December 12th, 2006

taking a break

Some other time

Sometimes I make things messy deliberately in order to drive myself crazy so that I will be motivated to clean them up. I put the bills out on my desk rather than in a folder somewhere, so that I will be annoyed by their presence on my desk and actually, y'know, pay them. This works: we never have late bills.

For the recent and problematic example, I have a terribly messy bunch of newspaper clippings, internet printouts, and magazine pages in the cabinet above the kitchen phone, all containing recipes. I hauled them all down to the kitchen counter, on the theory that I should go through them and put the ones I want to keep on recipe cards where they can be stored in a compact and organized fashion.

It turns out that possibly mid-December is not the most reasonable time for me to perform this chore or other similarly time-intensive and time-insensitive chores! I know, I'm as surprised as you are. So while I hate to shove this stuff back into the cabinet where it will get ignored for who knows how long, up it goes, to drive me crazy later. Ah! I have added it to my to-do list for the week of January 14-20. Part of the function of my to-do list is to tell me what I need to remember to do, but the rest -- and this may be the lion's share -- is to comfort me that I don't have to do everything right now and that I don't have to do everything the minute it occurs to me. Some of it is a "to do some other time" list, and for me, that's important.

Unfortunately, a lot of it is a "to do right now" list. So. Off I go.


So here's the thing about being Scandahuvian: we are both a fussy and a violent people. We really try to downplay the latter trait, still being embarrassed about those raids on your coastlines and all. (Sorry. Really.) But it's there. And it has to come out somewhere, and where it comes out is in the winter baking. We have sandbakkel tins for the fussy side. The violence is lussekatter.

I'm serious. Lussekatter are a glorious personal symbol of light against darkness. They make my house smell of saffron and yeast and expectation of better things to come. But they are an absolute beast to knead. Lussekatter are like winter here in the northlands: you get started, and you think, hey, this isn't so bad. And maybe you hum a little bit, and you get into a rhythm, and you think, no problem! I can do this! I always have before! And then nothing changes, and so you keep going, but a little doubt creeps in. And then still nothing changes, and the doubt becomes certainty: this will never end. I will always be up to my elbows in sticky golden goodness, it will never become smooth and pliable, and incidentally the light will never return, we won't be able to light the candles, and the jotuns will come howling down upon us. (It's amazing how often it comes down to frost giants in my life. No, really. You'd be amazed.)

But even though nothing changes, you still keep going, because that's what you do; you don't stop being kind when the world is filled with assholes, you don't stop trying to figure things out when the world is filled with idiots, and you don't stop kicking the darkness just because it still won't bleed daylight. ("Lovers in a Dangerous Time" is one of my lussekatter baking songs for the last few years. The new one this year is by the Mountain Goats, with the refrain, "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me." Very apt for Santa Lucia.) That's not how we are. That's not what we do. And if you know of a phrase of more censure in Minnesotan than, "That's not what we do," I'd love to hear it.

And then finally, as you have started to wonder if maybe you made the whole thing up about the sun returning, the dough pulls away from your hand a bit. It adheres to itself rather than to you or the bowl. Encouraged, you pull it up, and it comes in a whole lump, and you can slam the lump down in a whole loud chunk, which is very satisfying, and this is where you switch from singing or sullen silence, depending on your particular approach to battling darkness, into cries such as, "Yarrrrg!" You are about to triumph over the lussekatter dough. This is the best part. Better than waking in the morning when it's still dark and creeping downstairs to find them ready to eat. Better than the calm satisfied sleep that always intervenes between the baking and the eating of the lussekatter. The moment when you know the tide has turned and you will triumph over this lump of gluten and sugar and very expensive spice.

Because Santa Lucia Day is not a Solstice holiday. It is a pre-Solstice holiday, and its location on the 13th means that it is distinctly, definitely, and permanently a pre-Solstice holiday, not just a fluke this year. And what does that mean? It means that winter is still coming. It means that you aren't baking these swirls of saffron sweetness knowing that things will get lighter every day from here. No. You know that you haven't hit bottom yet, that it will get darker still before there is light, and that the cold will rush in when the dark has gone. And you sing the songs and light the candles and bake the bread before things have reached their darkest, and then as things get darker still, you have that light with you to see by.

Edited to add: by request, my lussekatter recipe.

Stocking meme

I don't do this kind of meme much, but I have been having fun thinking of things I would give people if I had a magic wand, and it seems a cheering thing. So have at it, if you like. (Note: if you are actually giving me a Christmas present, do not under any circumstances tell me what it is in this meme. Unless you are so sneaky that you can do so in a way that will make me think you didn't get it for me. In which case have at it.)

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