A Click, With Nutella Pancake Cake

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This keeps happening. Pictures. In small moments—stolen corners chipped off mornings, half hours snuck out of afternoons. I get the pencil on the paper and…something happens.

I’ll tell you what. Something’s happened. All this babbling I’ve been doing for the last few months (the last few years and all my life I suppose, but with more concerted effort recently) has worked itself into some kind of useful understanding. As the French say, it’s made a click in my brain.

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I won’t lie. I still harbor that childhood yearning for conventional success and artistic recognition. In my private dream world, success is a solo show at the MoMA—New York of course, with its two story entry overlooked by a balcony and cool light seeping in from tall windows. There’s a kind of confidence and joy that suffuses this image; it’s not the notoriety that counts but the diffusion.

Big museums mean reaching people, and underneath all the identity crises and visions of grandeur, I think I perpetually feel like I felt on the first day of kindergarten: I just want to connect. A show at the MoMA is like holding my arms wide open for the whole world (This isn’t a fair accounting in terms of economic opportunities and class issues but it’s a good way to end the sentence and probably about as close as I could get. Anyway.).

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To connect with others, you first have to connect with yourself. That’s the click. For me, connecting with an image means letting myself be exactly where I am and feel exactly what I feel in the moment of creation without judgment or elaboration. This is the basis of my art practice and why it matters to me. Yeees, I hope that my work can go places and connect other people with wherever they are and however they feel, but you can’t share a cake you haven’t made, if you know what I mean. So I’m working on just making cake. And it seems to be working.

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Which is a confusing metaphor, probably, since I make a lot of literal cake in addition to metaphorical cake. This week’s is an unusual twist on an Internet trope. Instead of dessert disguised as breakfast, it’s breakfast disguised as dessert: buttermilk pancakes with nutella turned into a nifty layer cake. I subbed goat’s milk yogurt for buttermilk since it’s easier to find around here. It adds a slight earthiness to the tang, but isn’t a notable enough difference to shell out for goat yogurt if you don’t live in a place where it’s simply the easy way out.

I really liked this pancake recipe, as it makes for slightly chewy, fluffy pancakes rather than cakey, tender ones. Stacked up and spread with chocolate-y, hazelnut goodness and dusted with a snow of icing sugar, it’s classy enough to pass for cake even though it’s really just lazy Sunday brunch.IMG_2396

 

Recipe (assembly instructions really) follow…

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Afternoon Adventures and Cinnamon Squash Cake

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Yesterday I took myself on a mini field trip. It was partly a failed attempt to buy a government stamp to pay for my visa (which has been issued—hallelujah! Can you hear the bells ringing? Because I can.) that I get to pick up in Perigueux tomorrow, but I turned it into a sweet little afternoon outing. I wandered through town reading the opening and closing times of various establishments and concluding that all errands should be done between the hours of ten and noon on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I sometimes wonder how things get done in France. I stumbled onto a craft show that did happen to be open (and run by some British ladies), bought a felt owl to cover my phone, and strolled around snapping pictures with said phone. Later, I went down to the river to draw. And if you have Alison Krauss stuck in your head, I think it works because making things is a kind of prayer too, isn’t it? It’s a kind of looking for harmony and the internal calm and courage to let a thing or help a thing come into this world.

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I tried to take pictures by the river too, but I struggled a bit with my iPhone, which takes excellent photos when the light is perfect, and when the light is not perfect takes mostly overexposed nightmares or blurry frustrations. No luck with the river photos; I think the reflections puzzle my little Mac camera’s brain. But I did manage to get a shot of my favorite street in Montignac, which makes me chuckle every time I pass it, if only because the name feels a lot like my life a lot of the time: The Impasse of Sentiment. Feelings: you just have to live with them.

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My feelings lately are that I’m grateful that I have a little time to sit around and think about my feelings. To ask myself what images are for, what words are for, what food is for. To find out that my camera takes square pictures and knock myself out taking abstract-y photos of my feet and the tire marks in the town parking lot. I only posted one here—I don’t want to tire you guys out—but trust me, there are many. I’m grateful to get to stop and consider what this little internet space is for: what is does for me, what could be awesome if it does for others, what makes it work and what makes it not work so well.

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I realized that as much as time and organization keep me from showing up more or putting together posts that are more consistent or finished, there are also simple technical limitations. Like, as much I love my iPhone and its newfound capacity for square pictures, if I’m going to be subjecting people to my images all the time, I should maybe consider getting a decent camera. Not just for the viewer, but also for myself, to be able to construct a visual narrative more based on the story I’d like to share and less based on the few photos I managed to snap that are not atrocious.

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Ditto for food. While I admit that there is a diversity of reasons that keep me from posting recipes, two of the most frequent culprits are that my pictures are often deplorable and my recipes are hard to scale because I have very few pans that relate to anything standard. I’m learning a lot this week about how quandaries that feel complex in a busy mind can become rather simple when the mind is posed. As far as the blog goes, the basic prospect that arises is that if I really intend to develop this space as a platform for sharing and communication, I need to invest in it. Which is at once daunting and exciting (really good reasons to actually go to Ikea—buy a decent lamp for drawing. And a bundt pan!). Gonna let that simmer a bit more and see what comes to the top.

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Also, as you can see, I, um, cracked with my baking resolution. Butbut, I had to be in the kitchen for Lama anyway, and then Loïc brought home a potimarron from some one’s garden he’s helping with, and it’s almost starting to smell like autumn in the morning, and well, as much as I say I want to draw more and read more and study more and go outside more, and while away fewer of my hours in the kitchen, this cooking thing might be as ingrained in me as this art thing, and though I don’t really know what to do with that, I know that if you give me something that resembles pumpkin, you inevitably wind up with cake. Pre-autumny, afternoon snack-y, earthy, spicy cake.

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Recipe follows…

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The Algebra of Success

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Hello from calm. I almost forgot what this feels like. I’m sitting in the grass across from the prayer wheels. It’s twilight and the rock against my back is still warm with the day’s sun. I don’t hear a single human voice or see a single human form. Aside from the grinding of some one’s tires along the road, I would hardly know there are still people nearby.

The center’s closed for ten blissful days. Most of the volunteers have cleared out to visit former homes or have foreign adventures. The public is reduced to a few diehards who live nearby and come just to walk around the stupa or sit by themselves in the temple. There’s few enough people around that it’s possible to be alone out of doors, and somewhere other than the few square meters of my home. I thought about going to the ocean for a few days, but as much as I miss the smell of salt water and the way that only beach sand can burn your feet, I’m glad I stayed.

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It’s good to have time where, instead of adding new experiences and stimulus to work through, I can just reflect on everything I’m already busy living.

I’m trying to look at what, in the course of a day, decides how I spend my time and what, if I look at what I actually want to accomplish in my life, might change in how I spend my time. I discovered this truly awesome website called The Great Discontent that’s been really supporting my process. It’s an ongoing series of interviews with all different kinds of creative people about what they do and how they got where they are now. There’s a few people you’ve probably heard of (Cheryl Strayed, Emiliana Torrini), but it’s totally not a roster of superstars who have otherworldly success that us normal folks could hardly dream of. It’s real people explaining how they make creative passions into viable lives.

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And mostly they seem to say that you have to actually do the thing that you want to be successful at doing. Write if you want to write; paint if you want to paint; make music if you want to make music. The stories also emphasize a lot the importance of sharing and connecting with other people to allow your work to find its way into the world and reach the right audience. There’s also a pretty consistent narrative that even though you can, and pretty much will, succeed if you persevere, you will also be determinedly poor at some or multiple points and success will probably not be as stable as you hoped. But people who succeed are usually not doing it for the stability. Because another common thread is that all these people create for love. For love of doing it and for love of the offering that can be made of what we create.

So now I’m asking myself, “What do I want to create, and how much time can I set aside to pursue said creation?” I’m not doing it for the money at all, though I can’t deny a spark of a dream that someday I might be able to help finance the Institute or other dharma projects through creative work. I’m also not limiting my question to art-related creation. Just to clarify, for me, art refers to making anything that doesn’t have a technical application. If you want to nitpick the details of what that means, well…we can get into it another time. Take that as you will for the moment.

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My question works out to something like this: My goal is to prioritize certain activities because they englobe what I want to offer in the world. If I were leading a more traditional lifestyle, that would mean figuring out how to make a living doing whatever it is I want to do. But since the bulk of my energy is geared toward developing the activity of Dhagpo and Karmapa, Shamar Rinpoche, and Jigme Rinpoche, my question becomes, “How can I develop the activities that help me develop individually so that they are also activities that directly benefit the causes and pursuits to which my life, and the precious hours of my days, are tied?”

Answers are…rich with possibility. And incertitude. The trending idea is basically that I have to develop these activities in whatever ways already exist within the context of my responsibilities at Dhagpo and whatever temporary opportunities pop up, but also that I have to seriously pursue my projects on my own time so that their value can become apparent and applicable. This means creating finished work. Finished pieces of writing. Finished drawings, paintings, hell, series if I’m really serious. And then getting the work out into the world. And on the non-art side of things, it means studying, meditating, and presenting what I’ve understood enough that that too can become a part of my legit activity, otherwise known as teaching.

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I guess it’s pretty obvious. It’s the knuts and bolts that are tricky. But even if the basic outline is fairly self-evident, there’s something galvanizing about writing out the blueprint. Doing so peels back the layers of drama and identity-crisis that so often go with reaching for a goal. In the end, it’s not really about me and my passion or my potential. It’s just a simple equation: a Jourdie in this life has x and y nature. You naturally have to divide them by x and y activity to cancel the whole thing out and finish with emptiness, aka Buddha nature. I’m making algebra out of the path to enlightenment. Usually math makes me shudder. I guess I must be onto something.

Nutella Swirl Brioche And A Kitchen Hiatus

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Um, so. Let’s talk about bodies. Get your mind out of the gutter! This discussion is purely practical.

Bodies are pretty great. They anchor us in time and space, and give us the stability to keep track of our experiences and thus make some kind of sense of how things work. Our minds, our bodies themselves, and both of these in relation to the world around us. Plus, bodies have other added benefits too. They let us experience beauty. The beauty of human contact, of course, and many other kinds of beauty too. Food, music, sport, art, nature, you name it.

The case for bodies being awesome is pretty good. But bodies have downsides too. They’re pretty vulnerable and not very durable. They get tired; they get sick; they get old. Eventually they crap out and die. In that sense, bodies are kind of a raw deal, aren’t they. But, being as we don’t have much choice in the matter as to whether we want a body or not, the question is, as ever, what to do?

IMG_2247Through history, humans have tested a whole range of approaches, from the Hedonists to the Ascetics. Over here in my little corner, I’m just trying to make the best of things. Trying to use this body to learn as much as I can and give as much as I can. I try (trryyy…eet’s not so eeeasy) not to go running after beauty, but just to truly appreciate what comes my way and use it as a reminder that beings are, indeed, capable of understanding and communicating with one another. I sometimes have doubts about this point, so it’s good to have confirmation. Feeling moved by what some one else has created serves for this.

And when my body has a hard time and gets tired and sick, I try to be patient and not get too grumpy about it. I would like to be able to say, “I try to take care of my body and give it what it needs to get better.” But I don’t think that’s particularly true. I generally relate to my body as being vulnerable and temporary, and rather than having sympathy for its weaknesses, I treat them like unfortunate side effects of the whole mortality thing and, um, mostly just ignore them.

But, after the last few months, I have to consider that the combination of pressure, lack of sleep, and a lot of time spent in the kitchen around interesting food leads to complications for a body that has difficulty digesting and assimilating…who really knows but it feels like anything at this point. I hate to get into health issues because I start to feel like the cranky old Jewish-Chinese lady that, with any luck, I will someday live to be, and also because it’s not my goal to complain. Well, maybe it is a little bit.

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It’s hard to know what a body needs. It’s hard to know what to change that will actually help. It’s hard to know how much of this is sickness and how much of this is just having a body and not being nice enough to it. I’ve cut out a lot of things at one point or another, and one thing I know makes a difference is sugar. Hard to know whether it’s the magical, mythical substance itself or the excess that becomes suddenly unavailable when you take it off the table (pun intended). In any case, whether it’s sugar or just the wealth of instant gratification available in a busy kitchen, it’s time for a sabbatical.

I made this brioche for a friend from out of town. She came to help out at Dhagpo in July, and I promised I’d make her a cake if she’d come back for her birthday. The cake was a ploy; we’re hoping she’ll stay, but that’s another story. The story for today is this: This brioche is great. It’s visually elegant but otherwise homey. It’s dense and rich and filled with chemical, store-bought deliciousness. I call it cheater brioche because the removal of salt, the addition of extra yeast, and the adaptation to melted butter render it make-able in a quick morning, rather than the standard overnight agony of proper brioche. Basically, it’s a win. It’s also the last recipe I’ll be posting for the uncertain future because, well…bodies. Time to look after this one. I’m taking a break from the kitchen.

Recipe follows…

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