These days, there are so many exotic ways of finding balance that to choose gardening and cooking instead of Pilates or Qi Gong may seem implistic. No matter. I find that both are meditative, calming pursuits. They help me reach a place where the clamor of the world around me recedes into a subdued hum. They help see frantic activity as an effort to silence serious questions. An acquaintance’s desperate search for public approval, another’s relentless social climbing, yet another’s quarrelsome disposition recede into the distance. I cannot choose who lives near me nor can I alter their behavior. I can only choose how I react to them and best of all, I can choose productive ways to spend my time. Often I choose to grow something beautiful and to to cook something delectable. It works.


1 package yeast

6 cups unbleached flour

1 cup oatmeal

2 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons sugar

Mix yeast with three cups flour and oatmeal. Reserve three cups flour. Place water, sugar, salt and oil in a pan and heat to 120F. Combine dry and liquid ingredients and beat, using a dough hook, adding remaining flour as needed. Place kneaded dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Allow it to rise twice. Shape into three round loaves and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.


Butter rum cake with strawberries
My friend John has a strange predilection for the likeness of pigs. So much so that his collection of pig-like objects has grown larger than his artistic sensitivity can abide. Consequently, he has issued a moratorium on gifts of a swinish nature, which leaves me in a quandary. What am I to do with the tea towels I embroidered with a sweetly retro piggie munching on a candy cane and the porcine Fred Astaire doing the soft shoe routine? Who uses tea towels anyway? They are a nostalgic remnant of a time when women whiled away long winters at hearth. No one whiles rime away anymore. In Little Macondo, most folks I know rush about doing the things they used to do when they were part of an affluent society. Repose is for those have no jobs, own no homes, have no social position to maintain. Being middle and upper middle class is full time chore hereabouts. It does not exclude the sorrows common to the proletariat, but it obscures lesser worries such as the water bill, the cost of gas, ailing lawn mowers. Middle class people do not worry. They delegate. They do not do manual labour. They outsource. For all that, they have little free time and if they want a little chunk of nostalgia, such as tea towels, they head to Anthropologie.
I know the ways of the middle class from personal experience. For the past few years I have been learning a simpler lifestyle that marginalises me more than being an immigrant ever did. Living simply has not yet caught on in Little Macondo as the cool thing to do. I am patient. I embroider tea towels using saccharine patterns from yesteryear because they straddle the line that separates the hideous from the homely cute. I also bake, on occasion though I understand that what is truly middle class is to get one’s baked goods from a little Jamaican baker no one else has heard about. In a pinch, there is Trader’s Joe. Me, I bake my own cakes. The one above is a plain yellow cake drizzled with a glaze made from melted butter, rum and confectioner’s sugar. Add strawberries Romanoff and it’s pig heaven. Neither tea towels nor cakes make me into a superior person, but they are certainly less labour intensive than clinging to the social ladder.

Reading the news is disheartening these days. Every publication seems to to carry more dire warnings of disasters than one can imagine. But not all of it is grim. As we say, in our house, theer is mirthment to be found among tips on how to save money, survive the recession and live happily ever after. One my sources of belly laughter is the advice of a woman who plans to skip her annual vacation with her family thus saving 10 000 dollars. It contrasts so very neatly with a homeless man’s recipe on how to live of ramen noodles. Perennial source of amusement that they are, women’s magazines abound with uninteded irony when they try to steer their readers to their advertisers’ wares. Ensconced in their offices, few, if any of contrinutors to Glamour, Vogue, and Marie Claire, among others, seemed to have an inkling of the economic reality most of us have to face. Nowhere there are articles about what to do after one has given up all the frills and then some. Myself, I am thinking of torching my credit cards and moving to a ship container where I will grow my own food, spin my own yarn–actually I will delegate that chore to the Infanta, who owns the spinning wheel–and cook everyting from scratch.
The cold, foggy spring Italians call tempo di lupo is an inducement to such reckless plans. Won’t you join me? I shall start by baking biscotti. It is simple. Take six cups of flour, six eggs, a cup of butter, a cup of sugar, a teaspoon orange oil, a tablespoon freshly grated orange peel, two cups of slivered toasted almonds, a package of bittersweet chocolate chips. Mix, shape into four logs, bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Cool, Slice and return to 350 oven for 20 inutes, et voila, you have plenty of treats to throw at the wolf. Keep some for yourself. These are yummy.