After the excesses of Christmas, January brings a welcome return to simple food. For myself this manifests as a renewed interest in hearty soups, good whole grain bread, and mounds of winter greens dripping in olive oil and redolent of garlic. It is the sort of food that is consummately nourishing, restorative meals to bolster body against those interminable winter nights and assuage all manner of melancholy.
For myself there are many such foods that provide a kind of existential succor, but only one reigns supreme. When the day lies heavy on my heart, I reach for a loaf whole grain bread, a thick slab of butter, and a pot of golden honey.
This morning I awoke to the gravity of life pressing down relentlessly against my chest. I slumped out of bed and into the kitchen. I could think of nothing else to do so I put on an apron and pulled out the flour. Several hours later I hoisted three loaves of bread from the oven. For a moment I forgot my woes, closing my eyes and inhaling the scent of September wheat fields, listening for the crackle of crust as it cooled. I cut a slice, carved off some cold butter to cover it, and drizzled the whole with honey.
On this occasion, the honey was particularly ambrosial. Given to us by our wonderful neighbors, Don and Jane, it came from their own bee hives at Firstlight Farm. It was raw and thick with the taste of wildflowers and sun-warmed caramel, a hint of wax clinging ever so slightly to the teeth. It was, I reflected, a perfect honey for hot toddies, a cure for the cold, and a sweet, enveloping balm for the troubled heart.
For a moment I am six years old and a booming voice is heading my way. “When I was One, I had just begun. When I was Two, I was nearly new.” Mum is bustling about in the kitchen, dogs panting by her feet, ever hopeful. The rhyme is drawing nearer to me. “When I was Three I was hardly me. When I was Four, I was not much more.” My brother Willie bounds through the kitchen chasing a zooming tennis ball that narrowly misses the window. “When I was Five, I was just alive.” Dad is beside me now, eyebrows moving in rhythm to the words, his rumbling voice louder and victorious as he finishes the rhyme: “Now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever, So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.”
I am no longer six and there are pains not even bread and honey can dissolve. But I must eat, and they are at least a blanket against the bleakness.