Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recent reading: Simple Days

I just finished reading the book Simple Days: A Journal on What Really Matters by Marlene A. Schiwy. As I read Schiwy's journal, I felt several touchpoints of kinship with her: her love of long walks, good food, Baroque music, and singing in a choir; her yearning for simplicity; her frustration when trying to cultivate intimate friendships as an adult, and her different, more relaxed rhythm of life as a non-9-to-5er. And her occasional massive decluttering sessions! From her book:

"Last night I browsed in The Artist's Way and came across the idea that when we find ourselves sorting through things, cleaning out and uncluttering, we are making room for something new in our life. Julia Cameron writes, 'One of the clearest signals that something is afoot is the impulse to weed out, sort through, and discard old clothes, papers, and belongings....By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable.' I am in such a phase now, wanting to get rid of things and clear some space, in more than one way. I would love to see my study bare and orderly, not piled high with books and papers, as it currently is. But what is the 'new and suitable' that I am apparently preparing for?"

I found this passage in the book to be one of the most profound and moving:

"Yesterday I read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying. Her final words of advice are profound: 'It is very important that you do only what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may live in a shabby place, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days, you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.'"

Best of all, there were tasty recipes! I love it when a non-cookbook includes recipes! I've copied some of my favorites here:

Pumpkin Walnut Bread (two loaves)

2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 c. oats, or wheat germ, or wheat bran, or oat bran
2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 T. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg (optional)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. canola oil or melted butter
1 1/3 c. sugar (adjust amount as desired)
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
2 c. cooked pumpkin or any winter squash (e.g., acorn or butternut)
2/3 c. water (or milk or soymilk)
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. chopped walnuts or pecans

Sift together all dry ingredients except sugar in a bowl. Beat together oil, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add eggs, one by one, beating well after each. STir in pumpkin and water. Add flour mixture, stirring just until smooth. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Bake in two loaf pans, at 350 degrees F for 50-60 minutes. Let loaves cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then put on rack or plate. This is a tasty, low-fat, and nutritious autumn breakfast loaf. I make it often, sometimes doubling this recipe. It freezes well.


3 1/2 c. unbleached flour (I use up to half whole wheat)
2 T. cocoa
2-5 t. baking powder
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. lemon extract or 1 t. lemon rind
1 c. honey or syrup
2 eggs
5 T. milk
1/2 c. softened butter (1 stick)
1 c. hazelnuts, lightly toasted and ground

Sift together flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Mix together sugar, spices, lemon, honey, eggs, and milk. Pour liquid mixture into middle of dry ingredients and knead until thoroughly blended. Add butter and nuts quickly so the dough does not become sticky. Put in refrigerator for an hour (or for up to 3 days). Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut out with cookie cutters, OR pat with your hands into a low cake pan so dough is 3/4" thick. Bake cookies 10-15 minutes; cake 15-20 minutes, at 375 degrees. When cool, you can decorate them with your favorite icing, or simply melt chocolate chips and coat cake or cookies with chocolate. Cut cake into 2" squares.

Hazelnut Fig Bread (two loaves)

1 c. hazelnuts, roasted and ground*
3 c. unbleached flour (can substitute up to half whole wheat flour)
1 c. oat bran
2 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
8 oz. dried figs (remove stems and soak figs in enough water to cover them for several hours or overnight, then drain)
2 c. milk or soymilk
4 eggs
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. melted butter or canola oil

*Put hazelnuts in a baking dish in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Rub off skins, and when cool, grind in blender.

Mix flour, oat bran, baking powder, salt, and ground hazelnuts in a large bowl. In blender, puree figs with milk, eggs, brown sugar, and butter or oil. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and mix just until they are combined. Pour batter into two loaf pans that have been greased or sprayed with Pam. Bake 40-45 minutes at 350-375 degrees. Leave loaves in pans for an hour to cool off. This is very good with butter, or cream cheese or other mild cheeses.

Blueberry Corn Muffins (one dozen)

1/2 c. softened butter or vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t. baking powder
dash of salt
1 1/3 c. unbleached flour (you can substitute whole wheat for some or all of it)
2/3 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. milk
2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1-2 t. sugar mixed with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with foil or paper cups. In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Measure flour and cornmeal together and add to the butter mixture. Fold in milk and blueberries just until mixed. Put batter into muffin cups and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top, and let cool for 15 minutes before taking out of pan. These freeze well and I always double the recipe.

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