“Be with what is,” directed my yoga instructor at a class two Sundays ago. I smirked out loud and rolled my eyes at my husband from downward dog, half laughing at her self-righteous yogic tone, and tried unsuccessfully to cover it up with fake cough. Be, she repeated more slowly (now she’s onto me!), with what is.
That afternoon, when the seven bags of garden mulch I schlepped home from the hardware store turned out to be moldy, her words crept back into my brain. “Be with what is,” I said to the mulch, and ruled out the option of harassing the hardware store guys more than absolutely necessary. Sure, I had to make a second trip to exchange it, but really, what could I do?
These last two weeks have been busy, packed with people, and it’s become sort of a mantra. I’ve seen many friends, felt many of the warm, knowing, comforting hugs that make having friends so important. We talked weddings and births and deaths, adventures and boredom and problems and triumphs. I burst into tears on the way to REI once, overwhelmed by the telling of life in the comfortable presence of a dear friend, and in that moment I was silently grateful to have so many wonderful people to count on.
It’s been so much. So much energy, so much time, so many sheets to change. Somehow, though, balancing people and work and my own limitations has been easier these days. I’m not sure why, but I have a feeling my little yoga chant is helping. It’s quite convenient, really. I think it would make a good television advertisement, if I had any feeling for what those sound like: Facing a deadline you know you’re going to have trouble making? Don’t panic. Just be. It is. Cat puked on the rug? The rug is now a different color. Be with the slightly different rug.
It translates quite well to the kitchen environment.
Last weekend I conjured up a deep-dish strawberry-rhubarb pie in my mind, made with the season’s best of both – strawberries from a farmer’s market and rhubarb from the new growth on our plants in the backyard. I’d give it a very lightly sweetened cornmeal crust and bake it in a small springform pan, so it had tall, squared-off sides like a cheesecake and a full pastry top. I couldn’t wait to cut a strawberry-shaped hole out of the center of its top and watch the sticky pink juice ooze from it.
Then, a friend asked for a recipe for a fruity something with a cornmeal top or bottom. I thought it was meant to be. I ran out and bought some conventional strawberries from a big grocery store; I couldn’t wait until market day. So unlike me.
But yesterday when I made the crust, a not-quite-typical version pulsed in the food processor with eggs and sour cream, I lost the pie vibe. I wrapped the dough in a sheet of wax paper to chill, knowing it was a bit too wet for a proper pie crust. To test it, I rolled a little chunk of it into a ball, sprinkled it with raw sugar, and baked it off, the way I’d planned to treat the top of the pie.
The little dough trial came out, a cornmeal cookie, and I ate it hot: a cornmeal shortbread, almost, like the best corn muffin top in the world, only more buttery, sprinkled with crunchy sugar and still moist in the middle.
The dough was too good plain. I opened the refrigerator and squinted hard at two pounds of steroidal strawberries, wondering what I’d do with them if I didn’t put them in the pie. My brain ping-ponged between my choices: Dough is good. Cookies are dynamite. But strawberries need to be used. Be with what is, a voice said. The dough is so good. So I rolled the dough into little cookie balls and surrounded them with sugar, and when they came out of the oven, puffed and sparkling, I knew I’d made the right choice.
That pie may still come, and the crust won’t be all that different. But it’s just not ready to be yet.
Recipe for Cornmeal Sparklers
Recipe 178 of 365
Like a cross between cornmeal shortbread and corn muffins, these sparkly, sugar-crusted cookies are cute and addictive, crunchy on the outside but buttery enough to melt in your mouth. For something more like a snickerdoodle, add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the flour before mixing the dough, and sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top right as they come out of the oven.
TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 3 dozen cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces each
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
Turbinado sugar (large crystal raw sugar), about 1 cup
Pulse the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar together in the food processor until blended. Add the butter, and pulse 20 times, or until the butter is the size of small peas. Whisk the water, sour cream, and egg together in a measuring cup (it should total about a cup of liquid). Turn the machine on, and add the liquid in a slow, steady stream; the dough should ball up almost immediately.
Dump the dough onto a large piece of wax paper (the dough will seem quite wet), wrap, and chill until firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.
Working quickly, roll tablespoon-sized piece of dough into balls, roll the balls in the turbinado sugar to coat on all sides, and place on the baking sheets about 1 1/2” apart. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cookies are firm in the center and barely beginning to brown on the bottom.
Cool cookies 5 minutes on pans, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.