February 20, 2011

Chocolate chip cookies, revisited

Hello, world. I've missed you. The snow and ice haven't stopped me from finally emerging to visit some of my old places, near and far.

It's been strange to see how some things have changed and some things have stayed the same, while I've been on the couch these past few months. Or perhaps I'm seeing differently, squinting in the winter sunlight and huffing along on legs that feel a little new somehow. Either way, it sure feels good to come back inside and turn on the oven after a long winter walk.

When I flew south for the winter, I met Mr. Chocolate Chip Cookie's grandmother. Turns out she bakes chocolate chip cookies too—just exactly the right kind to melt your heart and put a smile on your face. Since then I've made two batches of my own, using the family recipe (courtesy of Tollhouse).

Chocolate chip cookies

Besides chocolate chip cookies, of course, here's a little list of my latest favorite little things:

1. Winter squash
2. Long walks
3. Longer and longer walks
4. Samba
5. Writing on paper
6. Watching sunrise and sunset in the same day
7. Eating ice cream under a blanket

On my reading list:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I Love a Broad Margin to My Life by Maxine Hong Kingston
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

December 30, 2010

"Or to begin again"


Dear Readers,

Hello from New Orleans! I thought I'd stop in for a moment to ask if you have any New Year's resolutions. I've switched from comfy couch to sun-dappled backyard this afternoon, and it dawned on me that I haven't really made one yet.

I've been writing every day and was thinking I'll probably keep up the habit, resolution or not. 750words.com has been a great new addition to my writing practice, even though I tend to be a tried-and-true pen-and-paper kind of gal.

I was thinking I might also learn to bake ALL of my favorite kinds of cookies. What do you think? That could take me through pretty much all of this year and the next and the next.

In the spirit of new beginnings, above is a photo of a sunrise, for your viewing pleasure. It was taken back in Boston, very early on Thanksgiving morning.

I've also been thinking of a book of poetry by Ann Lauterbach, entitled, Or to begin again. I remember going to a reading of hers a couple of years ago, and I was a little mesmerized. It felt more like an incantation. She didn't say much, except, "I'm just going to read, if that's ok with you." Now there's a book I'd like to get my hands on in the New Year.

When I found this video of her reading as a 2009 National Book Awards Finalist, I was reminded again that her voice and her words speak for themselves.

Wishing you a new year filled with poetry and pomegranates and all of your favorite little things.

December 21, 2010

Growing wings

Guess what. This little couch potato is flying south for the winter.

Lately, I've been dreaming of beignets from Cafe Du Monde and reading up on the 1895 World's Fair.

It's hard to believe I'll be leaving my cozy nest, but it'll be nice to take in new scenery and new faces, for a change of pace. Actually, I'll still be going at the same pace: slow. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, here's a photo of my little sunflower, Beulah, who's been keeping me company.



December 14, 2010


When I first got sick and the doctor came to see me in the infirmary, he said it would be important to "simulate game-time."

By this, he meant that even though I could barely walk and didn't have anywhere to go, I would have to wander aimlessly up and down the little hallway with the nurse at least twice per day.

I hated that. I hate treadmills for the same reason. They make me feel like a hamster in a wheel.

Anyways, I did it without too much fuss, and pretty soon, I got restless enough to actually want to come home. Before that, I had been pretty content with the steady stream of popsicles and pudding at my disposal. That is, until they made me do stuff.

One day last week, I woke up feeling especially terrible. This was nothing new, but I decided I'd had enough. I was tired of being sick, and I was getting restless. I decided I was having a day out, and I was going to walk to a café to have a drink and read a book, like any normal person might do.

So, I prepared myself mentally all morning. "Act cool," I thought, taking a cue from some friends in Budapest. I got some breakfast down. I took a bath. By early afternoon, I had a few articles of clothing on. I struggled with the last layers of winter regalia. My fingers started to tingle. I began to sweat. I got a little woozy.

I reached for a new bottle of gatorade. I couldn't get it open.

"Oh, forget it," I said to the bottle, as I held it like a baby and flopped over onto the bed. "At least I simulated game-time today."

The next day, I aimed a little closer to home. I set my sights on the slow cooker, instead of Starbucks. Turns out, a batch of rice pudding goes down easier than a latte, and the crock pot holds enough for two.

In recent days, similar pursuits have led to stuffed peppers, "pieless apples," and a first attempt at butter cookies, as you can see below. Thank goodness there's a consolation prize for warming the bench.

In process: "Pieless apples"

In Process: Butter Cookies

December 9, 2010

Things that make me smile

1. Reinventing the sky (via Joanna Goddard)
Ever wonder how to bring the sky inside? Or how to wear it around your neck? Artist Maria Alexandra Vettese did just that. As the days grew shorter, she photographed the sky and created an art installation entitled "Come Darkness, here we are again," along with a book and silk scarves, all featuring the changing light of the autumn sky.

2. Dance clips
Since I can't move much right now, and I used to be a dancer, I sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time searching for great dance clips on youtube. Here's my latest favorite. Just try to sit still while you watch it.

3. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
This compact book begins with a series of metaphors for writing, strung together with such humor and grace, I couldn't help but smile. I just started it when my favorite person ever brought it to me for a surprise Chanukah present (you can guess who—he bakes cookies), but I'm already sailing along (there's a sailboat on the cover—I approve). Anyways, if you like to write, or you just like reading about writing, I think it's great. And it's short too, which I also like.

December 3, 2010

On mood lighting and pencil skirts


I tend to be very concerned with creating the right conditions for things. I always thought I could write best in a café with medium-level background noise and gentle lighting. I have a certain kind of pen I like and favorite notebooks.

I like to have the right kind of music for the right kind of thing. Running music for running. Cooking music for cooking. Dinner party music for dinner parties. I think somewhere along the way, I must have picked up the idea that I would fall in love wearing a little black dress. Or maybe a pencil skirt.

These things are all so nice. It's really sweet to make things just so.

But when I got sick this semester, I really kind of thought I'd lost everything for the first little while. I was afraid to open my eyes and see what was left when the dust settled. I'd gotten so attached to all the little things that I didn't realize I'd mostly only just lost the icing off the cake.

Turns out I did some of my best writing while horizontal, notebook smashed sideways against a hospital bed railing. Turns out I can write with or without a needle in my arm. Turns out I can also write while taking a bath or while frying an egg (although, admittedly, the egg did not turn out so well).

Turns out the pencil skirt and little black dress were kind of unnecessary too. You can also fall in love in your pajamas, not having brushed your teeth in kind of a long time.

I think I knew that. I'm not sure I really believed it, though.

I'm still convinced that the little things really matter, but I've had to remind myself how the big things fit in too. If I had any confusion about my priorities back in September, I suppose I've had a little help sorting them out. When you can only do one thing in a day, then two, then three, you start to learn very quickly what matters to you, what you really need, and who you love.

As for that icing on the cake? Well, I've had plenty of new little things to fill in the gaps left by afternoons in cafés and mornings out running. Here's a little list of my favorite little comforts.

Gatorade flavor: light blue
Comfort foods: soda bread, matzo ball soup, cookie dough ice cream, avocados, cheese, chocolate chip cookies
TV shows: Big Love, Gossip Girl
Movies: Forrest Gump, Good Will Hunting, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

As for the big things, well, you'll just have to come back later. I'm still mulling them over.

November 30, 2010

Things I've been loving

1. Rice
Now that I've been getting off the couch more and more, the kitchen has become my second favorite haunt. My newly rediscovered appetite also keeps me scrounging around for things that fill me up and make for easy leftovers. Hence, the rice. I love to make a big pot and throw in whatever I have on hand. Basically, everything but the kitchen sink. This week's batch had basmati rice, red and green peppers, onions, and pineapples. Yum.

2. Jordin Sparks
Now that I'm feeling a bit more peppy, I'm really in the mood for somebody who can belt. I like to turn the music up loud and dance around a little, especially while I'm cookin'. And then I like to take a nap. Her last album, Battlefield, has a little bit of everything. Apparently it was released in the summer of 2009. I can't believe it took me this long to add it to my life.

3. Saul Bellow: Collected Stories
I dug this anthology out from my bookshelf one evening last week and was so glad I did. My favorite is the last story, "Something to Remember Me By." When I'm not reading poems, I love short stories, and these are the kind that stick with you forever.

4. Stillness
For the longest time, I had to be still. I didn't really have a choice about it. Sometimes I couldn't move. Sometimes I couldn't talk either. Sometimes I couldn't get out of bed or get off the couch. These days, as I get my strength back, I'm beginning to have some choices about what to do with my time. It's strange. I almost feel guilty about it, or even a little overwhelmed. I still know my limits, and they're pretty limited. But as the possibilities come trickling back in, I'm actually thankful to take solace in stillness sometimes. That's where I sort things out. Or just remember where I am. Or how I got here. Or who I am and what's really important.

November 23, 2010

It would be my pleasure

Dear Readers,

Please forgive me for a moment while I gloat:

I just fixed my own problem. I love it when I do that.

Here's the thing. For two months, things have not being going as I'd planned. I like to keep things in order. I like to put my ducks in a row.

But when everything turns upside down, it starts to become very difficult to arrange your ducks. Or to find them even.

When I first got sick, I discovered that one of my most wayward ducks was insurance. If you're anything like me, chatting about insurance is not your favorite way to pass the time. Especially not when you're trying to keep your food down and your head on straight.

But on Saturday night, when I was cleaning off my dresser, I came across a fortune cookie fortune that turned out to be prophetic: "You are primed to come up with a creative solution."


The wheels have been turning since then. This morning, I stayed in bed longer than usual. I read from a favorite book before getting started on my oatmeal. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I called up Company Number One and told them what I wanted. They said, "We don't usually do that, but let me talk to someone and call you back."

I love it when they do that.

Pretty soon, it was done.

They wanted to know, Could I submit an extra letter?
Could I sign on the dotted line?
Could I include a check for less than I was originally asked to pay?

Of course I can. As Marcel the Shell would say, "It would be my pleasure."

November 19, 2010

From couch to kitchen

snowball cookies (mexican wedding cookies)

Dear Readers,

You're not gonna believe this. Someone has been cooking for me. Actually, a lot of people have been cooking for me.

But someone has been chocolate chip cookie cooking for me. And making waffles. You know what I mean?

Anyways, I thought he could use a break and a little surprise, so I decided to venture back into the kitchen yesterday, when no one was home. I set myself up with a new playlist and a ponytail. I thought a little Lady Gaga might do it. Eventually, I switched to Cuban hip hop.

This summer, I tackled salad and soup. I started to get cozy with my stovetop. During my extended hiatus on the couch, I began to contemplate the oven. I'd been avoiding it for a long time.

There had been many excuses. They ranged from confused mutterings about religious piety and feminism to extensive analyses of my fear of the dark mystery which took place inside. I thought of biblical and extra-biblical stories about ovens. They had never gone well.

As you can see, I am not a very methodical baker. I ran out of parchment paper. I do not own an electric mixer of any kind. I tend to get distracted and make pretty shapes on the cookie sheet.

In my past life, this would probably matter. I might have found myself halfway through a daydream and a half-baked cookie sheet and ended up very stressed out. It would have seemed very important to bake the perfect cookie and to do it fast.

Now that I'm on the couch, though, I seem to have all the time in the world. I have to admit, I kind of like it that way. To be honest, I don't like to be rushed, even in my regular life.

So yesterday, I baked cookies for my sweetheart, and it took all afternoon. Today I'll probably write a poem. Or maybe I'll just sit back and read one. Along the way, I think I might just get better too.

snowball cookies (mexican wedding cookies)

By the way, you can check out the recipe for these babies here. I used to call them "snowball cookies" until I learned their real name, "Mexican Wedding Cakes," from the author of Sweet Amandine. They're fun to make and surprisingly simple, even for an amateur like me.

Happy Friday.