Curled up and watching the snow with a good book in hand.
Small comforts on a Sunday
Good morning friends! It’s another Sunday of small comforts coming in the midst of a snowstorm.
Sunday recipe: Cherry Power Bars
I work out quite a bit, which means I want to eat all the time. I have a few healthy snacks that I make in rotation, and this is one that makes enough for a couple of weeks. This recipe can be eaten raw, or baked into a granola bar - either way it needs at least 6 hours of chilling/setting time before slicing. You will need a food processor for this one.
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup shelled, raw sunflower seeds
2 1/2 cups raw cashews
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup pitted Medjool dates
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup diced dried cherries (raisins and dried cranberries work as well)
2 tbsp flax seeds
1/2-3/4 cup maple syrup
Preheat oven to 325. Put almonds on one side of a baking sheet, sunflower seeds on the other - and toast 12 minutes until golden.
Line a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment. Rather than trying to fold the parchment into the corners, the easiest method is to cut one 9 inch wide piece, and one 5 inch wide piece and create a crisscross sling.
Once almonds have cooled, pulse in food processer into large pieces. Set the almonds aside in a big bowl with the sunflower seeds.
Put oats, cashews, dates, salt and cinnamon in the food processor and process into fine meal. Add to bowl with almonds and seeds.
Pour maple syrup into bowl and mix until everything is combined and sticking together. Use your hands for this!
Press mixture into your prepared loaf pan, really tamping it down into a solid mass. Cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn load out of pan and use a sharp knife to cut the loaf into 14-18 slices about 1/2 inch thick.
Bake slices for 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through - until the bars are evenly golden brown. These can be eaten raw if you prefer; slice and then put them in an air-tight container in the fridge at this point.
Let cool on a wire rack after removing from oven. These can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Sunday book: The Unnecessary Woman
The pandemic has given me time to read and discover authors new to me like Rabih Alameddine - someone who I am deeply impressed by and plan to read more of in the coming months.
An Unnecessary Woman opens with a reflection in the mirror. In this we first meet Aalyia Saleh, a 72-year old woman who lives alone in Beirut. She has just dyed her hair blue instead of touching it with a light rinse as she intended, and is annoyed with herself for the vanity that delivered her here in the first place. She was distracted, she tells us, by two glasses of wine and the completion of her latest literary translation project (her 37th), not to mention thoughts of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 which she plans to begin translating the next day.
A woman without husband, children, or religion, Aalyia is her family’s “unnecessary appendage,” occupying space in an apartment that her half-brother believes should be his. She carves out a life among the books and papers which represent her life’s calling as a translator and it is in within her rumination on literature and language that the story of her life unfolds. Married by arrangement at sixteen and divorced within four years, she describes a life wrapped in art as an escape from the brutal realities of rejection, loss, and ultimately the 15-year civil war that tears her city apart.
“My books show me what it’s like to live in a reliable country where you flick on a switch and a bulb is guaranteed to shine and remain on, where you know that cars will stop at red lights and those traffic lights will not cease working a couple of times a day…… Compared to the Middle East, William Burrough’s world or Gabriel Garcia Marquezs Macondo is more predictable. Dickens’s Londoners are more trustworthy than the Lebanese. Beirut and its denizens are famously and infamously unpredictable.”
Though once employed in a bookstore, Aalyia has long since lost her position, there being little room for bookselling and other niceties during the long years of violence, and she spends her days translating western literature into Arabic. Although she considers herself to have mastered classical Arabic (“the most difficult of languages”), enough so to produce highly-readable translations, she does not share her work. Once finished, the manuscripts are for her alone, packed into boxes at the close of each year, and set aside in the maid’s room of her apartment.
Though Aaliya cannot imagine a life with anyone, and is prickly to the point of rudeness to the few people she does encounter, she is not exactly comfortable with her status as an outsider in her culture. On the one hand she tells us that her alone-ness is a choice, but then reminds us that this was “a choice made with few other options available”. It is literature which gives her richness in a life otherwise deprived of both physical and emotional comforts.
“I can live inside Alice Munro’s skin. But I can’t relate to my own mother. My body is full of sentences and moments, my heart resplendent with lovely turns of phrases, but neither is able to be touched by another.”
This is not a book of great action, but the character Rabih Alameddine puts before us is as memorable as any of literature’s great outcasts. She is irascible, intelligent, forced to the margins, and by the time we meet her, experiencing a late-life crisis which culminates in a disaster that throws everything into question.
“Most of us believe we are who we are because of the decisions we've made, because of events that shaped us, because of the choices of those around us. We rarely consider that we're also formed by the decisions we didn't make, by events that could have happened but didn't or by our lack of choices, for that matter.”
The book jacket describes An Unnecessary Woman as “a love letter to literature” but it is also a powerful story about survival, relevance, and how the events of our lives are so often thrust upon us. It does not give us a happy ending, there is no tidy respite for Aalyia and the challenges she has lived. However, Alameddine ultimately reminds us in a non-saccharin way that small rescues are possible at any time, and they may arrive from the least expected quarters.
As I face another month of quarantine
I vow with all beings
To find equanimity
With each masked breath I take
I’m finding this month difficult, perhaps more so than any other since the pandemic began nearly a year ago. I feel overworked, trapped, and exhausted with the possibility of another several months waiting for the vaccine. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
I ask that each of you reading this to take a moment to reach out to someone in your life who you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Send a letter, make a phone call, remind your people that you love them. It helps!