EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”
–Thornton Wilder, Our Town
Kid fell asleep tonight as soon as we got home from the gym, too tired even for dinner, asking “Hold you, Mama?” and after less than five minutes on the couch, his little snores began.
The air feels different tonight. One of the most important people in my life is in a hospital room right now, sitting by her mom’s bedside, the unfolding of today’s story but just one page in a whirlwind of a book that didn’t even exist a few weeks ago. Life can do that, you know. I know. I know the way the texture of the air changes: with a diagnosis, with the appearance of paperwork, with the utterance of just a few words by someone wearing a white coat.
We forget, though, don’t we? Too easily. We are pushed, and we push ourselves, to heal, to “feel better,” to move on. But being cracked open by grief, fear, and uncertainty creates a certain kind of sight—it’s not a gift, mind you, but perhaps an opportunity—to see what we otherwise miss.
Burdens are plenty in this world and they can pull us down in lamentation. But the good Lord knows we need to see at least the hem of the robe of glory, and we do. Ponder a sunset or the dogwoods all ablossom. Every time you see such it’s the hem of the robe of glory. Brothers and sisters, how do you expect to see what you don’t seek? Some claim heaven has streets of gold and all such things, but I hold a different notion When we’re there, we’ll say to the angels, why, a lot of heaven’s glory was in the place we come from. And you know what them angels will say? They’ll say yes, pilgrim, and how often did you notice? What did you seek?
–Ron Rash, Above the Waterfall
As I carried my sleepy boy from the car to the house, we stopped to look up, the sky dark but still bluer than black, the night clearer than usual, the stars charting their constellations. “Look, bub,” I said, “the stars are so far away, but still they send us their light.”
“They sharing it,” he said, nuzzling his cheek against my shoulder. “They share the light with us so we can have some, too.”
And by that light, tonight, I glimpsed a few stitches in the hem of the robe.
SALTED PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP GRANOLA BARS
recipe slightly adapted from Standard Baking Co. Pastries, via Remedial Eating
I got to this recipe via Instagram, when Shauna Ahern commented on Molly Hays’ photo of granola bars, asking for the recipe. Molly obliged with a link, which I promptly followed. Following the recipe yielded a very large quantity of the sturdiest homemade granola bars I’ve ever encountered; I mailed some to the aforementioned friend, took some on a road trip, fed many of them to my not-so-small child, used them as my contribution to book club brunch (where I was asked for the recipe by several), and consumed a good handful of them myself, as mid-morning and pre-/post-gym snacks.
Note: these are not “health food” granola bars in the sense that they are unapologetically sweetened and filled with naturally caloric & fatty things, like nuts and nut butters. I am okay with this, but you might not be. Think about them as wandering in the territory just shy of dessert, but a good distance from the town of overly virtuous. And if it helps, know that we really only eat half of one of the rectangles pictured here at a time, with even a nibble or two serving as a nice foil for a cup of tea or a sweet-thing-after-dinner that successfully allows me to avoid hitting up the ice cream in the freezer.
As Molly notes in her original post, these are swell to have around if you have a child experiencing a growth spurt. Bonus points for how well they hold up in lunch bags!
I found this rule of thumb from Molly’s post helpful: “I’ve fiddled with these bars endlessly, and have found most any substitutions work, so long as the following ratio is adhered to: 3 cups sugars (liquid + solid) : 9 cups grains (oats + germ/seeds) : 4 cups “chunks” (walnuts + chocolate chips) is a good balance, for a sturdy final bar.” I will add that you could easily use dried fruit instead of chocolate chips, to make these more “breakfasty.”
1 cup salted butter (I only had unsalted, so bumped up the salt in the dry ingredients)
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups crunchy, salted peanut butter (I used a mix of regular peanut butter & almond butter)
1 cup light corn syrup or brown rice syrup (I used a mix of corn syrup & honey)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 cups toasted, chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup wheat germ (I used flax seeds)
1/2 cup sesame seeds (I used hulled sunflower seeds)
one 12-ounce package mini chocolate chips (I only had regular sized chocolate chips, used about 1/2 cups)
Melt butter in a medium-sized bowl; stir in brown sugar, nut butter(s), liquid sweetener(s) of your choice, and vanilla. Mix well and set aside to cool. Butter concoction needs to feel cool before you mix it with the chocolate chips, so that it doesn’t melt them!
Line a rimmed baking sheet (13 x 18” or as close as you have to it) with parchment paper, then butter the paper (also helps to dot the sheet with butter before laying the paper on top, so it will stick).
In a very large bowl, stir together all of your dry ingredients: oats, nuts, salt, seeds/germ, and chocolate chips. Pour in the cooled butter mixture and stir very well to combine thoroughly. I used a spatula, then finished off with clean hands – you want the oat mixture to be very well coated, because any dry bits will keep your granola bars from sticking together.
Spread the mixture out on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and distribute evenly. Cover the top of the mixture with a second sheet of parchment, and use a rolling pin or the bottom of a measuring cup/water glass to level out the mixture and press it firmly into the pan. You want the mixture to be tightly compacted.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Allow the mixture to cool fully—I left my sheet pan in the oven overnight—before cutting into bars. According to Molly, these keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 3+ weeks, but I made them a week ago and we only have 5 left, so you’ll have to take her word for it!
Y’all, I’m so bad at waiting. It’s one area I really have not made any improvement in as I’ve grown. I’m still impatient as I was when I was a kid.
When I was little, my dad would take me shopping for my mom’s birthday or Christmas present, only for me to come home and almost always be unable to wait to tell her what we had gotten for her. Guess what, Mama?
For the first few years of our relationship, I almost always ended up giving Jill her birthday present in June (her birthday is July 25th). That usually meant that I would also end up buying an additional present so that I’d have something to give her the day of. I am an enthusiastic, impatient mess.
Waiting for feedback from supervisors and agents, waiting for a loved one’s test results, waiting in line, waiting on traffic, waiting on a particular day to arrive, waiting to see someone, waiting for a letter to arrive or a pot to boil or a flower to bloom…you name it, I stink at it.
I’m not sure if there’s an inherent virtue in being able to wait, though patience is certainly a necessity in situations involving students and small children…I may never know, really, the gifts of calm and anxiety-free waiting. But I know that it’s probably good for me to have to wait, even though I hate it so much. It’s almost always good for us to have to practice doing things that we’re not good at, even though we would really rather not have to. All of this waiting doesn’t seem to be helping me get any better at doing it, but it is an important reminder that I am, you know, not the center of the universe, and that there is very little that I can actually control.
But, as Shiv would remind me, I can control my breathing. Deep breaths, Mama – don’t you love it when they apply the lessons we’ve taught them TO US? (Like maybe you got that concept a little too well, son?) I can continually bring my mind back to things that matter much more than my to-do list, like the faces in the photographs festoon the walls of my work cubicle. I can look down at the bracelet I’ve been wearing since I got it for my last birthday and be reminded that the greatest of these is all around me, if I can just stop and be present to it. I can think of the men we’ve collectively mourned this week, tremendous artists whose deaths remind us that it can all change in an instant.
INDIAN STYLE SWEET-AND-SOUR BUTTERNUT SQUASH
This dish is my mom’s creation; to get her “recipe,” I watched her make it and took notes, which meant I had to eyeball most of the quantities (though she did, graciously & uncharacteristically, measure out the water for me—thanks, Amma!) So, as you make this dish, feel free to tinker with the amounts of spice/flavorings. And if you’d like to substitute in another hard squash for the butternut, I think acorn or kabocha would work well.
For a meal, you might enjoy this sabji/sabzi (vegetable dish) alongside some aloo tikki; it’s also wonderful drizzled with a little plain yogurt and wrapped up inside warm naan or pita. This is also a great dish to make ahead of time, as it warms up easily and also thaws/freezes well.
~2 cups cubed butternut squash
2 cups water
2 T vegetable oil
1 T tamarind concentrate (substitute lemon/lime juice to achieve a similar sour note, though the flavor won’t be exactly the same)
1 T brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. fennel seeds
¼ tsp. each of ground ginger, cloves, cumin, coriander, & salt
generous pinch each of cinnamon & cayenne
optional: fresh cilantro
Heat oil over medium in a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. After 1-2 minutes, add the fennel seeds, stirring them occasionally until they are aromatic and light brown. Add the squash to the pan and toss to coat.
Toss in all of the spices/seasonings, then the water, stir and cover. Allow the squash to cook for 15-20 minutes, checking at the fifteen minute mark to see if the squash is tender. Once it’s reached your desire texture (I like mine really soft), stir in the tamarind and brown sugar, then cook with the lid off until the liquid has evaporated. Garnish with fresh cilantro, and serve warm.