What a week of struggle I’ve had. Ugh. I feel as if I need brownie points for getting out of bed in the morning! OR at least brownies. It doesn’t help that Portland is perpetually beneath a Dutch Oven lid (I’m talking Le Creuset heavy) of grey clouds. We get a tiny spot of blue, for 20 minutes, and I run outside. It reminds me of when my babies slept from 10p to 2a and I called it “through the night.” Here are a few things that have been getting me through the week, along with CBD gummies.
I listened to This American Life the other day while I baked myself a mood-boost cake, not to eat alone, but to share with neighbors. “The Show of Delights,” was the episode title. Yes, Please. It’s been a dark month. Some rejection. Some personal relations issues rising up. Super difficult to manage my perspective under a January sky. (Time to purchase a full spectrum light!)
The episode was its own full spectrum light and I was introduced to this gem of a book,THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS, by Ross Gay. The premise (from the flap copy) is that Gay spends a year writing lyric micro-essays about “the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives.” Essay subjects range from carrying a tomato seedling on a plane, to the use of air quotes, and one titled, “Babies. Seriously.” The photo on the jacket shows Mr. Gay brimming with delight. I wish I were sitting just beyond the frame, sharing in the laugh. Well, you know me, I bought three copies! One for me and two to send to my girlfriends. I want to start each morning with coffee and one of these shiny essays to set the tone. If you’re a student of mine, there’s a Delight assignment coming your way. Not just to make you sit up and notice, but selfishly meant for me to ride your coattails into a state of delight.
Here’s a snippet from “Nicknames,.” These sentences follow a list of nicknames friends have bestowed upon Gay.
I know that I rarely call the people I love by their names. I call them, if it is okay with them, by the name I have given them. I wonder if this means I think of my beloveds as children. That seems very patronizing. Especially because I mostly don’t give them money. But, on the other hand, how lovely all my mothers. All my babies.
I’ve been thinking a lot about sentences. The best are smooth and invisible and one reads as if swimming across a clear lake. There’s the sandy bottom, you can almost make out the vague shapes on the opposite shore, but there’s still room for surprise. Perhaps one gorgeous sentence will stand out, an image, a metaphor, not enough to pull you from the experience, but enough to enhance and give you pause. Of course these glorious sentences are reliant upon the sentences around them. Here are 3 examples randomly pulled from my shelves:
- The grass in the yard smelled like hay. The birds and the locusts were silent. The entire neighborhood was silent Nothing moved. He could almost hear the roaring of the sun.
MR. BRIDGE, Evan S. Connell
- (A mother speaking of her son) At one time he’d fitted inside her like the meat of a walnut; now everything he did and thought and said was in perfect opposition to her.
“The Little Heart,” from WHO DO YOU LOVE, by Jean Thompson
(ps. this is a beautiful book of under-appreciated short stories)
- Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard? It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. CITIZEN, An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine
I read with a pen nearby so I can underline sentences I love, whether they offer up a quality of playfulness, a revelation of a universal truth, a vivid image, compression, or lovely language. A teacher of mine once told me that we should be able to stand on our sentences without them breaking. I like the slipperiness of that. What does it mean? I’m not completely certain, just that the sentence has to go somewhere, and remain stable. Sentences are how we pull stories from our heads, and how we pull readers into our work. Send me some of your favorites, honestly, I’d love to belong to a mutual appreciation society with you!
I’ve fallen in love with a sometimes food writer, mostly lifestyle essays about wide ranging topics from weird jeans, to eggplant emojis, to canned cocktails. Amanda Mull writes for The Atlantic and I love her sensibility. Check out these three (the limit for free articles on The Atlantic website): The Rise of Anxiety Baking and The New Trophies of Domesticity and I Broke Breakfast, which doesn’t espouse traditional backwards day eating—breakfast for dinner—but puts forth the revolutionary idea of dinner for breakfast, and begins thusly:
There’s no good reason you can’t eat a chicken-parmesan hoagie for breakfast. That’s what I decided last year when I woke up one morning, hungover and ravenous, craving the sandwich’s very specific combination of fried chicken cutlet, melted mozzarella, and tomato sauce.
To offer delight in the dead of winter, here is my go to, never fail, favorite brownie recipe, both for the outcome and the ease.
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter
4 oz. best quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 ½ c. chopped toasted pecans OR 1 pint of raspberries, washed and allowed to drain on a tea towel
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan.
2. In a medium saucepan (just 1 pan!), heat the butter over moderately low heat until half melted. Add the chocolate and stir until the butter and chocolate are completely melted and combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon until incorporated. (this part is a blast!)
3. Using the wooden spoon, beat in the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition until the eggs are fully incorporated. The mixture becomes super shiny, which is also a, ahem, delight. Stir in vanilla. Add the flour and salt all at once and mix until blended. Stir in the chopped nuts or raspberries.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the brownies are slightly firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted in the center indicates the brownies are moist. Let cool completely in the pan. Cut into bars that suit your needs! 6 giant brownies (no judgement) or 35 mini nibbles.