baked out

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For the first time since last year, I am baking. With my old industrial-style bakes, I seemed to hit a peak in 2013-15, and it’s been slowing down ever since, finally reaching complete nothingness as 2017 dawned. I remember baking only twice in the second half of 2016, and what little inspiration I had for it has disappeared. I don’t think I have ever gone nine months in my entire life without baking – until now.

And now, as I take it up again, thinking I might get into it once I start, I keep thinking, “I want to get this over with.” For the first time ever, I got no joy from the process.

I think I have questioned before how these shifts occur, imperceptibly. You don’t realize that the excitement and drive is leaving until it’s just gone. I am not sure I understand. I don’t think I need to.

I will finish this particular bake, and I will do one for Halloween. And that, oddly, may be the end.

But the last year or so has seen me (almost) wave goodbye to all kinds of things I thought I’d never tire of: writing letters, creating and sending my Halloween cards and CD mixes (the last-ever physical copies go out in mid-October) and now baking. Other things have begun to be more important, and for the first time in my whole life, I have begun to think more selfishly. Good or bad, I am simply tired and no longer want to make these efforts.

subtle change

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I may finally have emerged from a grey-food period. I was eating mostly the same mundane meal daily because it was easy, healthy and almost instant. But I’ve finally decided I should put in a bit of upfront effort and prepare some variation and make a few meals for a few days in advance.

My latest go-to, at the very least, is very colorful, although not necessarily pretty. With a base of a grain mix of quinoa, buckwheat, millet and amaranth, I throw in some beans (kidney or black usually), red and/or yellow peppers, red onions, asparagus, baby spinach, tomatoes and who knows what else? And then sometimes add a bit of salmon or a few prawns, if I am in that kind of mood (prefer mostly vegan eating but sometimes seem to need a change).

I think my laziest thing is that I don’t want to bother cooking, so if I do it all at once and make a bunch of well-measured out bowls and cook enough of this grain stuff to many such bowls, I don’t have to think about it every single day. I know people have been saying that to me forever – just take the one ‘hit’ in terms of time, prep, patience, and you will thank yourself. But even that, until recently, I could not force myself to do. But I suppose alongside all the rest of the changes this year, thinking ahead and preparing even for the most boring thing I can think of (eating) is something I can ken.

Now the question remains: will I ever bake again?

Parting in stations/Craving comfort

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For the first time in my life, I have no butter in the house. I usually have a small stockpile because I’m always preparing to bake. But I haven’t baked since Christmas, which must be the longest bake-drought of my adult life. If I were to get into it, I am sure the drive would return, but now isn’t the time. Sometimes I wonder about shifts like this – are they phases, or are they permanent changes in our make-up? Are lemon cakes and Anzac biscuits a part of the past?

While in the now (or ‘the noo’ to be all Scot about it), the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies does not waft through the air, I am surrounded by sunlight, poetry and music. All ache and exultation.

from Mean Free Path
by Ben Lerner
What if I made you hear this as music
But not how you mean that. The slow beam
Opened me up. Walls walked through me
Like resonant waves. I thought that maybe
If you aren’t too busy, we could spend our lives
Parting in stations, promising to write
War and Peace, this time with feeling
As bullets leave their luminous traces across
Wait, I wasn’t finished. I was going to say
Breakwaters echo long lines of cloud

Oh, what could be more beautiful than “I thought that maybe/If you aren’t too busy, we could spend our lives/Parting in stations, promising to write/War and Peace, this time with feeling”?

Maybe the soundtrack du jour: Ruby Haunt’s “Crave”. It sounds just like something I would have fallen in love with in high school but sounds immediate at the same time. It pulls my heartstrings.

“Listen to the girl, who waits by your side, in a simple world, no need to ask why, nothing’s gonna change, the people pass by, you feel no pain, as she starts to cry. Craving, craving some comfort. You can’t explain, the things on your mind, you’re on your way, you won’t rewind. It’s over with, no need to lie, you’re just a myth, but you know it’s fine. Craving, craving some comfort.”

If only life were like living in a bubble of poetry, literature, music, going to gigs, walking through the fields and forests, last-minute adventures, linguistic parades and endless conversations.

Oh, wait, it kind of is.

Insouciance

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Back home – back to reading. Finished reading Slogans by Mark Burgess, am going to finish Une si longue lettre by Mariama Ba (Senegal) – finally – and then finally, finally finish the book on Congo. I have just finished putting together/writing the track listing for yet another of my increasingly frequent random-gum music mixes/life’s soundtrack (and addressed all the envelopes. Tedium). It’s been a rich and intense time for music listening. I can’t seem to help myself and just want to keep sharing.

I’ve got the latest season of Chef’s Table going in the background. Not being a foodie of any kind, I did not expect to care for this show, but a lovely former colleague recommended it to me, and I have been consistently entertained and surprised. In the first episode of the third season, the ‘chef’ is actually a Korean Zen Buddhist monk who does not at all consider herself a chef. In the second episode, they’re covering the relatively well-known White Rabbit restaurant in Moscow (even I had heard of it and I am not that interested in the world’s popular or best-regarded culinary marvels). The best part is listening to all the spoken Russian; the worst, seeing lovely live moose who were killed and eventually turned into the moose-lip dumplings the chef had long been dreaming of. Most of the series is all quite beautiful and exquisite in any case. And the back stories almost all fascinating. (The third episode on Nancy Silverton: “I think you need to be obsessed with bread… to be a baker.” Starting off on the right foot.)

Not many words to say about it, but my decision to ‘fake it til I make it’ in terms of forcing myself to pretend to be in a better mood worked – when I decided on the 14th that it would be my last day of moping and sulking, it was. I was not at my greatest or at the pinnacle of personal enlightenment on the morning of the 15th, but I gave it some thought, realized what I had been doing and from that moment on, everything has actually (I’ve not just been ‘acting’) been great – relief, release, mini adventure, deep thinking without thinking about anything in particular. Very freeing.

Revolutionary Letter #1
Diane di Prima
I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

the whole cake

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It strikes me every time I read something from several years ago how many repeated patterns there are in the lives of all the characters involved, including myself. It shouldn’t come as a surprise – I am a certain type of person, and despite changing my surroundings, approaches, and putting up solid boundaries when needed, it does not change the fact that I am the same person at my core, and the feelings with which I respond are essentially the same. It also does not change the kinds of people I encounter in my life, or the preferences my heart (or mind) seems to have. None of this is a value judgment – just observations about how fundamental, deep change is not easy or quick. If it happens at all, it happens like soil erosion – it is happening but isn’t visible to the naked eye or even perceptible for many years.

Autumn 2011 (?) – excerpts from an email

A weekend of major baking (1200 cookies for a PR event at work). I invited a young German assistant to come and help me.

Latest drama: Mal is convinced he is going to die, like a total hypochondriac, despite not actually having real symptoms of anything. All I could do was roll my eyes, even if I wanted to be sympathetic, because 1. what a total overreaction, 2. go to the fucking doctor if you are so scared, 3. he was sooooooo unsympathetic when I had my own much more realistic health scare not long ago and has not been sympathetic or understanding when I have told him about the actual health problems I faced. Eventually he saw a doctor who told him that his symptoms were imagined/psychosomatic. Being the dramatic manipulator he is, he uses even fake health crises to milk what benefit he can get from them. He told me he feels he has had a “near-death experience” now. Oh my god. Seriously. Until they are cutting your balls off and shooting radiation into some part of your body, don’t even talk to me about near-death. He apparently told a mutual acquaintance that if he had been diagnosed with something terminal, he would immediately pack up and move here, as if he had been invited to die at my house. At some point he told me the same thing, imagining I would be flattered that he would choose me as nurse and caretaker for his final days?! Me, being the cynic always believing the worst in people like him, I said, “Oh why… better free medical care in Sweden?” He got offended and said, “No! To spend my last days somewhere beautiful with someone who really cares about me.” I guess that is a nicer sentiment, but note that it is always about who cares about him, what he can get out of it and not about for whom he cares or some kind of mutual care or respect.

Of course I am not supposed to be talking to him at all since my deadline for getting rid of him was September 30. It really had become such a chore and difficulty that I literally had to give myself a deadline. It is beyond difficult to just cut someone off, even someone so destructive and selfish. I have put a lot of distance between us, causing him to call me a “frosty fucker” the other day (haha). I enjoyed being called a frosty fucker so much that I just had to repeat it. It has grown easier, though, because I’ve been working and dashing constantly from place to place – Oslo, Trondheim, New York, Seattle, Stockholm, and will be right up until the end of the year, meaning there is no time to mess around with his nonsense, inconsistency, excuses and bullshit. I sometimes find myself in the position of sort of missing him when we are out of touch for a while, but as soon as I talk to him again, listening to his stupid excuses and bullshit-filled banter, I am back to wanting to forget that this summer happened at all…

Actually being around R (the dentist), I was just struck again, hard, by the realization that it is just so easy to get worn down into a pattern with some people (ML) where you accept and think something, some pathetic behavior, is okay or even normal, which it totally is not. R is open, funny, generous, warm … he barely knows me but he invited me to stay in his house during this extensive dental treatment. We had some great conversations and even greater laughs… and you know, he did not have to do any of that – I was not his friend, but his sister’s, but he still did. I like to think I am a lot like that most of the time. I am not a taker, so when I am taking (like from R this past week), I am extremely grateful and gracious, offer to help in any way I can, offer whatever I have (in this case, I brought a shitload of cookies to him). I just don’t understand people who can take and take and barely register that it might require a thank you.

I was telling R about this situation with Mal, and he laughed and said, “It sounds like an indie movie… full of unknown actors.” It made me think… maybe I should write a screenplay or something out of this ridiculous summer. Then I would at least feel like I walked away with something.

These days, after this stupid summer entanglement and its idleness, I am oddly contemplative/reflective on what it is I really want to do in life… ever since Steve Jobs died the other day and I re-watched his Stanford commencement speech about death (or threat of it) being the best catalyst for taking action in life. Do I want to write product sheets about the Android OS for the rest of my life? No. The last thing I want is a routine life.

…And then on compatibility, with your husband and with people in general. I understand what you are saying about choosing the “right qualities” when you decided to be with him… his stability and some of the more fundamental things. Yes, you might have liked to have been with someone who wants long, deep conversations and shared literary interests, but it is rare (if possible at all) to get a whole package. Isn’t it a matter of what is most important – and how you can get by and relate in the day to day? And I guess, as we may have discussed before, you can get some of the more in-depth conversational needs taken care of with close friends, even if it is still not quite the same thing.

And if love is important – or what makes you feel loved, rather – I just talked to my German assistant about this. She is young, so inexperienced. She asked whether she should wait around for someone if she is in love with them and they just don’t respond to her in kind. I assumed she was talking about Mal (and if she wasn’t, that means she has gotten herself into yet another unhealthy situation with someone else), and it made me so intensely sad for her to know that she KNOWS it is not going to change. She is just an accessory and a “safety/back up” for him. It is not that he does not care at all about her, but that he cares more about himself. Obviously. He is always going to give her a few crumbs to keep her hanging on but will never give her the whole cake, so to speak. To which I almost screamed, “Don’t settle for stale crumbs. Wait for – and accept – only the whole cake.”

Broccoli-Herrgård pie

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I had broccoli, Herrgård cheese and pretty much nothing else. I decided to make a savory pie from it – hoping the coconut milk wouldn’t add too much “sweetness” to the flavor. I also did not want to make a pastry crust that required being rolled out, so here’s what we ended up with.

The pics don’t make it look too appetizing (photography isn’t my thing) but it’s bloody well yummy.

Broccoli-Herrgård pie

Preheat oven to 200C

1 head fresh broccoli, steamed and chopped

Steam your broccoli for about five minutes (until tender), chop it up and set it aside.

Crust
½ cup grated cheese (I used Herrgård because it’s what I had but cheddar would be great)
¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup melted butter

Mix cheese, flour, salt and mustard and add the melted butter in until just combined. Press into a pie tin. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Filling
1 tablespoon butter
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cream, half-and-half or coconut milk (that’s all I had on hand)
½ cup cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs, slightly beaten

Melt the butter in a skillet, sauté the onion for about five minutes. Whisk in the flour, cream/coconut milk, salt, nutmeg and cheese until you have a kind of roux/sauce. Cook about one minute. Mix in the broccoli. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the beaten eggs. Pour into the prepared crust.

Bake for 15 minutes at 200C.

Remove from oven and reduce heat to 190C while you sprinkle a bit of extra cheese on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes.

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Mini pecan pies

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It’s been a long time since I bothered to make miniature pies, but suddenly the urge was there. Mini pecan pies were born.

Here’s how you can go for it as well:

Crust:
1 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chilled butter
3 tablespoons ice water

Sift flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour until crumbly. Stir in enough cold water with a fork until it is just moistened. Form a ball and roll out on a floured surface. (For a regular pie, you would roll into a 12-inch circle for a 9-inch pie. For mini pies, just cut circles about the size of the outer edge of your tins). Fit the rounds into your mini tins and set aside.

Filling:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup corn syrup (I used golden syrup)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F. First pour pecans into the bottom of the pie crusts. Pour the syrup over the top. (Pecans will rise to the top.)

Cover the tops and crusts lightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. The filling should not be overly runny/jiggly, so continue baking until it is relatively solid.

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