Thursday, December 11, 2014

Italian Lemon Cookies and the Mindtrap of The Culinary Graveyard

Picture me standing on a kitchen chair with my arm elbow-deep in the top shelf of our kitchen cabinet. Each item I move requires a little extra muscle to unstick from the peeling, likely lead-rich paint of the shelf, especially the molasses jar. All the necessary ingredients are present: lemon extract, shortening (one large container, one small), various bags of white sugar and flour, baking powder, sprinkles.

Also present and accounted for: panko crumbs (never used), almond flour (opened but barely used), crystallized honey - maybe two tablespoons-worth, and half a bar of Trader Joe's milk chocolate. I chalk these up as a perk of the roommate cohabitation experience and shove them aside for someone else's enjoyment.

Despite the plenitude of foodstuffs, a short grocery list forms itself in my head:


A glance outside reminds me that it's snowing steadily, great big fluffy flakes that melt as they splat on any surface like half-assed snowballs from heaven. Do I really want to go out there? Is it worth suiting up and limping eight blocks to the local StopNShop?

A glance at the "use by" dates on the shortening cans assures me that it's unavoidable. The big can: July 2012. The small one: March 2011. I'm not certain that the use of yellowing vegetable lard will harm my project or my friends' stomachs, but it's not quite in the spirit of the holidays, is it?

Upon closer inspection, the opened bags of sugar are all about one-third full of crusty, hardened clumps. The sprinkles are crumbly and the white ones have taken on a pinkish hue.  While I'm absent-mindedly sorting I find several shakers of sprinkles, all of them sticking to themselves in permanent candy colonies  or badly depleted (who decided not to use the last 8 chocolate sprinkles on her last project? Does this really absolve you from the duty of replacing them?).

And so I find myself zipping up my sweatshirt, stretching my knit hat over my haphazard morning ponytail, wrapping my scarf twice... and thinking.

Dammit! Not thinking!

The whole point of this baking adventure was to avoid thinking. And doing. And calling. And filling out forms. And, most of all, worrying.

But everything leads back to this place in my brain lately. I could be saying to myself, "Good for you, Jo! Go out into the world and get groceries! Get baking! Do something cheap and kind for others and join in the holiday celebrations with some kind of happiness!" The circle of thoughts (really, the Circle of Thoughts) at this point) pulls me away from those self-wishes and turn me back to the questions: "When was the last time you did something good? Why haven't you been useful at all? What is the point of you? Remember the Jo who used to do things? Make things? Enjoy things? What have you done to her? Do you even deserve to enjoy ANYTHING?"

My journey through the graveyard of the baking shelf seems to prove the self-doubt: it's been so long since I've baked anything. It's been years since I've even wanted to try. I used to love trading recipes and having friends over for dinner. I used to save my pennies for culinary treats, especially around the holidays. This time of year used to bring on a mess of cookie sheets and mixing bowls, not to mention sketch books of Christmas card designs and piles of stamps and ink pads and embossing powders.

Where the eff did JoBiv go?

Here's my promise of this moment, and I know it will require reprinting and repetition on my part: I will try, and I will remember that trying itself is progress toward something... more solid, I guess? More familiar, at least.

So I'm buying the damn sprinkles. I'm buying the tub of Crisco and the big bag of sugar. I wish I were getting paid for something at this very second, but I will fill this space in time with lemon cookies made for sharing. And, knowing me, I will probably wind up enjoying myself, even if it's just a leeetle lemony bit.