Friday, December 27, 2013

Cleaning Out Closets, and Zaletti

Every once in a while, I get on a cleaning jag. Like the one that led me to throw out my books, only a little less drastic.

I think, in some respects, it's reactionary behavior: I am actively resisting becoming my mother.

You see, my mother has lived in the same house since she was two years old. Her two brothers moved out, got married, and eventually sold the place to her and to my father. It was easy. And my mother tends to travel by the path of least resistance.

While the house has undergone renovations over the years, parts of it still live in the 1950s, or 60s, or 70s. Though my mother is not exactly a hoarder, she comes close: things have accumulated in the attic, and since my father's death almost 11 years ago, they've also accumulated in every room of the three bedroom house. You can barely walk into the room where I slept for the first 17 years of my life; piles of clothes form an obstacle course to the furniture. In the back room over the garage, a thin film of dust covers almost everything. I fear that some day it will become my responsibility to clean out this house, and in the meantime, I try to keep my own accumulation at bay.

I was hoping to get up to her attic during the break to throw away old dresses I discovered at Thanksgiving (things I wore before I hit double digits) while I was looking for old books, but the timing hasn't seemed to work out. And I need the space to do this on my terms, without my mother looking on and fretting about it. I know that throwing things away is difficult for her, in this house where she has spent her entire life.

The problem with a house full of this stuff that one has gathered through the decades is that at some point, you begin to store things in a haphazard way that makes it virtually impossible to access both the things you want to use and the things you want to get rid of. The only way to clean out is to make things even more chaotic, to empty everything out of the space and look at it, and start over, storing things in ways that make sense.  It's a daunting task, even if the rewards involve finding the gems we'd forgotten we had.  You have to be fully prepared for this kind of deep cleaning.  It's not something to be undertaken lightly.

My yoga teacher says that we are like mini-versions of this problem.  We hold on to so much baggage--not all of it excess--but when it all becomes jumbled together, we become cluttered, too.  Which is the point of a meditative yoga practice.  To take out all the clutter, put it all under a microscope, and without judging ourselves, get rid of what we don't need. But also to know that in the process, things will get messy.  You don't reach bliss without slogging through a little mud.

If you've read this blog for at least a year, you know that I don't make New Year's resolutions, because I think it's too arbitrary; I think that if we really want to make change, we need to be ready, and a new calendar doesn't necessarily mean we're ready for large-scale renovation.  But even if I don't decide to do anything drastic, I do find myself cleaning out a little at this time of year.  Maybe it's my way of trying to start with a cleaner slate.

Are you ready to clean out a closet or two?  Or do you need some time to prepare for the clutter and chaos that cleaning will entail?

These were an experiment this year, a sort of clean-out-your-closet cookie. I'm not sure they'll become one of my staples, but I'm grateful for the impetus to make space.

1 c. currants
1/4 c. dark rum
1 c. + 2 T. stone ground cornmeal
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 t. salt1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
4 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
6 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
zest of 2 lemon
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 t. - 1 T. lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Soak the currants in the rum for at least 15 minutes, until plump.

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, salt and baking powder in medium bowl and set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture becomes pale yellow.  Add the butter and lemon zest, beating until smooth.  Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.  The dough should be firm; if it's too dry, add some of the rum from the currants, and if it's too wet, add a little flour.

Drain the currants and stir them into the dough, reserving the rum for another use.

Divide the dough into two balls. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into two 2" square logs about 10 inches long.  Cut each log into 1/2" thick slices, and gently press each cookie into a diamond shape.

Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove the cookies and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sire together confectioners' sugar and lemon juice (1 t. at a time) until you have a thin (but not runny) glaze.  Drizzle glaze over the cooled cookies and allow it to solidify before storing.
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  1. I really love this post. I also love cleaning out closets and other stuff. Or rather, I love the finished project. But I know what you mean about it becoming messier before it gets cleaner. That is definitely the hard part, because if you don't have the resources to do the job completely in one sitting, you end up having to live with the mess for a while.

    Right now I'm trying to do a lot of this cleaning out. We're finally in need, really need, of the back bedroom. We actually have a second child who is old enough that he needs his own space and the whole point of this house that we bough was so we'd have a space to give to him. So I'm cleaning it out and making it ready for his move into his own room. It's the very best reason to have to clean stuff out and get rid of stuff, but it's still hard.

    After we have his space organized we need to go through my daughter's room and either get rid of her toys or move them into my son's room for him to use. It's crazy to me that I have to do all of this because I have a second child, something I wanted and thought (for a while) that I'd never have. I feel so fortunate, so blessed, to be doing all of this.

    But it's still hard and I don't have the reserves that I need to do a really good job. So I just muddle through and hope at the end that both spaces are at least a little bit like I wanted them to be.

    Good luck cleaning out your closets. I hope the final product is worth the effort.

  2. Right after every Christmas we begin to reorganize: sorting toys to give to friends with younger kids, for donation, or trash. Usually this practice expands and this year I've tackled drawers of stationary, socks, gift wrap, etc. Having grown up in a house where we frantically searched for car keys every morning and scrounged the couch cushions for grocery money, I really value organization and knowing where to find things I need. I'm not sure if this actually speaks to my inner being or not, but I can hope for the best. But, I certainly understand how closely stuff can be linked to emotions.

  3. Our mothers sound very similar. My mom has been in her house for 45 years and it hasn't changed much since I'm a kid except you can not walk through my old bedroom without tripping over the clutter. I try to coax her every now and then into cleaning out a room with me when I am here and it's never a good time for her - and the more clutter accumulates, the more overwhelming the task seems to her. What a great analogy for emotional clutter, huh? Sometimes, the bigger the mess in my head, the less I want to face that mess. And like you, I do feel that resolutions are arbitrary and that it's more about being ready. Thank God for yoga and meditation! Happy New Year my friend!

  4. Great recipe.My sister is studying how to bake. I'll ask her to make these.


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