Gal Pals and Banana Peels

October 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

In this new city, I’ve seen some strange things. An abandoned la-Z-boy laying upside down on a sandbar down by the river. A plaid-shirted man with graying shoulder-length hair, combed down over his face, doing laps around the downtown skyscrapers as if in a daze. A sky filled with crows cawing and swooping and reminding me of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, “The Birds.” Where is this strange new place where men walk about blinded by their own hair? Where people will occasionally dump a piece of furniture, not on the curb, but on the bank of the river? Where birds on the wing plot their attack on these strange and unsuspecting civilians? I’ve taken to calling this place “Odd-Chester,” though you might know it as Rochester, Minnesota. Or “Med City,” home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic.

And…my home now, too. I’m living the dream: writing full-time and (important distinction here)—getting paid to do it.

I moved to Rochester during the second to last week of August, and, in the mayhem of transition, I’ve neglected my baking blog. Oh, I’ve been eating my fair share of baked goods, but blogging about them? Not so much. I had half a mind to blog about the blueberry cheesecake bread that a coworker kindly bought and left in the office cafĂ© for ravenous colleagues to manhandle, but my plans were foiled by…laziness and sticky blueberry-cream-cheese fingers.

This weekend, however—this lovely autumn weekend—I baked my first batch of cookies in my teensy-weensy little oven. This hallmark moment absolutely begged to be blogged about. Let me recount: It all began yesterday, a sickeningly gorgeous Saturday morning, complete with pooling sunshine, chirping birds, and tumbling orange leaves… …Which I chose to block out by pulling the blinds.

I did like the way the sun streamed into the kitchen though. I’d intended to just read my novel and drink a pot of coffee, but instead, I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be nice to have fresh baked cookies when my friends show up? Because—oh yes—my two good gal pals, Ash and Jill, were making solo drives, each of them, from Plymouth and Iowa City, respectively, to see little old me and play catch-up.

What to bake, I wondered. I glanced around the kitchen, which takes all of 2 seconds. (My kitchen is quite small—the perfect size for a single gal to occupy.) My eyes fell upon…bananas. And, Medjool dates (one of the great loves in my life). I happen to know a recipe for banana-date cookies. They’re quite cake-like, which makes them seem more like muffin tops or pseudo-scones rather than cookies. But what they lack in traditional cookie look and feel, they more than make up for in flavor. Mashed over-ripe bananas, diced sweet-sweet dates, cinnamon, and brown sugar…

I set to work baking for the first time in my apartment. Bare feet on hardwood floor. Sweatpants. Crisp fall air crawling under open window. Cloud of cinnamon. Sound of eggs cracking, metallic beaters buzzing and clicking against the glass bowl. It’s so satisfying to begin the morning with a project—and furthermore—to fill the air with intoxicating aroma. I’ve been thinking more about how I operate, what fulfills me: How my inner machine ticks and turns and clicks and clacks. The mechanics of how I function, making me wonder how all my little decisions and innate inklings have led me here: standing in a kitchen in South Eastern Minnesota mashing bananas and settling into a new writing job. At work, the editorial team took the Strength Finder Test.

It’s an online test that, after you’ve answered a half hour’s worth of questions, identifies your top five strengths. It’s pretty cool, actually, and is intended to help us better understand one another while learning to work together more effectively. At the moment though, it’s mostly just provoking ego-happy self analysis. These kinds of tests always have this effect on me—this turning-inward effect.

“I am infinitely strange to myself,” John Fowles said…

My top strength, according to Strength Finder is called “input.” Basically, this means that I’m a scavenger, a collector, a ravenous devourer of facts, foods, peoples, ideas, places. It’s an appetite to absorb. A greed for information. I know with every wheel and cog of my internal clockwork that this diagnosis is true. But, I wonder, how is it a strength?

I ponder this as I sketch my banana-date cookies in my journal: It’s fascinating, actually, how every single one of us—given Situation X—will respond in an individuated, hyper-nuanced way. Depending on the challenge, strengths or weaknesses will rise to the surface.

I’ve sometimes thought that I could do anything I set my mind to—and while this is arguably true for most of us, I think—there are certain things my mind latches onto easier than others. Put a box of odds and ends from Ax Man in my lap and I’ll have a ball photographing these disparate parts. But hand me something that’s broken—say my point and shoot camera, while we’re on the subject of photography—and I’ll become stressed and frustrated. My limbs turn to lead. I’m not interested in fixing this puzzle; I don’t have a strategic mind.

I’m all input, I’m happy to say. And on Saturday, I was ready to in-put some banana-date cookies in-to my stomach. They turned out beautifully, by the way. Chewy and fluffy—similar to the pumpkin-walnut cookies that Ash gave me a sample of a couple weeks ago. I was glad that I’d be able to reciprocate the gesture with my little B&Ds: I spent the entire morning baking and lounging, listening to some new CDs I’d checked out at the Rochester Public Library. (I love M83‘s album “Saturdays=Youth.”) My gals showed up around noon, unloading grocery bags and sleeping accoutrement into a cookie-scented apartment.

I won’t delve into all the details of the girl talk, the boy talk, the grad school buzz, the work and internship chatter… But, I will say that my lady friends sure know how to cook! I wish I had photographed the apple-pear-pecan-cheddar salad Ash made upon arrival for lunch! I was able to capture the vegetable tart that Jill made for a late-night feast: Being able to bounce ideas, to voice the curling question marks inside my head, and to tease apart these bigger puzzles…what are my strengths…does it make sense that I’m here…am I making the most of my 20s…am I on the right track, headed in the right direction?

Talking with the friends who know you best is good for settling some of those incessant quandaries.

I wished aloud that Ash and Jill lived one floor up or down from me and that we could cook and visit every weekend like this. I guess our seeing one another is just something we’ve got to capitalize on whenever our busy schedules align (rare). Cooking delicious things, sharing stories, and reminding each other of unique talents, skills, strengths, jokes, …and recipes. Great first baking experience in this new chapter/kitchen.(This is an autumnal photo of us holding pumpkins; Ash is holding a miniature potato.)

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