1. Handyman Dave came and fixed the oven.
2. We turned on the heat in the flat.
I was so happy.
Let's talk about the oven. Our oven has been out of commission since the very start of the summer. It has been awful. The saga began with the pilot light being out. This seems like it should be easy to deal with, but it was not. First, a neighbor of mine lit it briefly, but the following morning ALL of the pilot lights (oven and stovetop) were out. Even Taylor, lying on the kitchen floor in his work clothes and reaching matches back into the depths of our oven, could not light it. And Taylor is good at these sorts of things. So finally Landlord Man sent Handyman Dave, who lit the pilot light but apparently did not check to make sure the oven worked. Because it did not. And then by this time, I was discouraged and frustrated, and I thought I was moving out at the end of the summer, so I just let it ago.
But when I realized I was staying, I was bound and determined to have that oven functioning. As Landlord Man was not all that responsive when the chimney fell off the house earlier this summer, I didn't expect a lot, but he was actually very responsive this time. But then again, I was quite firm. (As another result of this firmness, he has also now dedicated himself to the task of helping us catch our squadron of mice. But that's a story for another day.)
So last Friday, Handyman Dave (who is really not only knowledgeable but also very kind) came over and banged around under the oven for awhile and then informed me that it was fixed. As he explained to me and I now repeat to you, in my layperson terminology and probably quite inaccurately, there was gunk on the small pipe that the gas flows through to get to the big pipe where something else gets lit, at which point the newly lit thing, whatever it is, makes a whooshing sound and heats up the oven.
He knocked the gunk off the pipe.
There was whooshing.
There was heat.
I was thrilled.
Now, two good things did result from our oven being broken for this long, sad time. First, I now have a much better understand of gas appliances in general and our stove in particular. And second, I learned to be very resourceful in my cooking. I cooked many a thing on the stovetop this summer. I was particularly proud of my successful use of a skillet on the stovetop (rather than a pan in the oven) to roast tomatoes and to roast spiced chickpeas. I may not have been as innovative as my sister, but then again, she's pretty brilliant.
But I couldn't bake. No scones, no muffins, no bread. And you cannot roast a butternut squash in a skillet on the stovetop. At least I don't think you can.
However, now the oven works! So as soon as I felt I could trust it, I baked. Constrained by a lack of baking ingredients, I perused my cookbooks until I found this recipe for poppyseed cookies in a little green book called The Peaceful Cook, written by Harriet Kolfalk in 1991. My sister got this book secondhand and then passed it on to me a year or so ago. (As a note, I must mention that my sister and I agree that the book takes the concepts of holistic living and interconnectedness further than we are comfortable with, but the recipes within are unique, healthful, seasonal and focused on whole foods. Good stuff.)
These cookies are soft and somewhat crumbly, just slightly sweet and with a faint crunch from the poppyseeds. My friend Abby said that they reminded her of scones; I think I'll try that next I return to this recipe.
Poppyseed Cookies for Celebration and Graceful Living
Adapted from The Peaceful Cook
1/2 cup skim milk
2/3 cup poppyseeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
Heat oven (!!!) to 350°.
In a saucepan, heat milk to nearly boiling. Remove from heat and stir in poppyseeds and raisins. Set aside.
Mix dry ingredients together. Cream butter until smooth; add honey, vanilla and lemon. Combine butter mixture and dry ingredients. Fold in poppyseed mixture. (You may need to add a bit more flour as I did at this point if your dough is overly wet.)
Drop small spoonfuls onto buttered cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until cookies are light brown at the edges.
Yield: about 3 dozen small cookies
Here author Harriet would insert some comment about harmony with nature through poppyseeds. I do like harmony. But today I just say this: Let the cookies cool. Eat. Enjoy. Be thankful for your oven. Be thankful in general.
That's the final thing I want to touch on today. Aforementioned friend Abby and I were talking earlier this week about being in this strange phase of life that we've found ourselves in and being confused and discouraged and disoriented. I had been frustrated about something, but with fierce independence, I said to Abby that I can handle this. I can. I can handle a lot of things, and I can take it, whatever it may be.
But wise Abby reminded me that actually, everyone "handles things." As long as we continue living, that is what we are doing. And so people handle tragedy, the death of those they love, cancer, unemployment, homelessness, depression, disappointment, betrayal... but sometimes they handle these things poorly.
So yes, of course I can deal with the situations I am in. The question is not if I can handle things (as they are and will be) but rather how I will handle them. Will I do so gracefully... or no?
I want to handle things gracefully.
But I don't always do a fabulous job of this. I think that at many times in the last few weeks in particular, I've been very far from graceful. And I apologize, flatmates, dear friends, family, all you who have had to deal with me being so clumsy. I'm working on regaining my balance, being stable, living as if I am dancing, figuring out what it means to be graceful when being graceful is so hard. Feel free to keep me accountable... but also please be patient.
Summary: The nice handyman fixed the oven, and we turned on our heat. I felt thankful. I made cookies. The thankfulness continued. I realized that life is not about just handling what comes my way but about doing that well. I decided that I need to live more gracefully.
And there it is. If I forget, I'll just go make some more cookies.