Poetry and presence
Mina Loy wrote in “Letters of the Unliving” that “the present implies presence”. I consider this as I shift one sheet of cookies out of the oven and another in, like a one-woman assembly line. Trying to live in the present, completely in the present (not looking toward the future or reflecting on the past), poses difficulties, especially if the present you want does require presence, as Loy succinctly states. Once you have the presence in your present, it is difficult to transition back into something less than that. It is the difference between the immediate reality and the distant reality: both realities are real but one is present and the other is not.
It surprises me, given my all-or-nothing nature that I am so complacent and accepting of the distant reality; the present without presence. Life marches on in the same fashion, but it feels like self-imposed marginalization.
All or nothing
I have spent the day exercising my all-or-nothing nature. Sometimes I hesitate to do things, such as adopting an exercise regimen. Not because I don’t want to do it or because I am lazy but because I am so completely gung-ho about everything I take on. When a decision or action involves only me, I tend to jump in with both feet. Instead of incorporating a brisk walk into my daily life as a ramp-up to more intense workouts, I start training like some kind of maniac (within reason – I don’t push myself to the state of injury). I started running again the other day and today decided that running hills would be a bright idea, too.
As I have written before, the more I do, the more I push myself to do, the greater my capacity for getting things done. I have been baking copious amounts for the last two days while also fitting in all kinds of other activities, from cleaning, to perusing poetry, to catching up on the week’s television shows, to writing letters, to organizing some work-related materials, to having conversations with loads of people. Where does all the time come from? And where is all this time when I really need it?
Baking: Oat fudge bars
I baked the biscotti about which I wrote yesterday and then baked the base of some oat fudge bars. This is a new recipe for me, and I cannot vouch for how it tastes (will report back when someone actually tries them during the week). It turned out all right but I was skeptical when I made the fudge layer this morning. The base is very similar to many other bar cookies (generally they are shortbread based or a kind of oat-brown sugar-flour concoctions pressed into a pan) and was therefore quite simple and turned out as expected. (I should note also that I am generally not the biggest fan of making bar cookies; there is something about them that is boring, lazy, lacking in all creativity and, frankly, pedestrian. It does not have to be this way — some bar cookies are quite elaborate. In any case, sometimes, though, I make them despite my distaste for the idea.)
I let it cool overnight before making the fudge filling. I melted the chocolate and butter together and then added the egg – this created the consistency of a chocolate tart filling, not unlike that I use for my chocolate tarts. But the recipe then requires that you mix the chocolate with a group of dry ingredients (flour, espresso powder, etc.). This created a thick paste/dough, which did not strike me as particularly right (then I realized I had used 1 1/4 cups flour rather than the called-for 1/4 cup, which clearly made the difference). I plowed ahead with it, pressing the chocolate dough on top of the oat crust, hoping for the best. Then I sprinkled on the remainder of the oat mixture. Or rather, I would have, if the mixture I had reserved for this purpose did not go flying around the room when I tried to lift the bowl. I should say, then, that I spent a good ten minutes cleaning up the oat mixture from the floor, and then I made some more of the oat mixture, sprinkled it on top and baked the whole mess. I may try again with the correct proportions … someday.
It came out fine, and upon cutting it into pieces, it seems to cut cleanly at least. Now I await the verdict on the taste. Part of the appeal for most people with bar cookies is that they are easy – these were not quite as easy as the standard bar, so it kind of defeats the purpose. I have my doubts about these.
Oat Fudge Bars
Crust (and topping)
1 cup oats
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 325F. Line a pan with aluminum foil (the original recipe called for an 8-inch square baking pan, but I used a 9×13 pan), leaving an overhang on opposite sides to lift the bars out after they’re baked. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk the oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Add the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Set aside about 3/4 cup of the crust mixture for the topping. Put the remaining crust mixture into the baking pan and press it into an even layer.
Bake for about 8 minutes (until golden brown). Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the crust completely, about 1 hour.
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 1 cup chocolate, finely chopped or chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
Whisk flour, sugar, espresso powder and salt. Put the chocolate and butter in a separate bowl and either microwave on medium to melt (or melt over a double boiler). Let cool slightly and then add the egg into the chocolate and whisk. Fold into the flour mixture until just combined (the mixture will be thick — and for me, obviously, it was even thicker since I f-d up and used way too much flour! Thinking of Inga and “thicker than ever”!).
Spread the filling over the cooled crust (and given the consistency I “achieved”, I had to press it onto the crust; it was definitely not spreadable!). Smooth the top, then sprinkle the remaining oat topping over the filling. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the bars cool completely in the pan, about 2 hours. Use the foil overhang to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into squares.
Soundtrack du jour
Eleanor Friedberger – “My Mistakes” (For Esteban, who may not be paying for his mistakes but will probably learn from them!)