LOVE, LIFE & LOAF

So you made it out of lockdown. You learnt a language. Mastered the downward dog and achieved a symbiotic relationship with your garden. Well done. Your only regret – You never could quite nail that sourdough. No rise, no tight crumb, or is it a loose crumb… Whatever. All you managed was to bake a sticky slop into what you referred to as a ‘Middle Eastern flatbread.’ I get it.

Sourdough is proper tricky if you don’t have a pair of hands and eyes which have been through the process of a good bake. The tactile feel for great dough is built upon many dud loaves half-baked.

I’ve spent the last four months digging down the floury rabbit hole, kneading the kinks and tricks out of the internet and piles of flour so you don’t have to – that perfect loaf can still be yours.

Even if you’re not going to revive that old starter, after reading this you’ll know where you went wrong, and pray to God we don’t go back into lockdown – hope to your lucky quarantine stars you find this information useless.

Rule number one: Take your time. Sourdough is like friendship. You needn’t do a lot, but be present when they need you. The fermentation process takes approximately four hours once you add your starter to the flour and water in warm weather. Read that again. In warm weather. Apologies to remind you again, but in this country, we are both free of Covid-19 and insulated houses. Even in a so-called ‘warm’ house, the windows are thin and the floors breathe. 

Chances are your dough will need a couple of extra hours to bring it to life. Ways around this: Leave your mixture under the heat pump or by the fire. I occasionally preheat the oven for a couple of minutes making a simple ‘proving box.’ Make sure no one turns the oven on while it’s in there.

Rule number two: Your starter needs peak life. You’ll see some recipes call for an extra step. Making a ‘levain’ or a ‘sponge.’ Basically, all they’re asking you to do is feed your starter right before you make your bread. This means that by the time you come around to mixing, your sourdough starter is full of life, ready to give your loaf the energy to seize the day and start eating away at all the goodness in your flour. 

Rule number three: Keep at it. Bread is love and bread is life. I never got into football because I was under the impression I was too old (seventeen), never learnt a language because I was beyond youth (twenty-three). Do you know Quincy Jones? Producer of the Beatles, Michael Jackson and every chart-topper you’ve heard. He’s pushing late eighties and he has started to learn Mandarin. Making a loaf is a journey and you never need get off the boat. If you keep your starter in the fridge you only need to feed it once a week… And if you’re super-duper lacking time, you can even freeze it! Laziness rules in the sourdough world.

Love is warm and so is bread. The breaking of bread is a religious experience. There is life inside of food, made with your two hands, it gives a certain kind of pleasure unknown to the capitalist state of mind. By baking, it is possible to consume without being consumerist.

Baking bread helps me rise; the act has become a cathartic exercise. Instead of being an unachieving nobody that’s going nowhere slow. With a little morning effort mixed with a dash of vague and dotty attention to wheat and water, my day fills the house with the crusty and toasted aroma of life. The pleasure of passing a loaf warm bread to a friend is an act of self-love shared. But I don’t do it for them. After I’ve dropped theirs off, I head home and cut myself a thick slice of bread, lather it up and down in butter and sit content.

Story by Jack Marshall

Photograph X Tom Teutenberg

HOME-GROWN PLAYGROUNDS

As a whanau unit, we are trying to keep a balance with work and family life even more so now that we are in an isolation situation.  I work two part-time roles, my partner is an essential worker, and we have our two children at home. This modern world means we are all still very accessible online so work feels even busier.  It is hard to keep up at times. But we do remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have our health, our whanau and work to do.

We understand that people are in different situations facing different challenges. As a whanau we encourage mindful appreciation of where we are as a community and as a nation. We often reflect on how others may be coping.  It is important to us that we maintain positive engagement with our neighbouring community through a friendly wave, a happy smile, check-in conversations or a bit of banter. We are also staying in touch with our wider whanau through online video chats via messenger.

We understand that people are in different situations facing different challenges. As a whanau we encourage mindful appreciation of where we are as a community and as a nation. We often reflect on how others may be coping.  It is important to us that we maintain positive engagement with our neighbouring community through a friendly wave, a happy smile, check-in conversations or a bit of banter. We are also staying in touch with our wider whanau through online video chats via messenger.

All in all, we are really enjoying this quiet, low-fuss time together. Our children are particularly loving lockdown bubble life.  They miss whanau and mates but enjoy being home-based and have all the simple essentials they need at hand. In my earlier career I was a teacher and value learning and education as a holistic approach not limited to a classroom setting. To ensure they keep a balance we have a rather sporadic routine but it must include some form of outdoor physical activity, a school-based task, and lots of play. In fact play is incorporated in all that we do, it also means we hide the devices when the ‘I’m just checking something’ goes beyond a joke.

We love our family bike rides, we let each child take turns to lead, helping out around the house is enjoyed with music and an array of dance moves, cooking and baking in the kitchen is steered by the kids with alot of playful experimentation. Play should be fun and child-led with limited or no adult involvement.

My Sport Gissy colleagues and national play team have been sharing what we are observing in our communities. It is truly admirable to see how people are using their time and energy to create play in their homes, backyards and local areas. Play really is the life blood of childhood development and the foundation of learning. It is a tool for life and fosters thinking, creativity, emotional, social and physical skills.  Play is about wellbeing, it is about being in the moment – being present. Play can happen anywhere and anytime and right now we have an abundance of these factors which create the perfect playground for life. I think the value of play can be undermined as we can easily get caught up in the mindset that learning and development is limited to the confines of school. I love this quote:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”

George Bernard Shaw. 

Words by Lena Bevan

Photos shared courtesy of Nga Manu e Rehua at GisInt and Sport Gissy whanau.

MY NEIGHBOURHOOD IN ISO #2

My neighbourhood has come alive these past couple of weeks.

The roads are busy with humans and happy dogs. People pause to look at things that catch their eye and to chat with their fellow walkers and bikers, and people out in their gardens. All at a safe and respectful distance, which has so quickly become our new norm. I’m proud of our neighbourhood for that overly-cautious distance, often spanning the width of the road, but I’m perhaps even more proud of the stopping and talking and getting to know each other – it’s one of the most important things that will come out of this all, I think.

I have noticed this new openness amongst us.  We’re openly joyful and appreciative of the opportunity to connect with each other – it’s as if we have remembered how much we need each other.

Our family sent out a letter to the other residents of our road at the beginning of the lock down. None of our neighbours said they needed any help, but over the last few days emails have been going back and forth and we’re getting to know all sorts of things about each other. I had thought we were a pretty connected street before, but I realise now that we’d only just begun.

Everywhere in our neighbourhood there’s evidence of people getting stuck into their Things to Do lists: People stacking firewood, pruning trees, weeding, people just being outside, because they know they need it for their own sanity.

Everywhere, there are teddy bears and other small creatures peeking out through windows. They are signs of our unity, our kindness and encouragement towards each other. Some are holding bottles of wine and signs, one down our road has a giant pumpkin as its princely bed.

Without all the cars, you can hear the leaves, starting to crackle and colour up, rustle in the wind. You could probably almost hear them land on the ground if you tried. You can even hear the distant roar of the ocean some days, even though there’s a hill between us.

A few days ago I met my favourite bird for the first time ever; a bird whose song I have listened to my whole life, but whom I have never ever managed to catch sight of, no matter how hard and often I have looked. A few days ago I opened our front door and there it was – a Riroriro, or Grey Warbler, singing its song so nonchalantly, as if it didn’t even know it’s the most abiding sound track to my life.

It was one of those moments I tell myself I’ll never forget, just as it feels as if none of us will surely forget this extraordinary moment in time – confined as we are to our homes, our bubbles, our neighbourhood, and the reaches of our own minds.

I’m not sure whether my memories of this time will sustain or not, filled as it is with the simplest of things. The rustling leaves, the smiling conversations across our street, watching the kids try out new tricks on their bikes and the rope we’ve slung up in a tree, if we’ve managed to get them both out of their pyjamas and the house that is..usually by lunchtime, but not always.

Whether I remember this time, or not, right now I am so grateful that this neighbourhood is my home, and the people in it, my neighbours.

Story & Photographs by Sarah Cleave.

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