I’m crying in the storage cupboard by the wrapping paper about my panettone that’s sitting, slumped like a New Yorkers bin bag on the street, in my kitchen. I’m pissed off. There are many things that compel me to bake throughout the year but at Christmas time it’s a sentimental, nostalgia for food I can’t find in rural Wales during a country-wide lockdown; Italian food. I had never eaten a panettone when I tried a slice for the first time back in 2015 at my then boyfriends, of half Italian blood, house. The fruit and alcohol and lightness of dough felt like love. We ate it with whipped cream.
A couple of weeks ago I was hoovering my bedroom. I’d let the carpet get matted with my own hair that had fallen over weeks of anxious distancing. Other than my Mum who sometimes came into to read my journal and deliver some clean laundry, I’ve been the only one to walk about my room in over a year. The hair on the carpet was unavoidably attributed to my own head and I had no one else to blame. Hoover pushing across the sand and silted carpet I came across a lump of blue and silver foil nestled underneath a radiator pipe; a Baci wrapper. Italian dark chocolate encasing one whole hazelnut. It was the litter from a long lost relationship with the same half-italian person from before. I’m sure you’ll start sensing my sentimental tendencies at this point. I left it there, I dodged the foil with the hoover and let it suck up all that was around it, leaving a grey little island of dismay and dirt circling it. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away that thrown away evidence of him in my bedroom. Baci chocolate was another thing I ate for the first time with this boy and his family. Food became as much a part of our relationship as our unwaverable belief in love did - a dangerous faith, in hindsight, because everything crumbles eventually.
So, we’re back in the storage cupboard, crying. The panettone disappointed in the room next door. Maybe resting so much heartbreak on a light, levened dough really is a doomed recipe from the start.
My ex-boyfriend was a cook and aspiring chef. He used to cook at my house and get so upset when recipes went wrong - bolognese’s too sweet, fraisier sponges too rubbery, and with each slamming door and furrowed brow I used to console him; “It’s just food”. Now, after a year of folding every single ounce of memory and sentiment, aggravation and longing for touching, sharing, halving and passing morsels, slices and scooops between people I realise that it really isn’t just food. This panettone isn’t just a panettone it’s an attempt at baking that feeling of being in love at eighteen in a city you thought you knew but only knew as a tourist being lived in and walked through on the arm of a dweller, and the smell of being invited to a table as a stand in Italian family member. It’s a way to grasp onto what’s lost in a thing I can eat up.
In Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, there’s a scene where Chihiro cries as she eats a gelatnious, mochi looking riceball on the steps of a towering building in a place she doesn’t know. She’s growing so fast she can’t keep up, legs moving, arms flailing, pushing through the detritous mess of adulthood. Now that I’m sitting at the kitchen table eating half-baked dough from my hand as the other half burns in the oven I feel left with this feeling of just plain and simple sadness. I wish that food was just food but it’s not, and when it goes wrong it can feel like everything is going wrong. What does it mean to try your best at something and have it collapse in front of your eyes - as someone who has become so attached to control in a year where a virus seems punishment for carelessness, I’ve become fucking bad at failing. I wish I could mould that bread into something edible but in reality, it will be left to sink in some tin somewhere.
This isn’t going to come to a head or conlusion, nor is iti a piece that I’m proud of or drafting. I think this is just a way to make a failed panettone feel worthy as an experience. There hasn’t been a single thing I’ve baked this year that’s turned out as I’d hoped while cooked cauliflower, pasta sauces, curries and roasts have excelled and expanded with each iteration. Maybe I’m not one for precision. Maybe I’m not one for panettone.
It’s Christmas Eve, and over a year since I’ve seen the half-italian. I still think about him all the time. I wonder when food will stop being the rope that ties me to memories of being in love.