Tuesday, December 21, 2021

that time of year cookies

Recreating taste memories. Does it ever say in Proust who baked the excellent madeleines that sent him into 3000 pages of memory? 

R often refers to the Austrian cookies that my mother baked at Christmas. He has no way of knowing what the original cookies that I remember from my childhood tasted like. She used to make Haselnußsterne, Rumkeks, Vanillekipferl, Lebkuchen, Krapferl...

In later years, she made only one or two kinds per Christmas. With the years, too, she adapted the recipes to accommodate her tastes and an intolerance to wheat flour. 

I rarely eat sweets. I don't need to make cookies for myself. But R has delirious memories of the time he feasted on a platter of what he calls sandwich cookies. As he remembers them, there were two cookies with a jam filling and iced with chocolate. Every year, when the holiday approaches and I ask if he would like me to make Austrian Christmas cookies, he rhapsodizes about those sandwich cookies. 

I assumed he meant Krapferl--two cookies with an apricot jam middle and iced with chocolate--but no, he says sadly, that's not them. 

I leaf through the disintegrating pages of the Viennese cookbook that my great grandmother gave to my grandmother who gave it to my mother when she emigrated to Canada. There is no recipe for 'sandwich cookie'.

Among the recipes, I see that my mother made an X next to a recipe called Haselnußkücherl--little hazelnut cakes. They have a top and a bottom with a filling of ground hazelnuts and rum. When I was a child, she iced them with rum glaze.  

By the time R was coming to my parents' house for the holidays, she filled them with red currant jam and iced them with chocolate. 

So these might be what he's calling sandwich cookies, but that doesn't help me much since by R's time, she was substituting ground oats, ground almonds and ground hazelnuts for wheat flour. But in what proportion? 

I made a few guesses and baked the cookies. Good, R says, but they should be puffier. 

I've told him Austrian cookies aren't puffy. I remember, though, that my mother often added baking powder to recipes that didn't call for any. 

It's possible that R will never get the cookie he wants since he's fixated on a memory of a variation that cannot be repeated. I should also add that the challenge is entirely in my own head. It doesn't matter to him whether I make the cookies or not. But if I make them, he will offer an opinion. That is our dynamic. 

I made another small batch with baking powder--and although they still aren't exactly as he remembers them, he finds them pretty good. He must. There are only three left, even though I haven't iced them yet. They taste like ground oatmeal and ground hazelnut shortbread. Homemade raspberry jam filling.

I might now make another batch and ice them.

I wish you all happy holidays, however you celebrate the time off. Be careful. Stay safe. Today is the shortest day of the year. As of tomorrow, there will be more light. 

ps I did not make all the cookies above this year, but I've made them other years. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

solidified narrative / one way to recycle paper

What does a writer do with all those draft pages? That assumes you write on paper as I do. 

I can but don't like writing first draft on the computer, because I can't stop rereading what I've written, second-guessing myself. I move forward more efficiently when I write first draft longhand. And although I can write with ballpoint or rollerball or pencil on newsprint, I have my precious routines about using a particular format of hard-cover notebook and my Lamy fountain pen, even though the Lamy leaks unless I use a certain ink (not Lamy). 

For a writer, what's important aren't the tools but the words--except that I'm also a human animal who likes her creature comforts. I like the smoothness of ink and nib when I'm writing on good paper. I like the bound notebooks because I only write on one of the facing pages and keep the other free for notes and arrows.  

After a couple of hours, I dictate what I've written into the computer. From then on, I print pages of hard copy that I revise--again, by hand. I revise a lot. When I hear people boast that they've done five revisions, I have no idea what they mean. That would be me getting started. I use a lot of paper, but too many hours of looking at a computer screen give me migraines, and too many hours of typing aggravate my hands. Paper is a luxury I allow myself. When it's filled with sentences and scribbles, I dutifully drop it in the recycling bin.

And now R has begun making paper. A friend gave me a few sheets of paper she'd made and he was so pleased with the effect when he painted on it--how the paper took the paint, how the paint bled, how vividly the colours dried--that he decided to make some himself. He set up a table in the far corner of the cellar behind the water heater.

He needed a secondhand blender, a screen and a shallow tub. The blender took a while to find because they seem to get snapped up immediately in Montreal. For a few weeks we stopped at Renaissance, l'Armée de bon salut, the Good Shepherd, etc. He finally found a blender in a thrift shop on our recent visit to family in Ontario. He made the frame and screen he needed from a window screen I spotted in sidewalk garbage. Ditto the tub. He's set himself up in a far corner of the cellar. 

This is one of the first pieces he made.

I have a dim memory of watching an artist years ago, cooking torn rags in a cauldron. Now it seems one speeds up the process of making pulp by buzzing it in a blender--and that the easiest way to get pulp is by using old paper. 

Except R doesn't want to use old envelopes. He's asked for paper from my recycling bin. He wants story ideas. He says he's making "solidified narrative". 

He's been adding different bits to the pulp for texture and colour. This one has parsley. It's the paper he used for the Pink Flamingos up top. 

Why Pink Flamingos? No idea. That's his story. I had my chance when I wrote words on the paper.

 Here he's adding dried Xmas cactus flowers...