Why is it that the old U2 song bounces around in my head this year when I hear the words "New Year's Day"? It does so much more than it has in well over a decade. Let's see, the wealthy continue to amass wealth while the middle class scramble for fewer jobs, seeing many of their jobs going overseas. The poor are just happy to survive. The militarist actions of my nation have contributed mightily to unrest in the world. Our government is now spurned by citizens of other nations as arrogant, rogue police enforcers with a sense of moral indignity that is unevenly applied. Hm, sounds like the 80s more than the 70s or 90s. In fact, these days, even the music sounds more like the 80s, including U2. Of course, a major difference is the person who is president, but only in that this one seems more hellbent on growing government faster (to profit the private sector, of course), running higher deficits, pushing the dollar lower faster on the international markets, and generally ruining the strides we made under his father's term in office all in the name of hating the person he followed into office. Oh, and Congress is less active in it's diligence in these matters, because they are toadies from the same party. They actually share a greater burden in the crimes because the president is only as strong, constitutionally, as the congress permits. If you don't like what's happening right now, make a concerted effort to vote out the jackass that is your representative in 2006. Congress represents the will of the people and is the host of real change, politically, in the U.S.
But that wasn't the real reason I am writing. My mind is not entirely occupied by politics these days. Many of my friends seem pre-occupied with politics. They have the luxury of being if not well off, then comfortable, educated, liberals who have the time to waste in their days arguing matters of state while other people who don't care about hobbies like politics are just trying to live or survive. Sometimes I worry about my friends who obsess on such things. Life is so much more than politics. It's a bit like watching children who are addicted to playing video games, or the guy down the road who spends his every off hour perfecting/upgrading his prized classic car, or like the drug addict whose life revolves around the next score, indiscriminate of what provides the high as long as the high is there.
There is so much more to life. One shouldn't be so focused as to put blinders on the other aspects of living or even to be dismissive of those other aspects. Our society allows degrees of such obsessions. If it's extreme, we call the person a savant. If it contains those elements of dismissiveness, then we say the person if focused and, if that person accomplishes something grand, then we elevate her/him to hero status in our folklore. To my mind, both are rather sad cases. One should be open to interruption. One should allow curiosity to distract and lead you to discovery. One should make the space to play in many different ways.
Making the space to play was on our agenda yesterday. It wasn't what we planned on doing. Originally, we planned on cleaning the house, packing up the Christmas ornaments and taking the tree outside, possibly seeing a movie. Instead, we found ourselves with what seemed to be tiny goals with lots of space to put these other chores into, but we got distracted and found a different space to play in and that, dear reader, led us to a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing day.
The day after New Year's Eve found us waking a little later than normal. This was to be expected as we had stayed up to toast the new year in with a little champagne and kisses. When Shawn got up, I had read the paper, done the dishes, and was beginning to make tea and coffee. We sat and chatted about how to spend our day. We laid out goals for the weekend, a framework in order to guide ourselves and give us some measure by which we could say we felt satisfied with the way we spent our time. The goals were small, but significant. Once we had expressed them, Shawn set about the first task towards completing those goals, which is to say that she began to make breakfast.
While she was preparing Dutch Apple Pancakes, my mind began to wander and I thought it best to look up a recipe for coconut ice cream. See, it was sort of in my mind that I wanted to try out our new ice cream maker. I had gotten cream, milk, and rock salt for the task the day before. Doing this was on my agenda, but not necessarily on Shawn's and therefore, not on "our" agenda that we had spent the morning, in part, discussing. I went to the PC and did some searching online for a recipe I'd like to try. I settled on one from FoodTV network. By the time I got done surfing, breakfast was done and Shawn was ready to eat. It was very good.
Over breakfast, I told Shawn of my plan. "Are you going to make bread?" she asked. Yes, I am planning on making bread (we had discussed it the night before), but I wondered what sort of bread she was thinking of making (again, from the night before). She hadn't decided, but she really wanted me to make the oatmeal-molasses sandwich bread that I had found a recipe for in Crescent Dragonwagon's book. It was certainly an easier recipe than the one I'm used to making, so I was amenable to the idea. Plus, I thought, we could get to other goals on our list, since it was so easy. This was not to be.
Shawn began thinking about what would go well with the coconut ice cream. We had vaguely discussed making Phad Thai for dinner the night before. Now, this seemed inevitable for a theme seemed to be upon us. After breakfast, while I tidied up the kitchen, Shawn began searching through our books for what would go well with dessert. There was a vague thought in her head that something like a ginger bread would compliment the ice cream well. Thirty, maybe forty five minutes passed before she put forward the idea of a ginger spice cookie from her, The Baker's Dozen, cookbook. Actually, Shawn had made up her mind that this was what she wanted. Years of experience have taught me that in such cases it's best to go along. In this case, I thought that it was a perfect compliment to my dessert and so I was happy as long as Shawn made the cookies.
We made a quick list of what we'd need for our day of baking. Already, our goals had changed and distraction was the rule. I took a quick shower and began to get dressed. When I came out of the bathroom, Shawn was sitting up in bed, naked, with the sheets down to her hips, wriggling her eyebrows at me. More distraction, but distraction in one of it's loveliest forms.
While I went to the store, Shawn announced that she was going to take a long bath. I put some appropriate music on for her, then went made a quick run to Safeway for ice, eggs, lemons, and coconut milk. Eventually, I got involved in making the ice cream. I began pouring a couple of cups each of milk, heavy cream, and coconut milk into a pot along with a cup of toasted coconut and bringing it to a slight simmer, then letting it rest for 10 minutes. While the liquid rested, I separated the yolks from 8 eggs and beat them with a cup and a half of sugar a pinch of salt. I tempered the eggs with some of the liquid from the milks, then added the eggs into the milks and put them on low on the stove top. I stirred until it began to thicken, about 10 minutes. Once done, I placed the mixture into a small bowl and placed that bowl into another one filled with ice in my fridge.
The custard had to chill thoroughly before I could make the ice cream. This gave me a chance to step back out of the kitchen while Shawn prepared her ginger-spice cookies. They are a basic log style cookie that uses fresh ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, molasses, and a little coffee in the dough. After Shawn prepared the mixture and rolled it up into a log the dough had to chill for four and a half hours. So, after high fiving each other, playing tag team kitchen bakers, I took over.
The oatmeal-molasses bread that I made is a simple mix. It uses very little fat and lots of oats. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of oats and 1.5 tablespoons of butter and let sit for 30 minutes. While that is resting, clean the dishes Shawn has dirtied while making her cookies. Heat a half cup of water in the microwave, then let it come down to lukewarm temperature. Put a tablespoon of activated dry yeast into the lukewarm water and let it dissolve for 5 - 10 minutes. Add the yeast mixture, 1/2 cup of molasses, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the oatmeal mix and stir. Mix in 4.5 - 5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour a cup at a time until a kneadable dough forms. Put dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes, adding flour as required if the dough is too moist and sticks to your surface (I added at least another cup of flour, probably more, and took 10 minutes to knead the dough). Put a clean cloth over the dough, place it in a warm spot, and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 1.5 hours.
While the dough was rising, in fact, while I was making the dough, Shawn began calling her skelatives, wishing them a happy new year and touching base with them. She spoke to her mom, her grandmothers, and her uncle Michael. In the meantime, I continued to play DJ, mixing in some older albums that don't get played often that featured mostly mellow electronic music (O Yuki Conjugate, Sweet Exorcist, Mo Boma, etc.). I also set about finishing up the ice cream. It was a simple procedure that took about a bag of ice, 4 cups of rock salt, and 25 minutes of time. The ice cream was very soft and we scraped a bit off of the paddles before I whisked the container away to our freezer to let it harden. Yum, the toasted coconut in it makes all of the difference.
Once Shawn was off of the phone, she set her attention towards making the Phad Thai. She had done some of the veggie chopping while she was chatting, so all she needed to really do was to pull out the wok and start cooking. By this point, the bread had been punched down, formed into loaves, put into pans, and risen a second time (yea, Shawn was on the phone for a while - *smile*). I through it into the oven at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Just as Shawn wrapped up cooking the Phad Thai, the bread was ready to come out of the oven. The timing wasn't on planned, but it was fortuitous. We sliced off a couple of pieces of the hot bread, buttered it up, and put it on our plates. Sure, it didn't go well with the theme, but the smell was a wonderful distraction that created a craving that was easily and quickly fulfilled. The molasses was sweet, but not overly so and the texture was springy and not dense. It was/is very, very good. I don't know if it will last a week. The Phad Thai was excellent as well. We cheat and use a bottled sauce that neither of us can exactly recall where we got it. The veggies were tender crisp. Shawn had done a fine job of cooking up the egg in the wok. The baked Thai tofu went very well with it.
After dinner, we sliced the ginger-spice cookies from the log and baked them for 14 minutes in a 350 degree oven. They came out really well. They are the type of cookie that is firm and flat. The edges are crisp while the middle is slightly chewy. The cookies complimented the ice cream VERY well. By the time we had cleaned up a bit, it was after 9 PM. Our day, planned out with goals set, had not turned out to be anything like what we thought it would be. Instead, we let distraction and curiosity guide us to a different space. It was a space filled with love, good conversation, sharing work together, wonderful, rich aromas, family, invention, creativity, and open hearts. It was so much more than what we had strived for and equally that much more satisfying.
Here's hoping your new year finds equal satisfaction from distraction, that you find the space to let go of your habits and let curiosity guide you to joys you've not yet imagined.