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Baking Clever

By Ellie Craig

Image by Elisa Frediani: @elisa.frediani //

"Nothing changes instantaneously; in a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it."

While this quote by Margaret Atwood from The Handmaid’s Tale is rather dramatic, it’s one that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. COVID-19 may have wreaked havoc on nearly every aspect of our lives but for many of us, the changes have not been instantaneous. For me, like many others in the UK, they began in early March when we stopped shaking hands and hugging each other. The rather awkward ‘elbow bump’ became the greeting de jour as the literal distance between friends and colleagues grew. Then came the start of the home office on the 16th March after Boris Johnson advised us to work remotely where possible before the full lockdown was imposed a week later.

Trips to visit family in the north of England and Scotland were hastily cancelled, rail season tickets were refunded and pre-planned holidays seemed unlikely to go ahead. Yet in all of this chaos and confusion, work remained something of a familiar constant, albeit in less familiar circumstances. That was not the case for long though. By early April I had been furloughed and the end of the month saw my job (which was a maternity cover contract) grind to a total halt. Loose promises of an extension disappeared once the severity of coronavirus became apparent.

I have been working since I was 15. Less than a month before I turned 30, I was made redundant. All of the common worries about hitting my fourth decade - including marriage, having children and buying my first home - paled into insignificance once it became obvious that I may hit the big 3-0 unemployed. I needn’t have worried: I spent a total of one day without a job but that fear of not working has stayed with me. Like most people who work in fashion, I didn’t get into this industry by chance; it’s been a brutal slog and for everything to come to halt has been heartbreaking.

Constantly trailing all the different job sites became my new norm. As recruitment agencies put most of their staff on furlough, the feeling of having to navigate this on my own increased. A few things kept me sane, including playing cards in the garden (which we’re so lucky to have) with my boyfriend and baking.

"Gone were the horrifically early alarm calls and mad dashes to make a 6.45 am boxing class. In place of these things were neglected recipe books and stashes of ingredients I had no recollection of buying."

Baking is something that I have always enjoyed yet not had much time to indulge in over recent years. Instead of doing it for pleasure, I had done it for necessity, such as a friend’s birthday or when we had guests over. For the first time in many years, time - or lack of it - has not been an issue for me. Gone were the horrifically early alarm calls and mad dashes to make a 6.45 am boxing class. In place of these things were neglected recipe books and stashes of ingredients I had no recollection of buying. Sugar isn’t a commonly used ingredient in our household yet I unearthed five different types of it, alongside edible gold glitter and bun cases; none of which feature heavily in our day-to-day cooking.

As old structures disappeared, I imposed new ones. Mondays to Thursdays were reserved for job hunting while Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were given over to cleaning and baking. When my flight to New York City to see one of my best friends was cancelled, I compensated by making bagels and Bloody Mary cocktails. I even brewed my own vegan Worcester sauce. Small stores yielded the best results when it came to hard-to-find items. A local Turkish shop was stuffed full of different types of flour, pasta, pulses, rice and even fresh yeast.

My boyfriend has traditionally cooked the majority of our meals but as he spent more time experimenting with meaty Korean recipes, I put my hand to a series of vegetarian alternatives. Halloumi, I discovered, is a delicious substitute for paneer. Throw in a few tins of beans, tomatoes and lots of spices and you’re left with a tasty - and cheap - meal that freezes well. The accompanying parathas may not have had the flaky consistency I love so much but they were still great thanks to lashings of (homemade) garlic butter.

It goes without saying that there have been some disasters. From bread dough that didn’t rise to English muffins that looked perfectly cooked yet were still raw inside, not everything has been a huge success. That hasn’t mattered though. What matters is that I have enjoyed it and it gives me pride when I hand my neighbour a box of fairy cakes for her to take to the food bank. Or when an old uni friend texts to say that the cheesecake I left on her doorstep was amazing.

At a time when I have felt very helpless in many ways, baking has provided me with some purpose and has acted as a distraction. I just hope, once some form of normality has been restored, I will continue with my new hobby.

Want to pretend you're visiting your best friend in New York/ have an excuse to drink cocktails too? Give making bagels a go with the same recipe Ellie used! Find it here.


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