An exceedingly generous friend who never arrives empty handed introduced us to Scéal Bakery in Smithfield, Dublin 7 and their storied sourdough bread and viennoiserie (laminated pastries), baked fresh every day, handcrafted from scratch, using seasonal produce foraged from the Irish countryside, sourced from local producers and their own small organic garden. Did I mention butter? I’d wager the actual stakes of a deal/no deal Brexit might come into sharper focus with the strategic placement of Scéal brown paper bags filled with croissants prior to the next Parliamentary vote, the chamber thick with the heady aroma of Irish butter.
In “Bogland”, from Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney, no stranger to the churn, recounts “Butter sunk under / More than a hundred years / Was recovered salty and white. / The ground itself is kind, black butter / Melting and opening underfoot”. Scéal’s version of the Breton pastry kouign-amman (pronounced queen) would need to be interred for millennia, clutched in the leathery fists of a bog body to dissuade me from scoffing two in succession, wheat-intolerance be damned; described by the New York Times as “the fattiest pastry in all of Europe” (as if that was an insult), kouign-amman translates as cake-butter. If the broad definition of poetry is writing, carefully chosen to create a specific emotional response, then material things packing an aesthetic or emotional thwack may be considered poetic; for example, Scéal morning buns tossed in cinnamon orange sugar when still warm, finished with a sprinkle of flaked sea salt – dust one with iambic pentameter and you’d have a morning sonnet to dip into your hot chocolate.
As Maria Popova points out in her eclectic, lovingly curated blog brainpickings.org, the Oxford Children’s Dictionary summarily dropped dozens of words related to nature, like fern, willow, dandelion and starling, in favour of terms like broadband and cut and paste, prompting writer Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris to create The Lost Words, a book Popova characterises as “a lyrical encyclopedia of enchantments” and “a beguiling act of resistance”. Words matter, yet in the wrong hands, words may be twisted beyond recognition; in the wrong mouths, “the best words” lose their meaning, their rightful place in our dictionaries and lexicon, as if #nothingmatters anymore. Recently, the word “corruption” appears to have lost its resonance, weaponised in defense of private interest over public service; having heard it misspoken so often, we the people are in danger of becoming deaf to its censure. Likewise, lynching and Holocaust. To use these words, one must think like a baker, parsing ingredients; baking demands precision, passion, practice. Language, as spoken by poet or politician (and on this island, by poet politicians) is our daily bread, meant to sustain, yet, starved of meaning, words making the news have grown stale, tainted, toxic.
Encouraging children to “use your words” is a parental attempt to circumvent tantrums, but these days, I’m tempted to circumvent grownup stupidity by encouraging the ignorant to just shut up. What armour can we don in the war on facts? When will we succeed in banning verbal assault rifles, locked and loaded, with frangible bullet points, explosive lies?
Antidote: take back language, bird by bird. Read poetry; commit a poem to memory. Stock the larder with staples: flour, sea salt, honey, whole grains, olive oil, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds. Bake a cake; bake a second one for a friend. Take a different route to work; listen to music, not news, and sing along. Wrap presents gorgeously; write thank-you notes by hand. Eat delicious food, little and often; consider anti-aging injectables, little and often. Go to the library and borrow books. Use your words, the best words; speak truth, respect facts, make poetic choices.
This month’s Moodboard
1. I’m gloving Paula Rowan’s silk-lined lambskin Isabella Tassel lámhainní with braided leather cuff, 31 Westbury Mall, Dublin 2.
2. I’m archiving A Magazine’s Issue 18, poetically curated by Simone Rocha. Photo by Leslie Zhang.
3. I’m asking Santa for a place on the next www.lensandlarder.com retreat, brainchild of Imen McDonnell of the delicious blog www.farmette.ie.
4. I’m eating up Margaret Hickey’s tasty read on the history of the Irish larder.
5. I’m pre-ordering Christmas pudding from www.scealbakery.com with Scéal’s own sourdough crumbs. Don’t forget the vanilla and sea salt brandy butter!
6. I’m meeting “Hildebrand on the Turret Stairs” at the National Gallery; strictly limited viewing makes Burton’s 1864 layered watercolour feel like a tryst.
7. I’m decanting fine wine in proper glassware by Richard Brendon x Jancis Robinson, available at Terroirs, 103 Morehampton Road, Dublin 4.
8. I’m swapping figgy pudding for figgy cocktails, poured from a @kaufmann_mercantile classic shaker.