russian tea cakes and a bookish monologue

I am an obsessive person. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now. Not OCD per se – there are no fidgety habits or rituals that must be performed in any semblance of routine – but, perhaps, passionate. About anything and everything that strike my fancy.

What I’m saying is: I don’t half-ass my interests. If I love something – a novel, a song, a movie, a TV series, a period of history or news article – I want everyone else to love it, too. It’ll be on my mind for hours upon hours, stretching into days and weeks. Not necessarily for incredibly long periods of time; I enjoy them for the days and weeks (and years, if it’s BBC Sherlock) that they’re a part of my life, and can look back on them in fondness months after the rush has dissipated.

It’s like metaphorical overdoses of oxytocin about anything of interest. Which is both psychologically disturbing and kind of odd, since I’ve been told time and time again that my outward appearance is that of avery stoic, very serious, calm and quasi-apathetic cynic. I am, in actuality, few of those things.

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Well, okay, I am most of those things. But Noosh can attest that my obsessive tendencies would veer on the side of social embarrassment if they were ever made public. (Or, more public, I suppose, digital social sphere aside.) So, perhaps my subconscious mind recognizes this and represses it all whenever I step foot out of the apartment. In any case, I obsess. And one obsession that I’ve noticed does not seem to be dissipating any time in the near future (or, ever) is buying things online.

It’s just…so easy. I have both credit and debit card numbers memorized so that I can shop online during lulls in work. Which I don’t do often, mind, but back when I was working 7-hour days over the summer… let’s just say there were many new cookbooks to be had. The UPS guys who come to our apartment have ceased leaving notes on my door for when they come by (which they must have done the first 30 visits) and instead very surreptitiously stick boxes and parcels under our welcome mat (plot twist: it’s the farthest thing from surreptitious effort I’ve ever seen – more like going home to a hefty box at your doorstep with a welcome mat lying hilariously on top of it – but no one has stolen any of my books on the slow food movement or world politics yet, so it must be working). The second a paycheck is deposited in my bank account, I get onto my Amazon wishlist and add the equivalent amount of the cheapest things (frugality is a character trait, not a financial tool) to my basket for immediate check-out.

To top it all off, 90% of the money I spend can be categorized into three departments: food, shoes, and books. Food would comprise a hefty 50% of the aforementioned 90, books about 40, and shoes at 10.

Food, given. You know me. There is no explanation needed. I spend about $30 a week on overpriced coffee alone. Shoes, well, let’s just say that wanting a new pair of shoes can never put a damper on your self-esteem. I have many pairs. In every color and size imaginable. And I wear maybe 4 of them a year. (It’s a problem. Kind of like the scarves. But it’s been a good few months since the last scarf, and I figure a collection of about 50 is sufficient for one lifetime [or, at least until the summer].)

Books, though, are a slight area of concern. The problem with them is that they’re the perfect vessel to fuel my other, fleeting obsessions. Meaning, I have a book on almost every topic imaginable. (Okay, so I have a distinct lack of romance fiction, because I can’t be the least bit bothered with love stories, and there’s not much I own in the way of East Asian history or contemporary literature. Feudal Japan and samurai culture have been high on my list of interests as of late, though, so I’m sure there will be a book [or 4] on the way soon enough.) Curious about Sherlock Holmes? No problem. I’ve got two sets of Sir ACD’s complete collection, a book on the philosophy of Sherlock Holmes, the official-unofficial Sherlock Holmes cookbook, and an annotated collection of Sir Doyle’s personal correspondence.

In other words: I’ve got you covered, bro.

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Russian Tea Cakes
Adapted from allrecipes
Yields about 36 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar, for coating

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream butter and vanilla on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed and add in flour and sugar. Mix until just blended. Stir in the chopped nuts.

Using your hands, roll balls of dough about 1 inch in diameter and place them evenly on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space in between. Lightly press down the tops of the cookies with the back of a spoon to flatten a bit. Bake for 12 minutes. Move cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Gently roll cooled cookies in confectioner’s sugar to coat. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Notes:

  • This is an older recipe, though is quite timeless in taste and loveliness. I made them about a year ago for a dear friend’s 21st birthday. He turned 22 a few days ago, though these did not accompany the book I mailed him for the occasion this year. In any case, they are lovely to munch on while flipping through a novel with a mug of tea for company.
  • These are 100% not gluten-free.

Books

My parents moved – for the first time in about a decade – to a new, larger house two summers ago. It was a customized sort of deal; meaning, mum designed it her way so that we could fit a 10-foot island in our kitchen. (I come from a household of passionate eaters.) Anyway, upon deciding that she wanted a pseudo-library to showcase her interest in academia, she has an entire room devoted to floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Let it be known that her interest in academia begins and ends purely in the metaphysical realm, which means that every single book on those shelves is one that I purchased over the course of the past five years.

Or at least, the ones I’ve managed to lug home from my apartment, which was done less with the intention of easing the moving-out process than clearing the shelf above my desk for fear that 300 books would come crashing down on my head in a perfect game-of-jenga-gone-wrong fashion. Three-hundred-plus books later, the shelves are almost full, there are about 150 still in my apartment bedroom (not counting the 80 cookbooks in the living room), and I just put in an order for 8 new books after I woke up this morning.

Which I purchased from my iPhone. While still in bed.

See now, I’m not trying to show off this collection. It’s not actually that impressive of a collection, and showing off would be name-dropping (Sherlock-inspired novels aside) a list of all the ones I’ve read and pride myself on having broadened my perspective on history, culture, and fiction spanning the Middle Ages to 2012’s Time’s Top Ten. But, no. I am under no delusions whatsoever. I have read approximately 7% of the novels I own. It’s a work in progress, but it’s definitely the buying – and not the reading – that I’m addicted to.

That doesn’t seem like such a big problem, right? It’s like building a lifetime of knowledge that you just haven’t explored quite yet. But sometimes, it feels like I’ll never get through them all, and that to me is a terrifying thought. There’s so much history and genius woven into the thousands of pages of books – not only on the shelves in my mum’s study or stacked high around the apartment, but the ones lining the cases of library stacks and bookshops, used and new – that the thought of not exposing oneself to all of it… It makes me sad beyond reason. And it’s not like the irrational sadness would go away if I stopped buying them. I’d just think about them. And pine for them. And run my fingers forlornly over their spines during spontaneous trips to Barnes & Noble. And eventually cave and buy them anyway.

But, oddly, there’s a source of comfort there, too. Having them sitting on a shelf, waiting patiently to be picked up and read and studied and remembered and loved; waiting for me to make time for them. And there’s something empowering about it, too, knowing that there’s so much knowledge at your disposal that can easily be gleaned if you care enough. And sadder still, a reminder that not everyone has that capability, even if they’d want it. Girls like Malala Yousafzai who are – in the minds of those I never hope to understand – prohibited from attending school, despite a fierce passion for learning and studying and knowing about the world and its history and its wonders.

It’s humbling.

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I’ve read a lot these past few years, much of it as a result of courses that I’ve taken. But they’ve been bigger than the books on my syllabus. A class on Borges’ literature that opened my eyes to the philosophy and decadence of his era; one in the department of European history that taught me that I really do, wholeheartedly, find Marx’s writing an incomprehensible jumble of brilliance and genius that I will never fully understand; one on Urdu poetry that I enrolled in 3 days ago that, already, has shown me the beauty and history behind a language and culture that I was raised speaking and living. A generations-old product of, not only the Mughal Empire, but the Mongols who paved the way, enlightened thinkers in 15th century Italy who modernized the intellectual history of the world, the Arab and Persian writers who revived Classical texts that would have been lost to that world otherwise, down to the philosophers who wrote them and inspired my field of study in its entirety. Years of wars and politics, memoirs and fiction, science and innovation, and above it all we are each a small representation.

But not insignificant. Never insignificant. And hopefully, one day I’ll read enough to understand that.

I’m not quite sure where this post came from, to be honest, particularly on a blog that is supposed to be about food. A lot of it, I think, has to do with my deteriorating mental state à la thesis. (But, hey, I’ve thrown in a delicious recipe for good measure.) I just started writing and it carried me away on its own course, spinning and spiraling out of control without any regard for how much or little you, dear reader, would care.

That’s the problem and blessing of blogging. No one’s here to shut me up. But my thoughts, as John Green once wrote, “are stars that I cannot fathom into constellations.” I just write, and sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes I can put them into words.

But usually, I can’t.

So instead I sit and read, like the very stoic, very serious, calm and quasi-apathetic cynic that I am.

And, you know, I’m okay with that.

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2 thoughts on “russian tea cakes and a bookish monologue

  1. ! Hey! I’ve never seen anybody else even mention Russian tea cakes! I saw the link on Inn at the Crossroads and had to click through to see if our recipes were similar.

    They are. :)

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