Groups, Things That Grow, and Hazelnut Quince Financiers

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Phase two of massive planning meetings. This week has been spent in daily “ateliers,” sessions of group brainstorm and systematic formulation of ideas related to themes of importance for the center, so far: axes of development, organizational infrastructure, and human resources.

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These are good things. Things that are massively important to reflect on as Dhagpo enters a new stage of development ushered in by the completion of the Institute. And it’s absolutely incredibly to take part and to find myself in a community where all voices have space to be heard.

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Also, it’s really exhausting. Focusing intensely on issues of importance at the same time as navigating group communication, listening to others, and then distilling frequently dissident—respectful but irreversibly opposite—voices into an organized and comprehensible vision of said issue…erm, need I say more? I’m in starfish-on-a-rock mode, if you know what I mean. Relatively dried-out, flailing one arm in a weak attempt to work my way back to water.

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I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we all are. And I can only imagine how the members of the planning committee feel; they’ve been doing this for weeks and are spending twice as many hours a day doing it as the rest of us. And yet, no one’s really complaining. This is what it takes to move forward, to let things grow. Hard work, patience, and a commitment to staying reasonable, focused, and confident of the goal in the face of whatever obstacles may arise.

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I don’t know how others are handling it, but for my part, I’m taking time to cultivate softness around all of the agitation and exhaustion that can come up in this process. I spent yesterday evening by myself in the kitchen, chopping quinces and cracking hazelnuts, focusing on the resistance of batter against wooden spoon as I stirred, feeling grateful that even in moments when I don’t want to talk to anyone anymore, there are still ways to connect with those around me. To share sweetness and offer comfort, to lighten the mood and acknowledge togetherness, to raise an eyebrow to being mutually grateful and a little over it, all without saying a word.

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I am too tired to explain in detail what makes these little cakes so amazing. Basically they are great. Really, really. I almost never make a recipe twice, but ever so occasionally I find something so good that’s its crave-worthy and becomes a staple of my repertoire. This is that. The depth of the hazelnuts plus the tanginess of the quince. The moist, but slightly hefty crumb. Not too sweet, but enough that you’re satisfied that you’ve eaten dessert. Basically, I’m sold. Now I just have to stay at Dhagpo for the rest of my life so I can always have fresh hazelnuts and quinces right off the tree.

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Autumn Comes Early, With Steamed Veggies and Hazelnut Mustard Pesto

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Yesterday morning, we all sloshed into the community room for breakfast under grey skies that reached right down to the ground in sheets of rain. Nybou declared, “Well, the Dordogne’s eight months of winter begin.” I may have paled a little. It’s not even autumn yet, and the weather here resembles deepest winter in Santa Barbara. Okay, so I kid a little. I’m well aware that there’s no such thing as winter in Santa Barbara, by general weather standards. And I’ve lived through proper winters in New York and Massachusetts.

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This will be a new kind of winter though. It’s in the woods for one thing, and it’s sort of…medium cold. As our dear Nybou elaborated, ever encouraging, “Don’t think you’re going to have a beautiful white winter. Oh no. On occasion, you’ll get two days of snow. Ohlala! And then four days of ice. Followed by ten days of mud. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, and every September, I think, ‘wait, really?’ Don’t worry, you won’t get used to it.”

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Ha. Perhaps I won’t get used to it. But after years of ever-temperate winters and sunny Decembers, I welcome a change. I always wanted an excuse to hunker in the winter. To hole up with innumerable cups of tea and chapters of books and crocheted hats. To become soft and quiet and reflective. To build a slow cache of ideas and energy and ponderings in preparation for the bursting open and flowering of spring and summer.

IMG_1893And to nourish. Cold, wet, gray winter is a time to eat warm, rich foods. To crowd around tables bathed in yellow light, steam up windows with familial warmth, and revel in the goodness of food and friends as the ground grows chilled.

Recipe follows…

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