Last weekend, I went down to Hyde Park to hear the Bruckner mass that the Chicago Chorale was singing at Rockefeller Chapel. The mass was the main item on a program devoted to religious music by Bruckner and his contemporaries. More
We decided to go out for a late-night constitutional. We ended up walking farther than we intended to.
We gazed at the house with satisfaction and pride. In our mind’s eye, we could see the house over the decades, when it was a scrawnier thing without plantings, lightless, without terraces. We could recall hours, days, and weeks there spent profitably or wildly; many others that sped or dragged past without our doing anything.
We could recall the house’s previous inhabitants, a father dead, a mother still living, wild children who once ran naked on the beach or played with firecrackers, who played tricks on one another, who are now well grown, some with children and even grandchildren of their own. How the house had evolved in the middle of it all, how it had changed and become more beautiful, even during our brief tenure!
And now, with the snow, it was changing still!
We marveled at the unfamiliarity of familiar things, which the snow, falling thickly, was transforming. We gazed at the old evergreens appreciatively, their boughs weighed with newness, however evanescent: it was all so beautiful, the light, the heavy shapes, the feathery azaleas in between. We felt the old excitement of being out in the snow. Being out in the snow at night was more magical still.
For the night was charged with energy. Every house around the neighborhood was charged with it, the ground, trees, and dwellings all united with the same current. All the sudden, our eyes had adjusted to the night, and we were dazzled with the perfect beauty of our surroundings.
What is New Year’s about after all? For a moment all nature seemed charged with new possibility, with mystery. Our walk around the block suddenly crackled and shone with drama, with a strangeness so wonderful it was almost unnerving.
New Year’s is more than the hands of a clock or a midnight kiss. It is wilder than the wildest party, this thing we call the future, that we rush to meet, that unfolds within the bounds of a world that we tell ourselves we know already. Happy New Year, we say; but what will it be?
I continue to hanker for warmer seasons and climes. I continue to flip through my old pictures, basking in memories of glorious February adventures.
The el speeds past an indifferent landscape, much of it devoid of association or meaning. Yet embedded in the landscape is a memory, like a tiny glimmer of quartz in all those dull rocks that lie on the beach, waiting to be picked up and looked at more closely. In this case, the memory is of a hot summer night at the restaurant MK: happily threading through the crowds thronged and waiting for tables, ascending with my guy to a choice table in the loft, dressed in a bright yellow silk blouse and a white pencil skirt.
This photograph has been given a diffusion glow.
Over the weekend, we engaged in some “advanced baking.” At least that’s what my husband has dubbed it. We plunged into the unknown and, using an unvetted recipe, tried to recreate the exact cookies Mr C remembers his grandmother making when he was a kid.
The recipe (which his mother provided) produced a dough that was challengingly delicate. In the end, though, we managed to produce some two dozen cut-out cookies, rolling out the chilled dough with a lot of flour. It was an exercise in perseverance, culminating in a strangely strong satisfaction and triumph.
Fragile are the connections that link us to the past and the generations. The cookie tins that we count on to connect us with our sisters and mothers across the miles. Yet the meaning of love resides in such details, in trivialities at once precious and urgent.
PS No, my friends; Celia is not about to morph into a kitchen blog.
Yesterday I spent almost the whole day baking. Among other things, I made a batch of Viennese crescents, which is a recipe I love because it’s elegant and makes many dozen cookies. Plus it’s easy.
I favor recipes that have familiar associations. This one I first made with a friend in my first or second year of college. We were in charge of providing the cookies for a holiday study-break and made these in the basement kitchen of our dorm. My friend found this recipe, which we had to try because, in the introductory text, some food authority had declared it “the greatest cookie recipe ever devised.” I’m not sure about that, but it sure is fine.
These particular cookies are made with ground walnuts, but there are many national variations of this recipe, some using almonds, others leaving out the nuts entirely. Butter and powdered sugar make the cookie.
Baking, like jewelry, is all about the associations. The memories that crowd around our favorite recipes keep us company in the kitchen, a gift that is every bit as precious as pearls.