Tag Archives: humanity

High-Altitude Training

27 Sep

My first steps in Utah fell on the point of a mountain. It was one of the littlest mountains at the south end of Salt Lake Valley, but the perch was high enough that it looked down upon a cliff where paragliders from all the around the world flocked to hurl themselves off rock into thin air. Somehow New York me and London him thought we’d want to cohabitate in an environment completely opposite to the ones we’d known thus far in our lives.

Oops.

It snowed the first millisecond we arrived, and every single millisecond thereafter, and I spent the duration of the winter pressed up against the second-story window of my home office, watching for signs of frozen precipitation. Weather reports for Salt Lake City did not apply up there at 7,200 feet, so I found a website linked to an amateur weather station around the corner from where I was trapped in oblivion, 45 minutes away from the nearest cup of chain-store coffee.

Our driveway was a vertical cliff face, an icy amenity which probably guaranteed the property’s rental status for the duration of its existence on this planet. Despite these living circumstances, we did not procure cars with four-wheel drive, opting instead for matching VW Golf TDIs, his in black, mine in indigo.

Neither of us could ever, ever hope to park in the garage unless the driveway was completely bone dry, cleared of every last snowflake. So, I being the champion worrier and professional procrastinator that I am, took hours away from my editing job and transformed myself into a hardened pioneer woman. Unafraid to slide down the driveway in shoes meant for city sidewalks, I shoveled and shoveled in my strange new habitat. I could feel the stay-at-home moms staring at me through slatted window blinds, wondering at my ineptitude. Sometimes I looked up and smiled, hoping I looked more like a happy movie montage than some sort of misplaced, rage-filled Brooklyn DeNiro in a witness protection comedy.

Weekends were more relaxed. With no returning workaday man to worry about, I was able to indulge in a pioneer activity in which I actually held some competence. Baking. Girl can bake, and has done booked ever since she was seven years old.

So when all my batches of brownies and cookies refused to rise above a syrupy scrum of molasses-like disaster, I stood in the perfect white of my kitchen tucked into a white hill, and cried clear tears. Why. Had I lost this skill.

Dramatic irony tells the wise reader that altitude was the issue, but it wasn’t until my fifth batch of failed brownies that I realized that at the conclusion of every recipe were “high-altitude directions” I’d been ignoring my entire life. Ahhh. Ahhh. A new skill to apply! Research to embrace. Proportions and measurements, reduce sugars and leavening this much, increase liquid this much. Soon a slightly warped version of baked goods was coming out of my oven, and I was surviving in a strange new land.

Over the course of eight years, I got used to certain disappointments in Utah baking. My brownies never did quite set right, no matter what I did. Cookies always laid as flat as the dead cowboy centered in a painting that still adorns my walls. Cupcakes… well, I hated them, but Unrequited said they were just fine. Friends always ate the heaps of baked goods I dropped at their front door. I bake only to go through the comforting motions. Then I take a bite and give it away. Trust me, I’m not some disciplined dieter from the 1950s. Sugar just arm wrestles me into total collapse, so I tend to avoid it.

Cue new home at just about sea level in Fort Worth. Months go by while my baking implements rest in their new pantry, waiting for the familiar caress of their sugar-fearing mistress. Autumn tries to impress me with some darker mornings that keep me pinned in bed longer, and temperatures sinking to a crazy 91 degrees in the daytime. And it’s time to bake.

No adjustments to recipes necessary, I was vaguely curious about the results of my first brownie endeavor on the prairie. I doubted it could be very different. Sure that my recollection of childhood baking endeavors must have exaggerated the cakieness of brownies and cookies past. I needn’t expect to experience the exhilaration of good texture again. Temper your feelings, dear Bunky. Temper, temper.

Timer goes off. Brownies come out of the oven a full 15 minutes earlier than in Salt Lake, adhering to recipe directions for the first time in nearly a decade. Cool, cool, let the damn things cool. Slice, and good gawd, they are even crumbling differently! They are crumbling ferchrissakes.

One bite, and I knew. Everything in life was now completely different. Order had been restored. Joy returned. I am a baker again! I am soft and fluffy and I am the cookie of contentment. Thank you, dear Texas. Now please, who will take all these brownies off my hands?

Seasonal Shift

24 Sep

Success in love breeds chocolate consumption in others. Or so it seems in my small apartment. Today I learned about friends at opposite ends of the planet suddenly tumbling into love. So happy, so wonderfully happy. And I’m fine, I’m really, really fine. I see couples grocery shopping together and I still cringe, so clearly, I am not ready to be anybody’s anyone just yet. But still, there must be some part of my conscious that’s craving a little more sweetness, a little more savoring of cocoa on the palate. Because I never eat sugar and now I am like a Belgian wolf or something. Something wild and vaguely rabid that’s used to a vast supply of chocolate within close proximity.

Tonight after my wine tasting class, I bought wine, chocolate, and flowers for myself along with salad greens and my usual collection of meager sustenance provisions. I also bought those damn marcona almonds, which the deli boy and I decided were dangerous. He’d just slapped my parcel of peppered organic turkey on the counter and asked, “Anything else?” to my turned head.

I wound back around, “No, no, just those damn almonds behind me.”

“They’re truly addictive — that’s why I don’t even buy them.”

I locked eyes with him and held my Belgian wolf gaze, clucking my tongue like I never done did in dry old Salt Lake City. “I’m going for it,” nodding my head ‘no’ like I was powerless against almond forces. “Aiiyyyyy’m going for it.”

Passion. For food. Look, I am not overweight, and I’ve lost weight since I moved to Texas (hey, single, new in town with only a few friends, no restaurant meals — lose weight!). But let me tell you a secret. I love taste. Not wild tastes, not molecular gastronomy tastes, but just good tastes. Noticeable tastes. Savory tastes. Tastes that make you stop and pay attention. Even if it’s macaroni and cheese, I want it to declare itself so with pride.

In my wine class tonight, I promised myself I’ll one day get the palate and the olfactory senses required to discern baking spices and specific fruits “with a bit of dust on them”. But first I just want to learn how to define what it is that I like about wine. I’m tired of describing wines in vague terms to shop clerks and restaurant servers. I want to have just a few key phrases about what I like.

This evening as we made our way through a flight of whites and reds, the pretty girl sitting next to me reciprocated my attempts to befriend her by asking me if I had a favorite so far. Just the first one, I said, and even though I worried that it was only because it was the first one, I knew that I really liked it. “I should like the one we just had, too, because I usually like complexity. I say I like complexity because I think I want people to like that about me, too.”

She laughed.

The class went on and the last wine (which isn’t always a big ol’ finale or anything, it’s not like the teacher tries to sell the big, expensive wine at the end, he’s a nice guy) was my absolute favorite. And as we learned more about it, I dreaded the truth which was ultimately revealed. Yes, it was very expensive. Everything I like, everything I like in life, is expensive. Because I like complexity, I like distillation, I like things to be refined, and beautiful, and perfect.

Don’t worry, a new friend gave me a self-help book about how complex taste in partners can indicate a reluctance to commit. I’m on the case. But I’m keeping my food preferences, dammit.

Once I was safely home with my savory snacks, I confessed to a friend via text message that I’ve advanced to some sort of phase where I consume excessive amounts of chocolate. It’s not hormonal, I told her. “It’s just… well, I guess I’m just single.”

She countered with a glorious human universal. She too, she who has an infant and a doting partner who never lets her feel single, was craving chocolate that very moment. “It’s the seasonal shift,” she said.

Ohhhhh! It’s not me! It’s not loneliness banging down the walls of my carefully protected new self concept. It’s the cooling of summer’s heels. What a relief it is to realize I am not alone, I am just a part of the human race.

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