Cinnamon Rolls

What’s the difference between yeast dough and a question? The first one rises; the second, arises. What do they have in common? They both yield surprising results.

I love making my own bread; in the bread machine. It’s easy, I do not get my hands dirty, and it’s almost foolproof. When my son came back from spending 10 days at his grandmother’s house with raved reviews on her cinnamon rolls, the first question arose in my mind: how hard can it be? I mixed the ingredients, determined to make the sticky delights from scratch and show them off at breakfast. Isn’t simple happiness sharing the first meal of the day with someone you love eating something he loves that was made for him with love?

As the dough rose I pondered that the baking process was very much like my quest for inner peace: you go in with a recipe, usually someone else’s, full of hope and expectations. When everything goes according to plan, you feel confident and in control; you show off your skills. You even think it’s fun. You forget that you’re a party to a show much bigger than yourself. After all, the dough knows what to do. It is not through my personal magic that the gluten reacted to the warm motion of my hands. It’s happened many times before and will happen again and again with fingers much more or less gifted than mine. It is all part of a miracle called life. That’s when my next question arose: if I’m not in control of the process, if there are no guarantees that inner peace will ever be mine, what is the point in even trying?

Time to turn my attention back to the rolls. I pressed my finger in the dough and it deflated in a flash. I grabbed the rolling pin and produced a smooth rectangle that I sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. I rolled, cut, sighed with pleasure, and put the whole thing in a warm place to rise again. The hidden bonus –or downside- of baking is that you get some time to rest alongside the dough. Time to get lost in your thoughts or distracted by the goings of life in general.

What is the point in even trying? Finding joy and a sense of freedom in a life that you cannot control is a daunting task. There are no infallible recipes; there are no shortcuts. It takes time, faith in the process, and the willingness to get one’s hands dirty. So why even bother? Because, like baking cinnamon rolls, it’s the labor of love. Love for oneself, love for others, love for life. Because turning one’s back on the questions that arise is like puncturing that ball of dough and forgetting it on the counter to dry. It is forgetting that life is a gift and that, like yeast and water whisked together become terrain for growth, an inquisitive mind combined with an open heart lead the way to unimaginable discoveries. Questions yield amazing results when one accepts that they may not lie in the answers.

I hummed with satisfaction when I poured the yummy icing on my beautiful cinnamon rolls but it was my whole being that sang with joy as my son started eating the food he loved made with love by someone who loves him.

 

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Midlife Musings on “D”

I desire to be more than I’ve ever been,

to visit lands so far undiscovered, unseen.

I want to climb the mountain of my own ambition,

heart focused on my steps, eyes on the horizon.

 

I made a deal with myself, a promise I will keep,

while restless in the shadows, unable to sleep:

I must break the pattern of dreams unrealized

of longings unrevealed, stories unauthorized.

 

I must dare look at my body in the mirror

and reaffirm that I’m both warrior and victor.

In a world encaged in fear and worries

I must choose the language of witches and fairies.

 

God’s destiny for me: I hear its sweet sound

when the useless chatter recedes in the background.

It keeps me anchored against doubts and regrets;

it prods me gently on my trek to Mount Everest.

 

I’m determined to embrace all that I am,

was, and will become. From the road I travel will stem

the artist who’s beginning to rise, and who, timidly,

is writing the first syllables of what makes her happy.

 

She deserves the chance to grow and blossom

into her own creation, a whole new person.

Together we gently weave the threads

of a woman  fulfilled, of a promise well kept.

 

I pledge to never abandon my yearning to discover

the secret corners of my soul that want to recover

from past misunderstandings, all that went wrong,

and hum tomorrow’s unbridled, and joyous song.

 

The Gift of Christmas Present

“Mary wrapped the first Christmas present”: that’s the catchy phrase strategically positioned in front of our local church on the village busiest road. Most of us –trapped in the frenzy of shopping, cooking, clearing snow, and more shopping, need to be reminded of that simple fact: Mary lovingly enveloped her baby in plain cloth and offered Him to the world. Quietly.

Two thousand years later gift wrapping is my favorite activity of the season. Selecting the right paper and matching bow, writing a fun message on the label, seeing the piles of Amazon.com boxes get smaller as the colorful display under the tree gets bigger: it all makes me feel very ‘FulfilledandHappy’ (FaHm). When my children were small I would sneak downstairs during nap time and quickly hide dinosaurs and Barbie dolls under layers of green or red paper. I remember the Star Wars Lego and ‘Charmed’ DVD phase. Today my two teens prefer hi-tech gadgets and clothing items. Every year is different: new wishes, new looks. But giving is still ‘in’.

Last weekend, with friends visiting from Belgium, my sister, my husband and I went on a candlelight tour of Christmas past at Washington Irving’s cottage in the Hudson valley. Each room was decorated in the 1840s fashion, understated and charming. We were read Irving’s words: “Everything conspired to produce kind and happy feelings in this stronghold of old-fashioned hospitality.” (Bracebridge Hall) As I admired the unadorned greenery on the mantels I could see servants rushing up and down the stairs and hear children cry out with delight as they reached for the prized orange in their stocking. Christmas was about family and happiness. It still is.

No matter how tangled  -or lost- you get in the pre-holiday rush there will be a sign on your hurried path looking to bring you back to the true meaning of the season. Whether it is a nativity scene in a church front yard or strings of glittery ribbon, I urge you to pay attention. The universe conspires to awaken in all of us feelings of joy and well-being. When we allow ourselves to slow down enough to experience and savor them we recapture the essence of Christmas forever: fellowship and mirth. We sprinkle it on cookies, play with it in the snow, or set it atop the tree. On Christmas morning we offer it to those around us as, together, we merrily unwrap the most precious present of all: the gift of infinite love. Bestowed upon us long ago. Lavishly.

 

Vous avez dit bizarre…?

Si vous avez les cheveux bruns au pays des anges blonds, c’est curieux. Si vous chantez faux mais tenez absolument à faire partie de la chorale de votre paroisse, vous êtes bizarre –ou inconscient. Si vous aimez tremper vos frites dans la mayonnaise comme on le fait en Belgique et que vous vivez à New York, c’est complètement nul. Mais si vous les mangez avec du ketchup en plein cœur de Bruxelles, c’est surprenant. Vous me suivez ? Tout dépend des habitudes, de ce qui considéré comme convenable ou non. Ma meilleure amie belge fut fort étonnée lorsqu’on lui servit une lasagne fumante accompagnée d’une salade verte (à Londres). Mes invités américains ne se lassent pas de glisser leur main tout entière dans mes gants de toilette ; une vraie moufle pour la douche ! La différence surprend, amuse, ou dérange. Et que dire de la mouette suivant le bateau qui assure son repas quotidien ? Rit-elle aux éclats à la vue de ces drôles de créatures à deux pattes clouées au sol alors que le ciel lui appartient ? Nous sommes tous différents, amusants, ou ridicules aux yeux de quelqu’un d’autre. C’est comme ça. Inutile de se mettre dans tous ses états. Une idée biscornue me trotte dans la tête : si de saugrenu nous passions à intéressant, charmant, ou même fascinant ? Osez ! Au début, c’est bizarre. Et puis on s’habitue…

A journey of many colors (end)

The house is too small. When they first moved in she needed to walk from one room to the other to fully soak up the space around her. The walls were white and bare. The few pieces of furniture brought over from their small apartment could not keep the place from feeling empty, like a big oyster shell feeling lost without its pearl to fill it. That’s what they did. They allowed the pearls of their love to grow, spread, and run loose. Over the years they’ve turned into matches trying to make the most of too tight a box. So the decision is made: it is time to expand the house, to remodel the living room, build a new kitchen, and add one or two bedrooms. Plans are made, permits are granted, money is secured.  She makes phone calls, juggles family life and building issues. She somehow manages to keep everyone clean and fed in the middle of chaos and dust overload; she forgets to wear the green apron and stains are happily showing on her clothes. The sweetest discovery is yet to come: the thrill of playing with paints and fabrics to redecorate the rooms, the simple pleasure of letting her imagination draw the pictures, set the pace. Her inner artist catches the drift, opens a hungry eye…two ravenous eyes, and jumps into action. Will it be lavender blue, turquoise, or indigo? Leather or wool? A happy dance of colors and textures inviting her back into a world where everything is allowed, where she can roam free and unchecked. This time she does not miss the boat. She bravely sets sail. The housewarming party is a success; she has it catered which gives her time to experiment with eyeliner, blush, and mascara. She goes to greet her guests and does not even notice that she’s humming…

The End

 

To lick or not to lick, that is NOT the question

A fellow writer’s friendly comment on this blog triggered a peculiar sequence of events: “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?” I’m familiar with the well known lollipop but the question is new to me. I grew up in Brussels eating Chocotoff, the Belgian take on chocolate candy. All gooey and soft: biting is a messy business best avoided. I’m tickled to find out what it’s all about. According to Wikipedia the quest started with a TV commercial in the 1970s and always ended the same way: anxious to get to the yummy chocolate Tootsie roll in the middle, people would rush, lick it three times, and bite it.  A few years later, the next generation tackled the challenge and discovered that it could take anywhere between 150 and 800 licks depending on the size of your tongue, the amount of saliva, and the color of the wrapping.

Biter or licker? I picture my grandmother (she immigrated to the US in 1923; I never met her) as a pioneer and a biter.  My mother, who’s eaten her fair share of hard candy, has never revealed whether she took the slow or fast lane to her sugar fix. Her sweet tooth is famous in our family but is it one that cracks through the nonsense or one that holds back? No one knows. My daughter ‘sips’ her ice cream carefully so I have no doubt she would choose the slow route. I contact my niece who replies that it all depends: on her mood, on the weather, on the flavor of the lollipop (I’m not so sure she’s kidding anymore).

Further surfing the Internet I stumble upon a deliciously pink site: www.bakerella.com. Its creator, a complete non cook who signed up for a cake decorating class and blogs about her baking attempts, has invented the cake and cupcake pops, fun mini versions of their classic parents. Her darling delicacies have appeared on the Martha Stewart show and are featured in national magazines. The www.blog.evite.com link on Bakerella’s press page takes me back where I started: “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a cake pop?”

Do people actually care?! I don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that licking a lollipop takes longer than biting into it. The same goes for ice cream and Lifesavers. So what’s the fuss all about?  If the color of a Tootsie pop wrapping can influence its life expectancy, I can safely assume that I’m not dealing with hard science. I’m in for a treat: I’m stepping on new grounds. This is art territory; the art of having fun; the mastery of enjoying life as it is whether I choose to take my time or rush. The speed itself is irrelevant; what matters is that I’m being silly enough to play along. The fun factor is not related to the time component, it relies on my readiness to grasp the moment and run with it. Licker or biter? I do not give a bonbon! Today I’ll happily crack to the center of the first lollipop I can find. Tomorrow I’ll choose to relish the sweetness 758 times over, or not. Lick or bite? That is NOT the question. The real question is this: are you having fun yet?

A Journey of Many Colors (part 4)

She’s watching “Charmed” on DVD. It’s her favorite show. Piper, Paige, and Phoebe have just killed the Source!! Yes!! After a long battle against the source of all evil, the deed is finally done. Good has triumphed!! Her children join her; they own all eight seasons and have spent many happy hours cheering the three famous sisters who handle demons and motherhood with unwavering gusto. Just like her, really. Motherhood, marriage, gusto…mmm. What about demons? She has her own handsome devil coming back from work every night surrounded by a cloud of electric energy made in Manhattan; two monsters, really, if she counts the adorable younger version of her husband; those are harmless, happy toads turned into cuddly creatures by her gentle ministrations. But between the kitchen and the lipstick case there are a few shadows that lurk and show their scary heads when she lets down her guard. What’s happened to the paintbrushes she put away when her first daughter was born, when she believed that she could only handle one masterpiece at a time? To the many pictures that keep growing inside her heart, pregnancies neither aborted nor delivered? It’s getting harder and harder to ignore their plea. “Take some time for yourself; do what you want to do for a change.”  What keeps her from an hour of drawing, an afternoon in a museum, a day in the city? Why does she keep hiding behind a glorious smile and a pile of laundry? What is the source of her reluctance to reacquaint herself with the woman she’s become? She will not find the answer in a TV show; this is very private detective work, the patient peeling of her own secret onion, one layer at a time. The demon will stand strong and unabated in the face of defiance. It is not easy to be a 40+ year old woman with everything going for her; not when she cannot start to express what makes her go or what makes her stall; when the green of an apron feels more comfortable than a trip into the wilderness of her own soul.

(to be continued)