Cooking is always the thing that saves me. I cannot say for sure why it is. Could it be that there is some rhythm in the sifting and measuring, the stirring and tasting, that brings me back to myself? Is it the comfort of a process that can be followed, and that can, for the most part, result in something tangible and real? The alchemy of separate things — of various powders and liquids — coming together and transforming themselves? Maybe it is partly all of these things. Maybe it is none of them. Maybe it something deeper, that I cannot express.
Writing is different. There are times, very occasionally, when writing is perfect in the way that nothing else can be — like when it snows and the world seems to fall into perfect alignment. Everything is white and clean and full of a graceful beauty — as though the world has been brought into sudden focus for the very first time; you can see the constellation of some pattern that was hitherto invisible. Sometimes writing is like that. But most of the time, it is more like having a piece of sand in my eye, or a hair at the back of my throat: an unquenchable desire to express something that I can never quite seem to express. A persistent itch that never goes away, that I am as powerless to ignore as I am to soothe.
Sometimes, it is worse than a grain of sand. It is more like a shard of glass — something raw and painful that somehow easier just to bear and to live with, then to try and extract. At those times, I can’t write. I can’t touch whatever it is that has lodged itself into my skin, because it is too tender to touch. We shroud ourselves in silence, do we not? We protect ourselves that way.
Coming back from England has been like that, coming back home — I have needed to be silent. It feels ridiculous to say that I am in mourning for a place, but there is nothing else for it but to say so. It is the truth. I miss England so much at times that there is a physical ache in my chest. So there is that, the mourning for a real physical place. But also, there is another mourning, which is less easy to explain. The curious disorientation that occurs when you come back to the place you grew up. You find in all instances, a sense of things being off — either in yourself or in your world: one or the other has changed. You feel you are simultaneously 5 and 16 and 30. You are a child where you want to be an adult, and an adult when you want to be a child. And every where you look there is the collision of memory and reality. There is the cold hard fact of absence that must be contended with — closets full of clothing that will never again be worn, silence where there used to be the familiar tread of footsteps. There are the relationships that are forever altered, and will never again be the way you remembered them. When we return home, somehow it is always too late, when the sense of home has vanished, and now we are left to chase little wisps of feelings around that disappear into dust whenever we get near enough to touch them. What sort of mourning is that? I’m not quite sure.
But you see, I haven’t written in some time because I feel that writing is not simply a matter of expression. There is a responsibility to somehow tie things together, and make sense of the world. And to write without that aim, feels somehow wrong, irresponsible. There is such a fine line at times between honesty and negativity. The only difference, I think, is that honesty seeks for a solution, an explanation, a path towards something greater than oneself. Negativity is an end in itself, something that shrinks life down and isolates and I refuse to ever offer you just that.
Anyhow, I suppose what I am trying to come to in my round about way, is that for several months now I have been unable to write a word, because I couldn’t figure out my own mind. But several days ago, over a simmering pot of syrupy orange slices, I suddenly felt myself again, a sensation like remembering the line to a song that has been lingering on the edge of consciousness for much too long. I came into sudden focus and found the constellation of my own stars formed all around me. And I realized, not for the first time in my life, and surely not for the last, that the sensation of home I have always been searching for is neither a place, a past or a future, but the perfect beauty of the moment I have right now before me. Isn’t that the only thing we ever truly have? And if this is so, then yes, I am going to be doing a lot more dipping things in chocolate.
These are a delectable holiday treat that I like to dip into hot chocolate or a really dark and robust coffee. I think they'd make a really nice gift too, placed in a clear cello bag and tied with ribbon.
- 5 medium sized oranges or other citrus fruit (blood oranges, clementines, Meyer lemons, pink grapefruits)
- 5 cups sugar (1 kg)
- 4 cups water
- 6 cardamom pods, gently crushed with the back of a knife (optional)
- 2 cups good quality dark chocolate (12 oz/ 300 g)
- 1 tablespoon organic butter
- Slice the citrus fruit into thin rounds, leaving on the skin. Remove any seeds.
- Place the fruit in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the water, and then repeat the process twice more so that the fruit has been boiled a total of three times
- Return the citrus to the saucepan and add the sugar, water and cardamom if using. Stir carefully over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Cook the fruit gently over low heat for thirty minutes or so, or until the rinds become translucent and the fruit appears shiny. Turn of the heat and let the fruit cool in the sugar syrup for about thirty minutes.
- Drain the fruit (save the orange flavored syrup for pancakes or sweetening your coffee) and place on a wire rack positioned over a parchment lined baking sheet, being sure the slices of fruit do not touch. Place the baking sheet in a very low oven (170 degrees F) for three hours or alternately, if you aren't in a hurry, leave the tray sitting in a dry spot of the kitchen overnight.
- Once your citrus is dry, place a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter to the bowl and stir occasionally, until melted, then remove from heat.
- Dip each of the candied citrus rounds in the chocolate, half coating them. Lay them on greaseproof paper to set. Store in an airtight container once the chocolate has hardened.