June 2017


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[personal profile] nightengalesknd
The apricots of my childhood

The apricots of my childhood were –

No, scratch that. The “apricots” of my childhood were dried apricot halves. There were no other apricots. These dried apricot halves, which I called, and will henceforth call “apricots” were deep orange, sweet, tart and chewy. The inside side was tacky, almost gooey. They came in a box. I would sit and eat them like candy. Actually I probably ate a lot more apricots than I did candy. I ate raisins, too. Raisins were everyday fare. Apricots were a treat.

At some point, my mother spotted fresh apricots in the grocery store and decided to introduce me to one. It was pale and juicy. She cut it open and I took a bite. I don’t think I finished it. I know I’ve not tried one again since. This fresh apricot bore no relation to what I recognized as apricot.

A few years later, my mother discovered another type of dried apricot in the store. They were in a clear plastic container. They were more expensive. They paled, literally and figuratively, in comparison to everything I knew an apricot to be. They were more expensive, so my mother would get the regular, good apricots most of the time and then these awful, moist, neither chewy nor tart things as a treat. This may have been my first introduction to the idea that paying more does not necessarily get more. In my opinion, it got less.

As the years passed, it became more and more difficult for me to find what I considered a proper apricot. Occasionally I would find something close, usually in the 1$ boxes at the pharmacy. These weren’t perfect but at least put the dry in dried. I started describing the apricot of my childhood to people. They suggested stores with bulk bins. I found all sorts of gourmet things claiming to be apricots. Someone finally figured out that the apricots of my childhood were California apricots, while the apricots ubiquitous in my adulthood were Mediterranean apricots. Now all I had do was find California apricots. Which I couldn’t. I kept finding more and more fancy Mediterranean apricots instead. I began to wonder if apricots still grew in California and whether it was a botanical difference or a processing difference. Another few years passed.

Then suddenly one day a friend offered me an apricot and it was an apricot of my childhood. They were apparently now being sold at the grocery store that had not sold them when I had last looked, two weeks before.

And they are every bit as deep orange, sweet, tart and chewy as I remembered.

The Bobbsey Twins go. . . with me everywhere

When I was six, my grandmother got the box of Bobbsey Twins books out of storage. My mother had read the series through, once, I suppose. My grandmother sat me down next to her on the bench and read me the first chapter of the first book. She then put the book aside, pleased she had introduced me to these books, and went on to do something else, planning to read me some more later. I picked the book up and read the next chapter. And the rest of the book. And then I reached into the box and read the next one.

For the next three years or so, the Bobbsey Twins were constant companions. I read the series over. And over. I read at the table. I read in bed, under the covers, with a flashlight. I read in the car, holding the book up to the streetlights when it got dark. It was probably a Bobbsey Twins book I was rereading in the car when I threw a fit because I didn’t want to get out of the car to see a lock in operation. There we sat in the parking lot, my parents marveling over the lock, and me sitting in the car, rereading.

I read other books. But I kept coming back to the Bobbsey Twins. Why, I cannot say. Maybe because there were so many of them. Maybe because I learned so many things from reading them repeatedly. For years, when I came out with some factoid or other and my parents asked how I knew it, I would say, “oh I read it in The Bobbsey Twins go to “ wherever. The thing is, I can generally tell you how I know things. And I generally associate the thing with the learning of it. I don’t know how common this is. But it’s a big thing for me, and it happens with both fiction and non-fiction. And the Bobbsey Twins were a treasure trove of things to know, both because they were always going places and learning things, and just because there was a lot for me to learn from books written in the 19-teens.

I was bothered by the fact that the characters didn’t age. But characters didn’t age in most of the child series books I read. I was bothered by the things the children did that children really should not have been doing unsupervised. I’m not sure how much I registered on the racism.

I read them and read them and read them, and then around nine I moved on to reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and then around 12 it was the Baby Sitter’s Club and then I got into adult murder mysteries. At some point, the books moved off my shelves. I’m not sure when. At some point, visiting as an adult, I went looking for something to read on my childhood shelves and found other old friends but no Bobbsey Twins.

And then, this winter, my mother and I were in the attic and there they were. And now they are here, with me, and I am rereading them once again. Some of the titles are completely unfamiliar. I am more bothered by the lack of continuity, particularly for a series that spends an entire chapter reviewing the series to date. Danny Rugg is a bully, and then a friend, and then a bully again. The lumber yard is a short walk away, and then a trolley ride. Bert and Charley (or Charlie) Mason build a bobsled, and then in another book they build a bobsled, and then a few books later, talk about how they wished they had a bobsled. The ages are never quite clear, and then they stop aging all together. There’s certainly a lot of racism, although I don’t know that it’s realistic to expect otherwise from books written in the 19-teens. The coincidences they use to solve mysteries strain credibility, but seems in line with other children’s books of the era as well.

So I am rereading them. I’m not sure if I’m doing it to revisit the books themselves, or just to relive three years of my childhood over the course of a month or so, or if it matters.

In pursuit of the perfect soft chocolate cookie

About 20 years ago, I fell upon the recipe for the perfect chocolate cake. It was in a cookbook I already owned. I had tried other chocolate cake recipes from that and other cookbooks. I have not made chocolate cake from any other recipe since. It used all purpose flour, rather than cake flour. It called for an equal number of egg yolks and whites (although it did require separating them, a tiny point against it), it contained honey which gave a bit of extra flavor, and it unmolded from the pan cleanly. This last was vital at the time, because I was decorating rather more cakes at the time.

Then I set out in search of the perfect chocolate cookie. I was looking for a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie that was soft, almost gooey in the middle. I had eaten such cookies, mostly in shopping malls. They seemed like a popular cookie. Surely a recipe wouldn’t be that hard to find.

I started with cookbooks, then took suggestions, and eventually turned to the internet where I could google “soft.” I found soft chocolate cookies that were basically brownies and soft chocolate cookies that were cakey, and they all made excellent eating. I even found no-bake (or Amish Boiled) cookies that are really fudge and are quite good, but not what I was looking for.

And then one day about 2 years ago, I was watching a cooking show on TV and there they were. They were chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips, but that was easily changed. The recipe made 24, but I found that it really could make 36, or half a recipe make 18, while still being sufficiently large and almost gooey.

The search was not all-consuming, because I don’t bake cookies all that often, and sometimes make Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Miracle Cookies, brownies, almond-apricot bites or other sorts when I do. But it was there. I’m looking for the perfect chocolate cookie. The apricot search seemed over when I found the apricots. But the chocolate cookie search feels different. I feel the need to search for, or perfect, some other food item. Only I’m not sure what. Pad Thai has emerged as the most likely candidate. Actually, I’ve been working to perfect my Pad Thai recipe for years. It’s a little different in that I’m experimenting myself, not trying out prefabricated recipes, and that attempts seem to be coming closer and closer. The asymptotic Pad Thai, if you will.

Tin diabeteversary

My tenth diabeteversary is this week. 10 years ago I was misdiagnosed, hospitalized, re-diagnosed, patched up and discharged. I Livejournaled the whole thing. And now here I am. I juggle carbohydrates, time, hunger, exercise and the Diabetes Fairy Factor.

Sometimes I don’t feel as though I have any better handle now than I did 10 years ago.

I have a whole lot less optimism that I can get a handle.

My dentist asked me if I watch my blood sugars and I told him I watch them go up and I watch them go down.

I have a continuous glucose sensor so I meant this literally.

A few weeks ago I was realizing I’ve had diabetes almost 10 years and that’s when I realized I was turning 40.

Or maybe I was remembering I was turning 40 and then remembered I was diagnosed with diabetes a week after my 30th birthday. Because I didn’t actually forget my age.

It’s 10 years, either way. 1/4 of my life, either way.

A long time, either way. Or not very long at all.

I’m trying to figure out what 40 means.

Someone called me young the other day.

I objected.

They say you are as young as you feel. I don’t feel young.

My 10 year plan involves walking and taking buses everywhere until 50 and then buying a self-driving car, unless by that point, people don’t really own cars at all because they are pretty much all self-driving.

10 years, my 10 year plan was surviving my medical education.

I plan to live to 80.

I’m halfway there.

I live in the past a lot. Maybe it’s having a good memory. Maybe it’s why I have a good memory. There are so many things I don’t even know if I remember, so much as I remember talking about them.

And then I think about the future.

And then I eat apricots and read the Bobbsey Twins and bake cookies.
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