Julia came over and spotted my passport out on my kitchen table.
“Should I be concerned?” she asked. “Because I have to tell you, it is still going to be 2012 wherever you fly.” “Not if I fly around really really fast like Superman,” I pointed out. Incorrectly, because I think he turned back time that way, but why couldn’t it work just as well in the other direction?
Julia also noticed that I was covered in a combination of flour, paper shavings, and paint. That’s not normal, even for this house. She was brave to stop by in the first place; I’d already texted her that my attitude was too unholy to be taken out in public, and therefore I was not meeting her at 5:00 church. She was unfazed by the unholy attitude and she showed up with tomatoes from her garden. Who still has tomatoes in October? Julia. She’s a good friend that way,
The head-to-toe mess was due to a stress-induced production frenzy. It started yesterday, when at the eleventh hour I decided to make empanadas for the concert on the courthouse lawn. They were pretty great (the secret ingredient: Sweet Josie Brown, simmered with the chicken and onions and peppers. From me to you.)
Today, I had a pile of extra chicken, and a knee that feels like a stack of Jenga blocks. One wobble in any direction and things will get expensive in a hurry. My stress has taken on new dimensions. I can’t walk fast, but sitting down just makes me antsy, so I have wobbled slowly around my house all day, working on unnecessary cooking projects and plowing through the deranged handmade Christmas list.
I counteracted the Cold Which Lingers with chicken vegetable soup, from yesterday’s leftovers. Then the kitchen was already a mess, so I just went to town.
I counteracted the stress about the inevitable Who-Is-Going-Where-For-The-Holidays discussion, which should begin any second now in my family, by baking a chicken pie with the rest of the leftovers.
I counteracted the worries about Impending Poverty, brought on by Having Knee Surgery While Underinsured, by baking bread. It cost me exactly 49 cents for the yeast, which I could purchase with the change in my pocket. I made enough to last for weeks.
I counteracted my unsatisfied need to Be In Control Of One Teeny Tiny Thing by working carefully on this stack of presents with an exacto knife, while I played records and my bread baked.
Yes. I have been exacto-ing books. For weeks now. In the name of joy and Christmas, stop looking at me like that.
Then I counteracted my Intern Architect Frustration by building something beautiful. Everything on Smitten Kitchen is beautiful. Mine was not as pretty as Deb’s, but that’s not the point. (Hi Deb! Please be friends with me!) The very best part was making the salted caramel topping. Did you know you could make caramel with just plain sugar, and nothing else? I mean, not even water?
I did not know that. It starts like this:
and then does this:
and then does this, and when it’s caramelized, you can add cream and butter to it and drizzle it on things.
Then you hand whatever salted-caramel-drizzled thing you have made to the next friend who stops by with tomatoes.
That whole sugar-into-caramel kind of wizardry is the reason I have to make things when I’m feeling anxious about something. There’s science behind it, and if you can follow instructions, mostly things turn out exactly as they should. Sometimes you don’t need the instructions; you have it all figured out, you’ve done it a thousand times, and you know you can nail it. Sometimes you have no idea what you’re doing. Caramel? Out of just plain sugar? No water? Seriously, Deb? And then you follow instructions, and Lo! It works. There is science behind this. There are rules. There is logic. (Note to Deb: I never actually doubted you. You have never steered me wrong. We should totally be friends!!) The thing is, when you’re making something, food or anything else: if you pay attention, you’ll learn something every time.
After all the apple arranging and drizzling, I then counteracted the stress about Whether Springsteen Will Play Thunder Road For Me This Week (he has to, he just has to, how could he not?) by spray-painting another Christmas project (this one’s adorable.)
After that I made homemade wheat thins, to counteract the stress about The Huge Mess I Made In My Kitchen. Yes, I dotted the crackers individually, I am an architect, this is what it’s like in my head all the time.
I sat down on the couch after, oh, eight hours of slowly wobbling around my house making things, and baseball was on. I felt better immediately.
I probably could have just started with that.