The Village

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Fifteen people helped me function normally yesterday. I probably only know ten of their names, and I’d only really call five of them friends, but nevertheless, these days, all 15 are essential. See, I broke my collarbone on the Fourth of July. It was a classic bike accident—despite enough city riding to have a solid awareness of the problem, I fell for the old bike tire in the railroad tracks trick—but it’s left me with 3 good breaks and a not-so-classic problem: how does one cook with just the non-dominant hand?

The truth is, I haven’t been cooking. Or typing for more than ten minutes at a time, or exercising, or lifting my 44-pound child, or putting him into the car, or getting him out of the car, or bathing either of us if not absolutely necessary. This was all well and good when my husband was home, mostly waiting on me, but he’s off to sea again, so I’m either begging for help or learning to do things a little differently. Here are the fancy things I can do with just my newly promoted right hand: open jars (if braced properly between my hip and the counter), pick herbs off their stems, pour wine, slice cheese badly, make scrambled eggs, help my son pee on someone’s lawn because I can’t carry him inside in time, clean up after my cat’s mousing habits, put on anything with an elastic waistband, sit in a boat holding liquor while other people drag crabs off the bottom of the ocean, use an ice cream scoop, win at corn hole, pick up my telephone.

Here’s what my right hand can’t handle: cracking eggs, writing, wiping my child’s face, helping my child walk, pulling my child’s pants up, putting on make-up. When I’m alone, I just deal; I do things that I probably shouldn’t, like make my son’s lunch, or cut a nectarine, or put on sandals with two hands, or (the worst idea ever) dry my hair. But watch out; if you walk into my home’s general vicinity, you’ll get nabbed. Which means that yesterday, for example, members of the fantastic crew rebuilding our basement helped me get my kid into and out of the car. My neighbor’s daughter came over to water the garden, cut food and do dishes, put Graham’s shoes on, get him into the car while he threw a tantrum, and then later, when he finally sacked out, carry him into bed. One friend undressed my child for swimming lessons; another redressed him when the lessons were over. Graham’s therapist put on his shoes, and the preschool teachers helped me navigate transportation details into and out of his school. Mark carried my coffee when my useful hand was full. The baristas at Top Pot offered me ice for my injury. Whole Foods made me lunch. Jackie wiped the construction dust out of my house. And later, when Graham was finally asleep, I poured the rosé all by myself.

Today will be a totally different cast of helpers. Richie will probably get the kiddo into the car again—hear hear, Moms, hire a builder who’s had six kids—and the process will start anew. I’ll go back to the coffee shop where the barista knows how to put my barrette in, and to the gym, where I’ll ask a random old lady to help me put on my clothes in exchange for her bad collarbone stories. Tami will bring dinner and Dan will wrangle 3 kids at bath time. JJ, a guy I’ve never met, will pick up the tile for the downstairs for me, because it would be silly to lift all 3,000 pounds’ worth when I can’t drink out of a Nalgene bottle with either hand, and my in-laws will collect a week’s worth of laundry to take back to their place, because, naturally, the washer and dryer in the basement are disconnected and the plumbing is a bit spotty these days.

The whole experience has made me feel like a tornado of need, traveling through every village of friends that’s ever helped me, leaving a trail of appreciation and debt two (left) arms wide and three dinners deep. And since, for me, the path to paying it forward has always started in the kitchen, it feels like a rather irresponsible way to live.

Curiously, breaking my collarbone hasn’t seemed to impact my whining ability in the slightest. I seem to tolerate alcohol just fine, and I’m perhaps a bit better at sitting still to watch sports (although now that the Tour de France has finished, I may consider rescinding that claim). But two weeks ago, when the novelty of breaking what shouldn’t break was still all new and shiny, I was being very tough and resilient. Which is why, five days after my all-too-dramatic crash, but two full weeks before I could comfortably type, I made cookies.

I’m not normally one for contests, but Drew laid it out flat: this wasn’t a bake-off. This was a “cookie on,” because no one was allowed to enter unless they promised to get their cookie on for reals. I’d committed to entering the week before the Fourth, when Drew—another patient with (much more severe) cerebral palsy at Graham’s therapy center—had announced over her sparkle-tied Chucks that I was invited to join.

When I was out flat after the Fourth, slathered between ice like a freshly-caught salmon while my family stripped the basement naked in preparation for all that construction, I privately resigned from the contest. But the day before the cookies were due, I saw Drew again. She’s a gorgeous, spunky, bright-eyed, smartly dressed kid heading into 7th grade at the top of her class. She has severe cerebral palsy. She’s still learning to talk, walk, and write. Yet somehow, despite unimaginable obstacles, she cooks. She has major opinions about what tastes good and what doesn’t. And she wanted me to enter. How can you tell a girl who can’t stand at a counter that a broken bone is stopping you from turning on an electric mixer?

Good butter

I started with 3 sticks’s worth of butter, because it meant opening a single large package of butter instead of multiple smaller ones. I weighed instead of measuring wherever possible, because my right hand’s dexterity hadn’t yet gone through its latent puberty. It was so awkward. I made a hell of a mess. But in the end, I wound up with crunchy, chewy cookies with the tang of summer cherries.  I was satisfied.

My entry was the first on the cookie table the next day. Graham and I left the therapy center, and I waited. And waited. I never got to see the other cookies, but I felt like I’d made a good specimen. But alas, among the plethora of categorized prizes available—prettiest cookie, best-named cookie, tastiest cookie, etc.—I got nothing. Well, except an honorable mention, for Best One-Armed Baker.

I get it. Nothing beats a Husband Getter. (When Stephanie tells me what exactly a Husband Getter is, perhaps I’ll be able to explain why she won.) I never tasted that, or what Drew made, or what Drew’s mom made, but they were apparently all wayyyy better than mine. I’m working hard to avoid losing confidence over a cookie-baking contest instigated by a 12-year-old. And I get that I should have added chocolate, even if it might have meant figuring out how to axe into a block of Callebaut with my non-dominant hand.

But what I also get, as I dole out lumpy scoops of dough every other day from the bucket in the refrigerator when the need for a cookie calls, is that no matter how annoyed I get about needing and asking for help, I’m both lucky to be whole and lucky to have a village. And I understand that I’ll have ask and ask and ask for help, and be okay with it, until this whole episode is over, which, someday, it will be.

And some day, when I’m all patched up and she’s perhaps a little older, I’ll ask Drew how she does such a good job giving back with just her smile, and how she’s okay with not giving back sometimes. Because if there’s ever a contest to get your gracefulness on, or to get your spark on, or to get your ability to inspire people 25 years your senior on, those are the ones she’ll win.

Super-Powered Cherry-Millet Oatmeal Cookies (PDF)

These cookies have a distinct advantage over every single other cookie recipe I’ve made before: they can be made with one hand. My apologies if you don’t have a scale to measure out the dry ingredients properly. You’ll understand, I hope, that since Hogwash is about food and life, there is naturally a category for recipes made with a broken collarbone.

If you have the pleasure of the use of both of your arms AND a food scale, add a couple handfuls of chopped dark chocolate to the mix right at the end.

Makes: About 4 dozen

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
350 grams/12 1/2 ounces all-purpose gluten-free flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
150 grams/5 ounces old-fashioned oats
100 grams/3 1/2 ounces raw millet
1/2 pound dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whip again on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides occasionally.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the machine on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the mixer in a few separate additions, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the oats, millet, and cherries, and mix on low until evenly distributed, scraping the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop (or a big cereal spoon), form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are browned but the centers are still light. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, transfer to racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough.

Cookies are best eaten the same day.

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9 Comments

Filed under Cookies, gluten-free, grains

9 responses to “The Village

  1. dlmasterson

    Jess, Thanks for the post. I was just starting to wonder if I had been unsubscribed from Hogwash. Sorry for the pain and incapacitation. It sounds like you have handled this with the same aplomb and good spirit with which you handle all the challenges of life. Hope you are feeling better, take it easy and look forward to seeing you at a book signing soon.

  2. Freya

    When I had bone surgery on my wrist, this is how I learned to put on my work pants:
    - pull them up to the waist
    - lean against the bed to hold them up there
    - step on the cuffs or hold them with my toes
    - pull up the fly
    - place the button over the buttonhole
    - get one edge of the button through said buttonhole and then work my way around with my fingers

    This method does not work with my beloved tight jeans. But increasing the options of things I could wear increased my mood dramatically.

    I also heartily recommend putting a cushion down to rest your arm on so you can get it out of the sling/support for a little. I took one in to work so I could comfortably type one handed with no weight pulling anywhere and it was awesome. But typing one-handed is very very difficult and requires much practice :-P

  3. oh jess, i’ve been out of pocket for weeks and not reading much electronic information, and so am just getting here. i wish i were there to help you with all the things. e and i could sleep on your couch, and though i can’t lift graham (five months pregnant, and they frown on lifting more than 35 pounds, apparently) i can dress everyone and make y’all food and clean up. good work allowing the village to help you. that’s a skill, to be sure. wish i could be a local part of your village. good luck, friend. sending love.

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