focaccia with grapes and fennel seed



There’s no good way to start a blog, so I won’t even try. Instead I will say this: I have just returned from South Africa, where I spent the days thinking about the complexity of my country and the evenings cooking for those I have left behind. Both activities consume me. I made this focaccia multiple times over the course of weeks in Cape Town, now my home-by-marriage, and in Pretoria, where I lived for ten years before coming to Toronto, in the foreign kitchens I now find myself cooking in, where I can’t locate the knives and am unfamiliar with the oven, where everything seems off-kilter, everything but the people around the table, everything but the food.

In these foreign kitchens we baked this focaccia we’ve been making throughout the heady Toronto summers, when black grapes are easy to come by, for black grapes it must be – you need them to pop in the hot oven and bleed into the dough, leaving streaks of purple. I would make the dough the day before, leave it to prove in the fridge, wake up the yeast the next day by leaving it outside for a few hours. Pour the dough onto a heavily oiled oven sheet. Top with the grapes, roasted fennel seeds, salt. Bake in a hot oven, but turn down the heat if it seems like the bottom might catch.

All throughout the mixing of flour and yeast, and the slicing of the bread, in different kitchens and around different tables, Ivan Vladislavić’s line from Portrait with Keys runs through my head. It has become the soundtrack to my visits back home, the soundtrack to my life in the Canadian yswoestyn: “This is our climate. We have grown up in this air, this light, and we grasp it on the skin, where it grasps us. We know this earth, this grass, this polished red stone with the soles of our feet. We will never be ourselves anywhere else. Happier, perhaps, healthier, less burdened, more secure. But we will never be closer to who we are than this.”

How I long to be myself, elsewhere. How I struggle to find my feet.


Ps: Original inspiration for this focaccia is the wonderful River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, but I use Saltie’s dough (via the Wednesday Chef) instead of their recipe.


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