Lockdown Guests

Fourth lockdown. Or maybe third. I lost count. But I went grocery shopping and bought essentials such as chocolate chips and wine. Since the pandemic erupted in March last year, I found that storytelling and baking help sustain me and fill me with hope. This week, I made hot chocolate cookies, coconut orange cake and homemade sesame rolls. I draw pleasure from rolling the sticky cookie dough and kneading the fragrant yeast mixture until it’s time to leave it be for a little.

Writing, on the other hand, does not come easy these days. Months of partial lockdown, full lockdown, breathing lockdown and tight lockdown have left their fingerprints on my soul. When your physical world is reduced to less than a square mile, your mind must go that extra mile to reach the comfort of the land of imagination, where travel is still possible. Yet, there are these moments of grace, while cooking and baking – the traditional chores of women in centuries – that set my spirit free. I lay down the hot baking pan and rush to my computer, to invite imaginary friends to a feast. They will have to do, my imaginary guests, until I am able to welcome family and friends once again into my home. 

Today, I have a wonderful guest, the Goodwife of Kittlerumpit[1], the protagonist of a Scottish folk tale, Whuppity Stoorie, a variant of the famous tale of “Rumpelstiltskin”.  

“A woman’s husband went to the fair and never returned; she was left alone with her baby son, her sole possession a single big sow. The sow was about to farrow, and she hoped for a good litter, but one day she went to the pen to find the sow dying. She was distraught, and a fairy woman asked what she would give her if she helped the sow. The woman promised the fairy anything she liked, so she saved the sow and demanded the baby. Though she would not listen to any pleas, she did tell the woman that under Fairy Law, she had to wait three days, and the woman could stop her by telling the fairy her name. The woman was distraught the first day, but the second, she went for a walk, and in the forest, she found a quarry where the fairy was spinning and singing that her name was Whuppity Stoorie.

When the fairy came the next day, the woman pleaded with her to take the sow, and then to take herself. The fairy scorned her, asking what she would want with such a woman, and the woman said she knows she is unworthy to even tie Whuppity Stoorie’s shoelaces. The fairy woman went screeching away”[2].

The goodwife of Kittlerumpit gets to keep her little boy and her sow. The evil threat has been removed, and hope is restored. The fairy, also referred to as the Green Lady in some versions, may have magic powers, but the woman, whose name remains unknown, is equally mighty.

Folk and fairy tales are filled with magic and supernatural figures, yet they’re stories about real people. They open a space for the plights and troubles of those marginalized by systems of oppression and exclusion. They are passed on from one generation onto the next, to celebrate and praise the wisdom and resourcefulness, the courage and creativity, the love and generosity of people. They also serve as a cautionary reminder of the evil, the cruelty and abuse of power that are unfortunately part and parcel of human nature.  

I love the Goodwife of Kittlerumpit and her story. She refuses to give in and musters the courage to wander into the forest in the middle of the night to find the answer to the riddle. Her love for her son and her passion for life are stronger than the indifferent, bureaucratic evil of the fairy.

So, the coconut-orange cake is ready, as are the hot chocolate cookies. When the Goodwife comes, we’ll have some tea, or wine, and drink to hope and the refusal to give in.

[1] In: Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World: Kathleen Ragan. W. W. Norton Company, 2000.

[2] Whuppity Stoorie – Wikipedia

Books and Bakes: Solace in Times of Corona

There is a bookshop in Jerusalem called “Sefer ve Sefel” (A Book and a Cup), a boutique store for used and new books. I haven’t been there in a while, but years ago I used to visit the place to buy books, read over a great cup of coffee and feel like I am in a world where good vanquishes evil. In these difficult times, when bad news slap us over the face on a daily basis, it is vital that we find sources of solace. When it feels like we have no control over what is going on in our world, and our mind is constantly struggling with horrific scenarios, it is critical that we practice self-care and nourish our loved ones; emotionally, spiritually and physically.
Stories, cooking and baking is the combination that works for me, for the time being. We have no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring, but I invite you to join me in sharing a few moments of comfort and a little skip to the world of stories.
And for the first chapter, I share with you a recipe for sinfully sweet Amsterdam cookies and an excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s novel, “Journal of the Year of the Plague”. If you really want to go overboard with the cookies, do what I did, and put some aside to make homemade ice cream patties that you can store in the fridge and have a bite when in need of the strong medicine of sweetness.

“It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again”

For the Amsterdam cookies recipe: https://www.loveandoliveoil.com/2019/07/white-chocolate-stuffed-chocolate-cookies.html

Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London (p. 1). Kindle Edition.