Every morning, while it is still dark, Anastasia Pollard wakes to the badgering of her dogs. She lets them out and immediately makes herself a coffee and toasts her home-made wholemeal seeded bread. She adds only butter. Honey if she’s sick. Jam if she’s feeling “greedy”. She has done this every day for years and years and years.
The portrait artist is one of innumerable people around the world who resists a food culture which has come to venerate variety as a virtue.
For some it is an act of convenience, of rejecting the need to decide. For others, it is an act of connection and memory.
“There’s a psychological association with morning, with getting up, with balancing myself for the day ahead,” she says. “I always do that … I know some people go to the shower and do all that – no. I have to have my toast and coffee absolutely first thing.”
Pollard bakes her bread weekly, using a recipe which took a lot of trial and error. Baking your own bread, she says, feels like self care.
“I make the dough the night before,” she says. “I soak the seeds; I make this pre-ferment. I get up and start the dough. Prove it forever. It’s a process. I have to be very organised about it.”
There are times when this process has fallen by the wayside, but she tries to stay on top of it: “I don’t feel as fed with someone’s bread as with my bread.”
The coffee is also particular: “It has to be Lavazza.” Pollard developed a love for the brand while living in Italy. Though she’s been in the UK for a long time now, “it connects me with the time I spent in Italy. I love Italy and emotionally I think I’m still living there.”
Pollard has a young son and a husband and neither are involved in her breakfast ritual. The meal is time alone. “I like getting up while it’s still dark. I like how it sort of gently gets lighter and lighter … I really love sitting in the kitchen with the quiet and looking at the garden with my coffee and my toast. It very much is having this little time to myself.”
For Jane Newton in Sydney’s inner west, settling on a tripartite lunch which she has been eating every day for eight years now was a decision borne of pragmatism.
“It was something protein, something green, and some carbs to get me going through the day,”she says. “I didn’t research too extensively. I just sort of said: ‘I’m going to do these three things in a bowl.’ ”
The Aftrs curriculum coordinator’s lunch consists of a microwavable rice bowl, green vegetables (broccolini usually), and tofu. It used to be tinned tuna before she went vegetarian a few years ago: “Despite the fact it’s been the same core three ingredients every day, there is a pleasure to it.
“If I’m feeling fancy I’ll put some avocado in. The newer addition, which has revolutionised the dish, is a bit of vegan kimchi on top.”
Newton does not enjoy cooking. She enjoys eating out. She reasons that by having a guaranteed substantial lunch in the middle of the day, she has latitude for decision-making and decadence in other meals.
Although she eats at her desk while working, the few minutes she takes to assemble her dish – at nearly precisely midday – has become “a bit of a reset”, a time without demand or decisions.
“A lot has changed in my life,” says medical researcher Sara Carrillo. Over the years she has lived in Spain, the UK, Sydney and now Melbourne. But her breakfast has remained constant. Every day she wakes to coffee with milk and two slices of toast with butter and raspberry jam: “That is the one thing I keep the same.”
Moving between countries, and even cities, required Carrillo to reconfigure her breakfast. The jam had to change between the UK and Australia. The butter and bread had to change, too. It is now a wholemeal pane di casa: “Everything in this country is sourdough, and I don’t like it.”
Carrillo says that when growing up in Spain, her mother would rush her through breakfast. Now she takes it slower – but there’s still a connection to history. When her mother was growing up after the war, it was a given that she and all those around her would eat the same meals day in, day out: “All this variety that we have now is quite new in terms of history.”
With this endless choice and all this change, returning each morning to the same breakfast for Carrillo is about waking up slowly “without the violence of ‘Go! Go! Go!’
“It’s almost like a meditation, really. Having that extra time to yourself without having to think about anything.
“We are forced to get into active mode all the time. Sometimes it’s good to be on autopilot.”
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