While wishing you a Happy New Year, may I also bid you a fond farewell?
I am retiring. To my dining room table. Next to my computer. Just a few steps from the kitchen and the coffee and cookies. If I'm writing, and writing is how I expect to spend my retirement, I'm eating. My brain works better if my stomach is full.
On my list for what to write about, now that there are no deadlines, I see the most immediate possibilities in two packing boxes hoisted up on a closet shelf in the back bedroom upstairs. The boxes contain objects purchased on my travels in one country or another over several decades. I fell in love with each piece when I bought it, but then tiring of it, I packed it away. I've forgotten what's stored up there. I'm certain that unwrapping each item and turning it over in my hands will produce a rush of feeling. Grab those feelings and wrestle them to the ground. Put them on paper.
All collectors, the two-penny ones like me and the most knowledgeable with the biggest fortunes, make mistakes. I once read that Charles Lang Freer, founder of the Smithsonian's Freer Museum, who was a friend of collector Louisine Havemeyer, agreed to weed through her pieces of Asian art. She wept when she saw the pile that Mr. Freer considered errors in judgment. He calmed her by confessing to mistakes he himself had made.
My hope is to turn dross into gold. That's what writers do. We are magicians.
Up there alongside the two big boxes is an elegant small one. Inside that box with its ivory clasps is a porcelain bowl from China. After I bought it, I saw a piece from the same set on display behind glass in Shanghai's most prestigious museum. Afraid I might break the bowl I owned, I put it back in its beautiful box and, when I got home, set it out of reach. I haven't looked at it in 10 years. I'm afraid of it. It might slip from my fingers. I want to write about the irony of collecting and the pleasures and discomforts to which it makes one vulnerable. All the time chewing on a cookie.
I never expected to find the cookie of my dreams in Bangkok, but there it was in the saucer of a cup of coffee waiting for me at a table on the patio of the Jim Thompson House. By restoring the ancient art of silk weaving to Thailand and making it profitable, Jim Thompson saved it from extinction. An architect by training and an entrepreneur by instinct, he then assembled six authentic teak houses into a compound and filled them with exquisite Thai artifacts.
To reach the Thompson House, I had to take a taxi, as I had no shoes. The last I'd seen of them was an hour or so before at the holy site of Wat Phra Kaeo. Entering this temple visitors left their shoes outside on the steps. When I returned to retrieve mine, they were gone. The loss wasn't going to stop me from visiting the Thompson House (where in the shop I bought a pair of embroidered slippers), and my reward was what has become my favorite cookie.
So see me sitting, elbows on my table, chewing on cookies and prose possibilities.
I would like to write about my father. I only remember meeting him once, but he is often on my mind.
My father worked as a journalist, and he is certainly the reason why I'm one. He wrote for the Hearst papers. My mother, my sister and I were the family he left behind to chase a skirt to California. My mother went to work nights in a department store commissary; my sister and I went to an orphanage. That we were all so miserable for so long, earned us the attention of the Fates, and that put a different spin on our lives. It landed us in good times.
One example: My sister married a millionaire. Astonishing what a difference that made for us.
Ups and downs, or in our case downs and ups, always make good stories, and I'd like to try my hand at writing some.
And there are other things I want to do: marry my friend Gene, welcome my daughter Ani and her husband Brian back from their five months in Southeast Asia, spend time with my son Nick and his Veronique, go back to school, involve myself in politics, cook for friends, travel, read new books and reread old favorites. Share kisses and cookies with my honey dog.
And the Fates, being what they are, may not be done with me. Should they deliver a good story I will return to write it. If that happens, I'll be glad to be in your company.
In the meantime I'll be happy. I hope you are the same.
MY FAVORITE COOKIE
- Butter for baking sheets
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 8 teaspoons (about) whole milk
- 1 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted, cooled
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted, cooled
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
- 1 teaspoon aniseed
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 cup golden raisins
rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter 2 large baking sheets.
Place powdered sugar in small bowl. Mix in enough milk by teaspoonfuls (about 5) to form thick, smooth glaze. Cover glaze; set aside.
Combine almonds and walnuts in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until most nuts are reduced to 1/4-inch pieces (some will be very finely ground).
Combine flour, butter, 2/3 cup sugar, citrus peels, aniseed, salt, spices and baking soda in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat at low speed until fine meal forms.
Add egg yolks and beat until clumps form. Add nuts and raisins. Beat until dough holds together, adding milk by teaspoonfuls (about 3) if dough is dry. Knead dough briefly to compact.
Roll out 1/3 of dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick rectangle. Cut lengthwise into 2-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip on diagonal into 1-inch shapes. Transfer to baking sheet. Gather dough scraps and reserve. Repeat with remaining dough. Reroll scraps, cutting out more cookies, until all dough is used.
Bake cookies 1 sheet at the time, until golden, about 17 minutes. Using a fork, dip into glaze and drizzle over hot cookies. Let cookies stand on baking sheets until completely cool and glaze is set. Makes about 60.
Marilyn McDevitt Rubin can be reached at 412-263-1749 or firstname.lastname@example.org .