I have days where I want to be anywhere but here. The rain that whips against my windows is thick with dirt, it leaves long, cloudy streaks on my windows, obscuring my view of the city. The pavements are wet, huge grey clouds move slowly and softly above. Fog enshrouds the buildings at the city’s edges, they haunt the horizon like ghosts.
On days like this, I get restless. I feel lonely and nostalgic, and I want an escape. In my fantasy, I’m in a small wooden cabin, somewhere isolated and far, the jungle tangled outside of my window, lush, green and alive. I’m sitting at a wooden desk and writing opposite all of this, the unknown coming through my eyes and out of my fingertips.
I remind myself that I need none of this to write.
“I had a room- a study carrel- in the Hollins College library, on the second floor. It was this room that overlooked a tar-and-gravel roof. A plate-glass window, beside me on the left, gave out onto the roof, a parking lot, a distant portion of Carvin Creek, some complicated Virginia sky, and a far hilltop where six cows grazed around a ruined foundation under red cedars.
From my desk I kept an eye out. Intriguing people, people I knew, pulled into the parking lot and climbed from their cars. The cows moved on the hilltop. […] On the flat roof just outside the window, sparrows pecked gravel. One of the sparrows lacked a leg; one was missing a foot. If I stood and peered around, I could see a feeder creek run at the edge of a field. In the creek, even from that great distance, I could see muskrats and snapping turtles. If I saw a snapping turtle, I ran downstairs and out of the library to watch it or poke it. […]
I shut the blinds one day for good. I lowered the venetian blinds and flattened the slats. Then, by lamplight, I taped my drawing to the closed blind. There, on the drawing, was the window’s view: cows, parking lot, hilltop, and sky. If I wanted a sense of the world, I could look at the stylized outline drawing. If I had possessed the skill, I would have painted, directly on the slats of the lowered blind, in meticulous colors, a trompe l’oeil mural view of all that the blinds hid. Instead, I wrote it.”
–Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I’m a planner, a list-maker. Last night, I planned out the menu for a dinner I’m hosting three weeks from now. I used to make 3-year, 5-year, 10-year plans. My divorce made me take a step back from my planning- realizing how with just one unforeseen event, everything shifts, everything changes.
Late at night, I write about the past- there are moments I love reliving: that first year with Yaki: he worked in shifts, and when he worked nights, I would wake up before dawn, the excitement pulling me out of slumber and then out of our apartment and into the street, where I would wait for him, pulling the edges of my coat against the morning chill, the outdoors quiet and hushed, the sky beginning to blush.
There’s a party I went to ten (!) years ago, that I return to often: a glittering carousel spinning around at the edge of a lake; sipping champagne with a handsome man, our feet dangling off the dock, his presence intoxicating; walking barefoot across a damp lawn, blue heels in my hands, music surrounding us softly; entering a tent lit with candles; the way he looked at me when he wrapped a blanket around my feet.
I rewind; I fast-forward.
The present, however, I’m not so good at. Focusing on the now, being still, being here, really here.
I’m working on it.
On days like this, the wind howling wildly, my soul reaching a similar pitch, I step into the kitchen for solace. I stir tomato sauce, and the physicality of it, the wooden spoon in my hand, the heat rushing at my face, brings me back to the present. I cut open a pomegranate, heavy with seeds, red juice spraying onto the white counters, and I’m reminded I’m in the Middle East. The tangy pop of juice on my tongue fills me with gratitude for being right where I am.
Sometimes I enter the kitchen to escape, when I’m longing for somewhere else. I’ll be dreaming of Paris, and make a Coq au Vin, the warm, heady smell satisfying my wanderlust. Or, if Los Angeles is on my mind, I’ll make churros, the smell of the frying batter taking me back to my childhood. But most often, I enter the kitchen to ground me to where I am, to anchor me more fully in the present. I get restless, I float around, I feel disoriented, and then, I open the fridge, take out a fig, hold it under running water, the water cold and dripping from my fingers. I split it open and bite into it, and I’m back here. Right here.
“Admire the world for never ending on you- as you would admire an opponent, without taking your eyes from him, or walking away.” – Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
“People used to say that the blessed “would see heaven”; my wish would be to see the earth forever.” – Peter Handke
Let’s have some cake.
Spelt Snacking Cake
My mother makes this cake regularly- it comes together quickly and easily, with ingredients you likely have on hand. It’s delicious- light and airy and moist, with just a whisper of sweet. It keeps well, making it the perfect thing to have on hand for house-guests, or late-afternoon snacking.
200 grams (7 oz) spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 large eggs
1/2 cup oil
zest of 1 large orange
juice and pulp of 1 large orange (about 1 cup)
200 grams (7 oz) brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F, and line a baking pan (20×30 cm; 8×12 inch) with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
Beat the egg yolks with the oil, orange zest, orange juice, and a third of the sugar until light and bubbly.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add the remaining sugar and beat until incorporated.
Gently fold the flour and the egg yolk mixtures into the egg whites, alternating between them: first fold in half of the egg yolk mixture; then fold in half of the flour; followed by the remainder of the egg yolk mixture; and finally, the rest of the flour.
Pour the batter into the baking pan, and bake for twenty minutes, until light brown and a toothpick comes out clean.
To ensure that the moisture distributes evenly, turn the cake upside down onto a clean towel for five minutes, then turn it right-side up again. Cool, cut into squares, and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.