I reject a lot of recipes on principle. The first to get nixed are the ones starting with instructions for which attachment to affix to the stand mixer I don’t own. Unless an alternative method is outlined, the recipe is dead to me. This isn’t because I need to be walked through some manual back-up plan. It’s because I resent the implication that a domestically non-essential, one thousand-plus dirham machine is required to cream butter or make a loaf of bread, pursuits as ancient as the world’s oldest religion.
Another mundane thing that I don’t own is a television. I can watch DVDs on my laptop, and internet junkies get breaking news and much of their information online and on demand. That’s how I like it. Unless you’re streaming, a computer screen will always wait politely while I take a call or make another pot of coffee. For media consumption, television is a whole different delivery system, a blitzkrieg of overstimulation for habituated web dependents. And since I lack the coordination to chop vegetables and chew gum at the same time, I’m consistently amazed by homes where the television is running in the background while life carries on around it.
When in Rome – or distant hypothetical suburbs of Rome such as Abu Dhabi – I go for the full immersion technique. Like most households, my family watches the news. So, a few days ago, I got reacquainted with a TV – they’re so much flatter and sharper now than the last time I paid attention. The air was thick with the smell of dinner: garlic, parsley, shawarma. And then, pretty quickly, it was thick with grief.
I think my tears embarrassed my parents, who politely nudged the Kleenex box closer and not so subtly switched channels from CNN’s shattering and sentimental tribute to the victims of Sandy Hook to Al Jazeera’s gruesome, gristly footage of people in Syria who were blown to pieces while waiting outside a bakery, hungry for bread after days of going without. I couldn’t bear to watch and I couldn’t bear to look away.
There’s a needless dough hook for every no-knead bread recipe out there, but I’m old-fashioned, preferring to awaken the dough by hand like it’s a barely conscious living thing growing smoother and springier with each compression. It’s true that every person I know who has invested in a stand mixer will zealously endorse it, and it’s also true that most modern commercial bakeries would be paralysed without one – and usually a really big one. But for my personal needs, using a stand mixer would be like building a bonfire every time I want to light a match.
There are no simple answers, instruments, or solutions. This morning in Abu Dhabi, I went to the Lebanese Flower Bakery in search of bread. My biggest conflict was whether to get yeast-risen or chemically leavened bread, fluffy or papery.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Sandy Hook, or that bakery in Syria. I read the news and feel as superfluous as an attachment made for a device too obscure to be of any practical use. What I’m looking for is something simple, human and elemental. What I’m looking for is bread.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico