Chocolate chip cake with almond-hazelnut toffee topping

chocolate chip cake with almond-hazelnut toffee topping

chocolate chip cake with almond-hazelnut toffee topping

In defense of meandering

The nicest rejection I got for my novel (also, strangely, the most disappointing) said all sorts of kind things about my writing but concluded that the pace was too meandering. Well! I’ve thought about this a lot, since. I understand their objection, of course, but I like meandering! I like books that meander and movies that meander, and I like the act of meandering about in the world. In point of fact, this rejection has made me look back upon my life to realize that I have lived in an entirely meandering fashion. (In fact, too close an examination of my “career” might turn this into a cautionary tale about meandering, rather than a defense of it.) There’s so much I want to do, but I don’t have firm goals and plans of attack, I don’t have schedules and itineraries. I have been most fortunate in finding good traveling companions, and now I’m perfectly happy to meander about with them and see where we all end up.

There are places I’d like to go, things I’d like to achieve, but I feel like I’ll take a strange and winding path and be surprised and delighted when I get there. Of course, with this attitude I may never get there at all. That’s the danger. Or I’ll get there and find myself unprepared; I’ll discover that I haven’t packed all of the equipment that I need, because I always forget something. But then we’ll make do with what we have and what we find, and maybe we’ll come up with a better way of doing things than we ever would have if we’d packed more carefully. That’s the beauty of meandering…you never know where you’ll end up! As long as you keep turning down the most likely paths, as long as you’re happy to turn around if you find yourself somewhere that doesn’t work out, and start out again on a new path.
And probably as I’m meandering to a specific destination, someone else will be headed there with great purpose and focus. But maybe by the time I got close I would have decided to go somewhere else any way, somewhere better for me.
I was very happy to discover that the word “meander” comes from the name of a river in present day Turkey, know to the ancient Greeks as Maiandros, whose “course is so exceedingly winding that everything winding is called meandering.”  And a meander, as a noun, is a bend in a sinuous river. “Meandering” used in a disparaging manner, implies weakness, it implies vagueness and mildness that lead to inefficiency and failure. But surely there’s nothing stronger than a river! We might not always understand the pattern or the plan, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one! A river might not rush in a straightforward and obvious fashion to the sea, but it gets there nonetheless, making a beautiful design as it does so. And in Greek mythology, Meander is actually a river god, a god, son of the god of the sea, no doubt behaving in the strange and inexplicable manner of all gods, but powerful nonetheless.
 
I like to walk by the river, in an aimless and directionless fashion. I like to go for a meander. I have some of my best ideas this way, and my stories often take shape in my head while I’m adrift in this fashion. I believe that always knowing where you’re going, and always taking the quickest route to get there, and always checking your map or your phone’s map till that’s all you have in your head–all of that can be the death of the imagination, it doesn’t leave space for thoughts to grow and bloom. I think maybe as a society we’ve forgotten how to meander. We’re always so plugged in we’ve forgotten what it’s like to not know: to not be sure where we’re going or how many minutes it takes to get there and what the weather will be like when we do and the exact specific answer to every little question that should arise in our heads. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to wonder, we’re uncomfortable in those little pockets of uncertainty, which is sad, because this is where new ideas thrive and grow. And we have no time to wander,  to let our feet and thoughts fly where they will.
This is a typical Claire cake! Quite easy to put together, especially if you use your food processor, which I did. You don’t even clean the processor between mixing the batter and the topping, because having a bit of batter in helps the topping to stick together. It’s not actually toffee, the topping, but it’s butter, sugar and nuts, baked till brown and crispy.
Here’s Make the Road by Walking, by the Menahan Street Band
 

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Flourless hazelnut walnut mocha torte

Flourless hazelnut walnut mocha torte

Flourless hazelnut walnut mocha torte

Today is, once again, take your child to work day. David usually takes one or both boys up to his shop, but his job is too stressful and his deadline too close at the moment. So they’re spending the day with me. I had very mixed feelings about this, I must say, which made me more than usually cranky from the very beginning. I knew they’d think of it as a day off, a day to stay home and watch cartoons and play video games and chase each other around the house yelling and eating never-ending easter candy. Because, obviously, that’s what I do all day while they’re at school. I woke them up at seven, like I usually do, and I made them help me pack lunches and make breakfast. We went for a walk, because part of my job is taking Isaac to school. I usually go for a jog after they’re in school, so we tried to do that, and I apologize to anybody whose house backs on to the towpath. I realize you probably didn’t want to awoken by a small boy yelling “SLOW DOWN I’M GOING TO PUKE! DO YOU WANT ME TO PUKE?” And then, sigh, we did laundry we dusted and vacuumed and washed dishes, and I thought how incredibly tedious my day must seem. We got all the cleaning done in the morning, like I always try to do, and then they instantly made a complete mess of everything again, and I announced that I was going to write for the rest of the day so they had to as well. And how is writing “work”? How do I justify this way to spend the day? Sometimes I get paid for it, and I do have a job and a deadline at the moment, although I’m fairly successfully ignoring it. But mostly I don’t. Mostly I’m writing this novel, and I’m completely obsessed with it, and it feels incredibly important to me, despite being frequently confounding and disappointing. I lie awake thinking about it, the characters are living in my head, and if I don’t write it down I’ll lose it all. But that doesn’t make it “work.” That makes me crazy. I see that, but most of the time I don’t acknowledge that fact. As long as nobody is watching me and saying, “Why do you get to sit at the computer if we don’t get to play video games?” (and I honestly can’t say that my novel-writing is any more important than their video game-playing), as long as nobody is watching, I’m okay. But what kind of life is it, if you can’t look at it from the outside without everything falling apart? If you can’t justify your existence if you stop to think about it for a minute? The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life sometimes doesn’t hold up to all the questions. Of course it all boils down to money. If I was getting paid to write a novel, as many people are, then it would be work, then it would be justifiable and even admirable. But I’m not and probably will never be, if my past history of creative success is anything to go on. And yet, perversely, I want my boys to see that I write and that I read, and that both pursuits have great value for me. I want to see them write. I want them to grow up to write stories, and to think of it as work, even if they don’t get paid for it. I want them to know how good it feels to create something you feel happy about, even if you know the next time you look at it you’ll wonder what the hell you were thinking when you made it. I want their values to be as skewed as mine, so that creating something that they need to create becomes more important than making money, although of course I want them to be financially secure as well. I want them to work hard at something, with passion, and know the great pleasure of completing something that has taken great time and energy and thought. I want them to feel good about their life, even when events make them look at it from the outside, with questions and judgement. Malcolm wrote, of today, “The day with mom was fun cause we took walks and I also figured out what her life is like.” He figured out what my life is like! Now if I could only do the same!

Flourless hazelnut, walnut mocha torte

Flourless hazelnut, walnut mocha torte

There was some discussion, last week on The Guardian’s website, of a coffee walnut cake. One commenter mentioned a cake he or she remembered from their youth, flourless, with coffee and walnuts and hazelnuts. It seemed like a pleasant challenge to try to recreate a recipe based on this small amount of information, so I did. And I think it turned out very good! This is one of the best flourless cakes that I’ve made, light but substantial, with a lovely flavor.

Here’s REM with Finest Worksong

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Chocolate oatmeal crisp cake

Chocolate oatmeal crisp cake

Chocolate oatmeal crisp cake

Yesterday I wrote a story that involved a sailor. He was partly inspired by this guy.

And I’ve been reading the boys’ cross section book of ships, which I love. This isn’t from that book, but it’s fascinating.
17th-century-merchantman cross section
And there’s this epigram by Anyte of Tegea, which I also love, and which takes place by the hoary grey coast…

    I Hermes stand here at the crossroads by the wind beaten orchard, near the hoary grey coast; and I keep a resting place for weary men. And the cool stainless spring gushes out.

So today’s Sunday interactive playlist is about oceans, seas, shores, sailors, ships, wrecks…Add the song to the playlist yourself, or leave a song in the comments and I’ll try to remember to add it.

Chocolate cake with coconut oatmeal crisp topping

Chocolate cake with coconut oatmeal crisp topping

When I started out, this was just going to be a french-style chocolate cake. Then Malcolm suggested that I add an oatmeal crisp topping, and it became something very special! Almost like brownies, but way better. Very good with coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and wine after dinner!

Here’s a link to the interactive playlist.

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