. If in doubt, leave the bread in the oven as the oven cools.
Place the bread on a rack and cover with a towel (unless you are leaving it in the oven). Stand overnight.
From the day after it is baked, store the rugbrød in a bread box or plastic bag at cool room temperature. It freezes quite well, but tends to become a little crumbly after thawing. Rugbrød stays fresh for about a week.
If you use an old starter to make this bread, it’s a good idea to take it out of the refrigerator a day before making the sponge. Stir it up with water to a wet dough and let it rest covered at room temperature. This will revive the yeast activity and give you a better rise in the final bread.
If you don’t plan to use a freshly made starter immediately, cover tightly and refrigerate. It keeps for about a week. If you want to keep it longer, feed it with rye flour to make a somewhat thicker dough. That will keep for several weeks. When making this a second time, omit the salt since it has already been sprinkled on your starter.
If the bread seems very wet inside upon slicing, try putting it back in the oven to be warmed through at a fairly low temperature, about 30 minutes at 100˚C. Even a perfectly baked loaf will be a little sticky the day after it is baked, but it improves over another day or two.
If the crust stays extremely hard on the second day, try lowering the oven temperature a little and extending the baking time the next time you attempt it. Much depends on the shape of your loaf pan (wide and flat or short and tall makes a world of difference) and on the actual moistness of the dough. I can only recommend that you make careful notes about what you are doing so you know what to adjust a second or third time.