A quest for perfection.
My boyfriend’s face displays an undecipherable expression. His brows furrow for a second, only to to be smoothed out immediately, being weary of my staring. My heart drops, not at the sight of his face but the moment my teeth digs into what is supposed to be bread. The cold, clammy texture has me think I may have bit into a glue-stick. The doughy remnants cling to my teeth. Swampy scents waft up my nose. I am shook.
Can it be that the culmination of my week-long labour is an epic failure? What is this in my mouth? How can this be happening? How do the blend of such expensive ingredients even taste like this? Did I really not pull this off? What is Oskar gonna think? It’s no secret how much effort let alone cash money I’ve poured into this lump of swamp loaf. Domestic goddess?
Forget it. I’ve lost all credentials as potential wife material.
Oh god, is that sweat I’m tasting? Look calm, look cool. I’m a fierce independent woman who don’t need no man. It’s all good. #feminist.
I have travelled 28 hours to London, the city I call home three months a year, during the height of Antipodean warmth. My annual migration to London is due to the long distance relationship I have cultivated over the thick and thin of my twenties. I'm a bit like those seasonal migratory birds, travelling thousands of kilometres across oceans and waves, chasing to be paired up and nest with their beloved bird counterpart. Except those birds traverse towards longer, warmer days to breed whereas I chase shorter, colder days and have no intentions of breeding anytime soon.
Each time I arrive at Oskar's apartment, the first week is always spent on some form of nesting. Somehow the traces of familiarity I leave behind never seem to last to greet me when I open the doors. I am received as a stranger, not as a returning lover. Photographs no longer hold the images of those I recognise but only dull, foggy moments in the past that feel too long ago. I feel a dire sense of anxiety over the disappearance of memories made within these walls. I must do something. I have to do something.
I'm a bit like those seasonal migratory birds, travelling thousands of kilometres across oceans and waves, chasing to be paired up and nest with their beloved bird counterpart.
The feeling of desperation is amplified with the pressure I put on myself to make up for lost time. Despite this being our seventh year of long distance, every time we reunite, I feel an overwhelming need to impress him. Mind you, there is no flaw of mine he doesn’t already know. But somehow I assume that the time apart has given me some kind of a clean slate, to show up as someone new, someone exciting, someone worthy of having waited for.
Rummaging for ideas, I find myself sitting alone before the sun awakens the city. Oskar has left early for work and I am wide awake due to jet lag. Lost in thought, I gingerly grab my hot toast.
This toast, there is no substance. The bread is lifeless like everything else in the apartment. The thought of eating this for weeks to come adds further panic, pushing my nervous energy over the tipping point. I want my daily morning Vogel's. What is even life without Vogel's? Am I not worthy of such simple pleasures? Where are all the Vogel’s in England? Am I freaking out right now about Vogel’s? Is this about something else? Of course it isn’t. I just want my Vogel’s.
After a few more minutes of unnecessarily dramatic life crisis questions to myself, an epiphany emerges. I don't have to live this way. I can make Vogel's. And this, this can be my project.
Day one. I am better than merely replicating the Vogel's original recipe. I want my version to be healthier, more wholesome, more nutritious than any bread known to mankind. I conjure up a recipe mashing together several five-star rated instructions, signalling the birth of perhaps the most hash-tag friendly bread under the sky. Of course the usual suspects were covered, #organic, #vegan, #paleo, #glutenfree, #dairyfree. Then with the slightly more hardcore categories, #flourless, #eggfree, #oilfree, #saltfree, #sugarfree, #sprouted, #fermented, #ayurevedic.
Day two. I hunt down and gather the quintessential piece of equipment in any health nut’s kitchen; a Nutribullet. I trudge against the sardine-packed rush hour tube. I navigate through the 4pm darkness. I hand over the cash to my Gumtree acquaintance. I am triumphantly on track with my plans.
I am a strong independent woman who don't need no man nor his approval. I made the bread for me.
Day three. I refuse to pay bourgeoisie prices for my ingredients. Consisting mostly of nuts, seeds and "superfoods", they are be sourced online. Bulk ordering is undoubtedly the only rational choice if I were to make this bread every week. 200 dollars, 1-day shipping and a 15kg order - baby, it’s a bargain.
Day four. All 17 ingredients are in their designated bowls to soak for at least three hours. All are blitzed into a batter except tatar. What Estonians call buckwheat, it is the ultimate home food for Oskar. When he sees the little tatar globules in the bread, I would have brought his home to our home.
Day five. Today I bake the bread. This being the single most hipster creation I have brought to life, I shall use a cake mould over a bread pan. 120 °C, 2.5 hours. The smell is promising and the apartment is filled with warmth that only the skills of a true domestic goddess can exude.
Standing in my boyfriend’s kitchen, I carefully unwrap the glorious bread. I’m giddy in anticipation of my beau savouring every bite, in awe of the perfect homemaker, the perfect "missus" that I am. I scatter the slices of bread on a platter of his favourite snacks. I can almost see how touched he is going to be as he picks up on all the little details I’ve paid attention to. Maybe there will even be a shy tear or two from this brute of a man, an unprecedented feat I will proudly claim for decades to come. I bring the platter to the bedroom and watch him grab the bread. My heart is pounding and I, too, grab a piece. He takes a bite and I take my bite.
I am cool, calm and collected. That’s right, I am chilling like chilli bin, that’s how I roll. It don’t matter what Oskar thinks of my bread. I am a strong independent woman who don't need no man nor his approval. I made the bread for me. I am a badass feminist who don't succumb to no patriarchal forces.
Disappointment? Disgust? Horror? Any moment now. What are you thinking Oskar?
Before I finish this pep talk to myself, a montage of images flash before my eyes. A picture perfect pin-up of a 1950s housewife, a happy smiling Oskar coming home to that woman, a happy smiling me being that woman.
Then snap. I see Samantha from Sex and the City rage out, throwing sushi at me, shouting “You are not the type of woman who sits home all day waiting for a man!”. Suddenly Beyoncé is singing Run the World (Girls) in the background. Michelle Obama, Malala and Oprah are reciting their speeches while doing a damn good job of backup dancing. In all this chaos, I can’t tell my left from right. I feel lost and I want my mum.
When I look up, I catch a brief glimpse of the same undecipherable expression. Disappointment? Disgust? Horror? Any moment now. What are you thinking Oskar?
Our eyes lock and my spinning thoughts abruptly halt. The unexpected warmth in his gaze lulls my sense of panic. I stand mesmerised in the soft, embracing reassurance in his look. The frenzy of doubts and worries gradually get quieter and all eventually vanish into thin air. I feel lighter, more like myself and I feel safe. I feel a sting at the back of my eyes and my vision is momentarily misty. As I wipe away the tiny tear that manages to escape, I see Oskar’s pursed lip perch high into his cheeks. I stare back at him, with the same warmth he held in his eyes. My lips curl to mirror his smile and I hear him clear his throat. Before he gets a word out, we both rupture into uncontrollable laughter. And just like that, the bread no longer matters.
As I continue to navigate my adulthood, I am finding more and more peace with just how things are. I am not a perfect woman, girlfriend, wife material, feminist or whatever other category I find myself in. I am just who I am and I think, I’m alright with that.