This is a piece on shoplifting that was published originally in the New Yorker in 2011.
In 1980, Lady Isobel Barnett was found guilty of stealing a can of tuna and a carton of cream and fined about £75. Barnett was a very public figure. For a decade or more, from the early nineteen-fifties, she had been a regular on the English version of “What’s My Line?” and on BBC Radio’s “Question Time.” Often assumed to be an aristocrat (actually, her title came from her husband, who was the mayor of Leicester), she was a quintessential lady—fine-featured, well dressed, and always with sensible, moderate opinions about the world and its doings.
Towards the end of this year, on a day in October, I will have lived the same amount of years in exile as I have done in the country of my birth, and after that the days will start piling on the other side of the scale. I have a feeling that those formative years as they are usually referred to—but I do aim to take each year as such—will never quite fade out of memory. The true nature of time and space is a subject open for discussion—it is argued that the distance to our past is merely an illusion.
During my early youth in and around Paris, I went to the cinema a lot. As is usually the case I only realized how spoiled I had been for choice when the time came to survive with barely a cinema in sight, and the bare cinema did not happen to show any film I really cared to see. As you will have gathered I do not keep any finger on the technological pulse so I found out about the advent of DVDs by complete fluke sitting in a bus beside a man watching an opera with a pair of headphones on. Since that day, living without a television, I have been able to revisit films I had once loved and also see hundreds of films that will never make it to the large screens around this part of the world. For that I am deeply grateful.
It is amazing to be able to revisit spaces where I once lived for the couple of hours that the film lasted, to find myself again face to face with characters that do not seem to have ever really departed. The other day H lent me Alice in the Cities and it was miraculous to hang out once more in this 1970 German black and white space and time. In the distance between the two viewings I realize I had twisted the plot somehow. I may not have fully realized the first time around that this was the tale of a fatherless child who chooses a father figure for herself, no, I remembered him as a reluctant father who had evaded his responsibilities. Also I clearly remember them finding her grandmother, a scene that I perhaps had put together in a dream. What did I find of myself there, who was I then in the darkened cinema ? What I do know is that Alice’s intent on scratching a match as a deodorizing measure after she would do her business in the bathroom made it home to me, as that particular trick had been taught to me by my not remotely German grandmother. I once was Alice for sure, playing, abandoned, strong.
Recommended viewing, for sure. And again.
The weather is wonderful, the grass is growing, someone I know has just finished school, we’re heading into a long weekend : this is celebration time. At four, for us French people, is goûter time, and here is a lovely thing to easily concoct and enjoy with the hot beverage of your choice, oh yes.
CINNAMON BUNS also delicious as POPPY-SEED BUNS
Despite my dislike of the material, I used a non-stick dish 23×32 cm (roughly 9×13 inches). you can also let those little treasures stand individually on a baking sheet, but as I have not tried this I am refusing to comment.
525g flour (I used white spelt)
50g dry yeast or 25g fresh yeast*
1/3 cup lukewarm water in which 4 tbsp sugar (I use unrefined fair-trade organic cane sugar) are left to dissolve
2/3 cup kefir (the original recipe asks for fresh cream, milk would even do)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
sugar and cinnamon or sugar and poppyseed to sprinkle generously
* this is an awful lot of yeast, by adding yeast you are effectively buying time, if you would like to do those for breakfast and thus let them rest overnight in a cool place, I would advise you to halve the quantity of yeast.
Add the dry yeast or crumble the fresh yeast into the warm water, steal a tablespoon of flour from your measured stash and mix a little (this is not strictly necessary if you are using instant dry yeast or whatever modern version but I like to do this as its bubbling reassures me that it is not defunct). The bubbling should take a dozen minutes or so to start.
By hand in a large bowl or in a mixer incorporate the butter in the flour until the ensuing mix resembles breadcrumbs. Add your bubbly yeasty mix. Incorporate with electrical or elbow power and a wooden spoon. Add the egg and the kefir and mix furiously. Knead or knead joyously and therapeutically until the dough feels nice and springy.
Form a rough floured ball that you then return to the bowl and place in the cold oven away from draughts. If you are attempting this in a cold wintry kitchen you would do well to warm your oven to about 30 degree celsius before putting your yeasty dough in. A hot press as they say around here is a good place too.
A couple of hours later, when the dough has doubled in size, turn in onto a floured table surface and with the help of a rolling pin or the flat of your hands turn it in the closest to a rectangle that you can achieve, the dough should be around 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick).
Sprinkle your chosen mix generously and roll up.
Cut into 5-6 cm (2 inch) sections and place in your tin or you sheet. Return to the room temperature oven (if you are rushing at this stage you can use a preheated oven at about 60 degrees celsius). When these have doubled in size, remove from the oven, get the temperature to 180 degree Celsius and bake—after one last sprinkling of sugar mix for the road—for about 20 minutes (if you are baking singlets take a good look after 15 minutes). Let cool in the pan, divide and devour.
It has to be said that I am not very good at throwing things away. The gene—or neurosis—was handed down from a previous generation (‘Enjoy your symptom’ as Slavoj Zizek exhorts us to, I very much do). I sometimes wonder if I did not come to this life specifically to shelter unwanted and discarded objects and to invent some higher purpose for them. It is only an issue when it is time to move, but the satisfaction I get from indulging my hoarding and transforming muscle far outweighs the pain of packing and transporting.
Citrus skins should not go into the compost as they are too acid. Dried up they make wonderful fire lighters, candied, they make wonderful things to eat as is, dip into chocolate or add to cakes (see recipe below). This year, with the last oranges of the season, with a wealth of jars of candied orange, grapefruit and lemon skins already on my shelves I found other games, such as the above prayer beads strung along the string from flour bags, and do they smell nice !
I also cut them up and loved how depending on the incision their shape was transformed as they dried. I love putting some intent and letting things take their own course.
CANDIED ORANGE PEEL
Use organic unwaxed oranges, evidently.
Cut into strips or with a cookie cutter as above (sore on the hands, I used a cork to press), I soak them in water overnight and then simmer them until completely tender, adding water to cover them as it evaporates. I then let the water reduce to a small puddle at the bottom of the pot and add about the same weight in organic fair-trade cane sugar. I bring them very slowly to the edge of the boil. I switch them off immediately and leave them to cool completely. I repeat this process a few times over the next couple of days—adding a little water if necessary—until the skins look shiny and translucent and properly candied—you may have to taste one to ascertain candying result, tough.
Let drain in a colander and make sure to keep the syrup which you can either reuse for your next batch or keep in a jar in the fridge for later use (pouring onto a cake, sweetening rice pudding, adding to a poultry marinade… any other suggestions anyone ?). The skins are then left to air dry flat for a couple of days, my daughter absolutely loves the task of arranging them in equidistant neat lines.
They will keep pretty indefinitely away from direct sunlight. Delicious with a cup of coffee and delicious dipped in fair-trade organic bitter chocolate—you can then call them ‘orangettes’.
One last use for orange skins : the goats eat them, they eat organic banana skins too.
I saw a few photographs from a Japanese craft book of lovely animals made out of old gloves and socks. I aimed here for a rabbit but it does have a rather canine snout I admit. Also I wanted to make her/him a belly-button, ‘nombril’ in French, ‘pempek’ in Polish, but I did not manage anything I was happy with, so here is our new house animal with fantastic ears and an invisible belly button.
This is the year that, after almost a lifetime of rehearsal, I take the packed lunch to the most satisfactory height : greatly helped by the procurement of a set of wooden bowls. Here above a salad selection, grated carrots (Hubert’s), frozen green beans, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes with a sprinkling of savoury Granola (recipe from Clotilde Dussoulier at Chocolate & Zucchini) (n.b. packed lunch photographed on the table at home as I truanted out of college that day as the car would not start).
This is also the year that, waking up early one morning and about to start into my bowl of wholegrain porridge I grabbed the bottle of Tamari instead of the Agave syrup and poured a generous glug in. I did eat it, although it did not taste quite right to me then. A couple of months later, planning to abandon porridge as I had grown increasingly unhappy with sweetness over breakfast I decided to switch to Tamari (there is no such thing as an accident) as I had survived the chance experiment earlier. Truth be told I am now really fond of my “Japanese” breakfast, the complexity of the fermented taste most satisfying at the earliest hour.