When we lived in Pittsburgh, and I was a resident director and Graduate student, and Andrew the founder of two businesses, we looked forward with such anticipation to the rare Saturday at home, unburdened by travel or commitment or mandatory school events.
Every other day of the week was scheduled, precise, a rhythm of wake up, breakfast, work, class, work, sleep, rinse repeat, sometimes seeing each other long enough to catch up, sometimes forgetting that we were more than roommates who lived on our own rotating schedules of the clock. But Saturdays, Saturdays were a peaceful, separate bliss that looked entirely different from the rest of the week. Saturdays at home meant sleeping in until the late morning sun streamed through our side window, drinking our tea on the porch, lacing up sneakers and walking through tree lined city neighborhoods to Prantl’s bakery. Saturdays meant the circular conversation of what are you going to get today as we stared at the tiers of baked goods laid out on shelves: croissants, sweet rolls, quiche, apple fritters, the bell ringing as we exited the store with a paper package in hand, the smell of coffee beans roasting at our favorite shop across the street. Saturdays meant lattes and pour overs read by the open windows of Coffee Tree Roasters, perusing through our newspaper, speaking only to point out an interesting article or shove a croissant in the other’s face, saying, no, you have to try this, it’s better than last week. Saturdays were and still are a sacred space, an unhurried quiet morning that would sustain us for the rest of the week.
It sometimes felt, and still does feel, paradox to me that such perfect mornings could include the newspaper. I am not a person who enjoys reading the news—I am one who partakes in it out of duty more than out of interest. News, after all, is rarely good, always getting worse, and these days, often completely different depending on which political party the paper is bent toward. I asked a friend one time if it was unethical to read about a country’s tragedy in one hand with a still warm glazed fritter in the other, but the world, too, has a large capacity to hold good in one hand and evil in the other.
I learned in college about the beginnings of national news, and that to have empathy for a circumstance, a human must be somehow connected to it. This explains why we can read about shootings and bombings in Syria with a feeling of horror, and then forget about it the moment we put the paper down. We have not been to Syria nor do we know anyone in Syria, and so the tragedy remains somewhat abstract in our minds. The shooting in Orlando is devastating for us as Americans, and so we feel more connected to the tragedy, but still, after a few days or weeks it exists in our minds as more of an idea (Gun control, gay rights, second amendment rights) than I’m sure it does for friends and family members who are reeling from the gut piercing agony of putting a person you loved dearly into the ground.
There’s a saying that we cannot know light until we also know darkness. And in the midst of darkness—ours or another, we must hold on tightly to the light. The summer my grandad died a family of birds made their home in our gutter. We watched feedings and flying lessons and we heard first songs, all from our window and I thought, there is something. I am deep right now in World War II research, spending countless mornings reading accounts of Nazi brutality and the humiliation they inflicted. Yet, equally as powerful are the accounts of kindness from neighbors, the first taste of chocolate after years without sugar, the farmer who refused to raise his meat prices to make a profit on the black market. And I know these events are far more significant and important than my morning coffee and paper conundrum but I look at them and think that the presence of darkness must give us all the more reason to celebrate the light—that in a world where everything is scary and unpredictable and illogical, we must hold tight to Saturday traditions, to good coffee, to the little joys in life that string together like a long thread shining bright, not because they are joy in and of themselves, but because they remind us that we are not forgotten, that there is a God with a mind and a love and a plan far beyond ours, that we can rejoice in the little things because we know a final battle has been already won.
As we approach July 4th this year, we are, in many ways, an unsettled country. We are shaken by mass shootings succeeded, mass shootings stopped that remind us of the capacity for evil, less than ideal presidential candidates, marches and protests and opposing stances on immigration, gun control, ISIS, abortion. Our country though was birthed in turmoil and founded by men who sometimes disagreed so strongly with each other that they decided to settle matters with a duel and a sword. It is all the more important, I think, that we read the newspaper this weekend with people we love, accompanied by good coffee and a melt-in-your-mouth baked good, to remind us that we are human, all of us, and as long as we can share in universal pleasures and acknowledge the every day joys of life there is hope for us too.
July 4th intersects here at the ending of strawberry season and the beginnings of blueberries, which gave me a few different recipes to play with. I made a thumbprint cookie with homemade strawberry jam, topped with blueberries for a colorful effect, and a strawberry-blueberry crisp with oat topping. Hope that, whatever you’re eating this weekend, we all remember that in this country, we have much to mourn, but far, far more to celebrate.
3/4 lb butter, chilled
3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Beat together butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Gradually mix in Salt and Flour.
For the Shortbread:
Homemade Strawberry Jam:
4 quarts strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup brown sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes or until thick. Allow to cool and set before using.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Spoon shortbread into small 1″ round balls on baking tray. Bake for 7 minutes.
Press a spoon into each cookie to create a small hole.
Spoon 1 tsp jam into each hole.
Bake for an additional 5 minutes.
Top with one blueberry and enjoy!
Blueberry Strawberry Crisp
For the topping:
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 lb. cold butter, diced
For the filling:
5 c. strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 c. blueberries
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
Mix together filling ingredients, let sit while making topping.
For the topping: mix together dry ingredients, cut in butter until mixture resembles loose crumbs.
Pour filling into 9″ pie dish, top with filling, bake at 350 for 1 hour.