a blog by Gemma Thomas.
If you’ve read any of my blog posts in the last six weeks, you will be aware that I gave up bread for lent. The idea behind this was to limit the, frankly, excessive amount of bread I consume by learning to live without it, at least temporarily. I spent 44 days trying to change my mindset; not having my usual toast for breakfast, living without sandwiches for lunch, and foregoing a surprising number of things it never occurred to me that I would have to do without.
Being a cook and living in London meant that it was possibly easier for me than for others, but there were some difficult moments. Making my favourite breakfast of avocado and poached egg on toast for overnight guests without being able to have any myself was hard work; sitting at a table at The Gowlett in Peckham while my friends tucked into their famous pizzas was pretty tortuous; and, one of my favourite out-of-London restaurants took a severe drop in my estimations when I discovered that their chicken, pulled pork and other non-bread items were seriously deficient in comparison to their burgers (it was the first time I had sent all of my meal back, including my gin and tonic!)
My porridge consumption went up significantly during lent; perhaps less virtuously, so did that of fried potato goods. On days when I had a hangover, potato waffles and hash browns easily stepped into the place of toast. I ate a lot more soups, salads, sushi and noodle pots for lunch; making my own to pack up and take in when I was being organised, and buying them from Wasabi and Abokado when I was not. Even though I missed the convenience of picking up a sandwich (and I work in Fitzrovia, where we have excellent sandwiches nearby) and the fun of going to get street food at KERB (you would be surprised how much is bread-based); I appreciated the variety a little more. Best of all, I have broken my habit of snacking on toast when I get in from the office.
I can’t say that giving up bread for lent has enlightened me to give it up altogether, but it has given me an appreciation of all of the alternatives. Although since Good Friday I have eaten a burger, a pizza, some hot cross buns and two portions of avocado on toast, I am much more mindful of the quantity of bread I am eating; and also trying to be mindful of quality where I can too. It seems almost silly that I am writing about my reliance on one thing, but there was a day, not so long ago, that I had toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and then went out for pizza for dinner. Far from being surprised, I realised this was fairly typical and changes needed to be made.
That being said, I am looking forward to getting down to the new Brick House Bakery in East Dulwich and buying myself a loaf of something delicious.
So to finish off lent, it would only be right to share something I learned. Back in January, I posted a recipe for apple and cinnamon baked porridge, and have been trying out different variations, with the limited seasonal fruit available in early spring, on this for bread-free breakfasts. The best variation, by far, is one containing banana, honey and chopped nuts. It sounds like a bit of a winter warmer for this time of year, when most oat-based breakfast recipes are cold, but it will see you right through to berry season, no problem.
Banana, Honey and Nut Baked Porridge
150g rolled oats
50g chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds etc. – whatever you have)
3 bananas, sliced
80ml clear honey
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
400ml whole milk
30g melted butter
Demerera sugar, for the topping
Preheat the oven to 175ºc. Lightly butter a baking dish or pie dish.
Scatter the oats, nuts and banana into the baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, salt, cinnamon, egg, milk and melted butter to combine. Pour over the dry ingredients.
Sprinkle the demerera sugar across the top and bake for 30-35 minutes until just set.
Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats.