Obsessing

When it comes to liking something, I have a tendency to go a bit off the deep end. I’ve been known to re-read books for as many as 10 times (Lord of the Rings!), and whenever a piece of music leaves an imprint on my soul, I just need listen to it over and over and over again, to the great annoyance of my environment, no doubt. To me, it’s like whenever I find a thing I love, I latch onto it and then I kind of take it with me wherever I go, whatever I’m doing.

I grew up an only child, and I probably spent more time than the average kid in my own headspace, which was not a lonely place anymore after I learned how to read. I’ve been escaping from reality that way for as long as I can remember, and if that makes me an addict, hello world, my name’s Johanna and I’m addicted to ­– well, I guess, emotion is what it really comes down to.

I have neither time nor inclination to enumerate everything I’ve been obsessed with over the decades. But a few things come to mind for which (addict or no addict), I cannot help but feel particularly grateful, for they helped me or made me happy in challenging times.

In terms of music, oh my, there’s a lot. Bach’s organ toccata and fugue in d minor. Turning up the volume when nobody was home and letting it hit me is a distinct memory.

After having seen Amadeus in the early Eighties, starring wonderful Tom Hulce, Mozart’s unfinished Requiem was a perfect soundtrack for coping with grieving for my Dad who passed away a year or two before.

It was a bit later that I discovered one of my favorite albums of all times, The Velvet Underground’s banana album. It was already almost 20 years old then, and to say I was cursing the cruelty of late birth would be a vast understatement. Poor Nico was already dead by then.

I loved many of the bands of the Eighties and early Nineties, and was faithfully following some of them when in high school (as I feel necessary to point out in this digital day and age, following in a very literal sense, as in driving a car down to other towns to see several shows of a particular band’s over the course of one tour). Oddly enough, my obsessing never went as far as my becoming a groupie. When any of the musicians would notice I kept showing up at the concerts and tried to put the moves on me, I was appalled. What the hell?! From today’s perspective it doesn’t seem that unreasonable for a guy to think that if a girl is coming to see all of your shows wearing your band t-shirt, she’d probably be interested, but at the time I didn’t really see their point and told them to fuck off ;-).

Anyway, to me, it was never about meeting these people, or having sex with them to prove what ever it is that makes fans do that kind of thing. Listening to the albums and seeing the shows was more than enough for me, and again, everything happened mostly in my own head. Also, those guys in their twenties were, um, old people to me, so not even registered on my radar. Later on, my first two boyfriends were in bands, though, whatever that has to do with anything.

In terms of movie actor crushes, I’m probably more a fandom person than anything else, meaning that it’s the character they play I care about, mostly. (Good thing for everyone, too, for I won’t go and stalk anybody, like, ever. I imagine that aspect of being such a public figure, the endless autographing and being asked the same questions over and over again every stop of the promo rally must get so old!) But is obsessing over the characters really any better than stalking people’s social media and real life? I’ve read my fair share of fan fiction and Live Journal entries. There’s some seriously good writing going on there (and, as everywhere, a whole lot of bad). I have to say I find it comforting to find fellow obsessers to whom discussing at great length a character’s behavior on a show is a completely reasonable thing to do. One of the most talented (IMHO) writers of the Queer as Folk fandom was doing this brilliant episode by episode analysis for the first two seasons. For whatever reason she stopped there, to my chagrin, for I could have gone on reading forever. She had a few cool stories to tell, and she had so much insight on writing for a TV show; she was discussing character development, story arcs, meta and screenwriting on such a profound level that I learned a lot about the whole creative process that goes into making a TV character who they are. Very interesting stuff (to me, anyway).

TV shows are a great place for obsessive fans, I think. Everybody is saying how we live in the great age of TV shows that try to tell epic tales, show in-depth character portrayal and are really pushing this formerly sneered at format to an art form. When Breaking Bad wrapped 5 years ago, as you may remember, Sir Anthony Hopkins actually sat his highly esteemed butt down to write Bryan Cranston/Walter White the sweetest fan letter any actor could ever wish to receive.

So, if you’re like me, and see an identification platform in a TV show character, you’re probably going to feel stranded when the show tanks, or ends, unless you find a kind (and in my case, talented, for I can’t really accept bad syntax and lame storytelling) soul in the fandom willing to tell you how things went with your beloved characters afterwards. To me, that has been the methadone I need until I stumble across my next obsession 😉 a few times.

At the moment, I’m living in the enchanted realm of Call Me By Your Name, which is a sublimely written stream of consciousness told from the perspective of a 17-year old boy, who is testing out the boundaries of his sexuality and opening his heart to another person for the first time, with a limitless generosity not all of us ever get to experience in our lives. The novel is vexing to read at times in its intensity, but it sure makes a brilliant case for obsessing (thereby validating my own perspective, so I guess, thank you, André Aciman!). The movie is a bit easier to stomach than the book, and obviously equally touching and beautiful. By now the two have sort of melded in my head, and never will the protagonists wear anybody else’s features than the two extraordinary leading actors’, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, who have given the world a great gift by lending themselves to this love story. Also, the movie pays greater attention to the compassionate and wise monologue young Elio’s father gives at the end of the movie – it was Michael Stuhlbarg who made the lines I had read but not really understood in the book before really resonate with me. I feel every parent in the world should be made to watch before they’re even allowed to bring up children of their own.

So that was on my mind this fine Friday. What about you? Who and what are you obsessed with? Can you relate to that kind of thing at all, or do you think I’m a bit cuckoo? Don’t worry, I won’t be offended. I know I’m not alone ;-).

I’m rushing back out today with a little something my fellow crafts aficionado N. made for me last week:

It’s a sleeve for my e-reader, which was until now mostly carried in one of my daughter’s old knit hats. What a sweet gift, thank you so much N.!

I have little time for crafts right now, but plan to finish the Dotty Blanket once I’ve submitted my current book manuscript next week, insh’Allah.

Have a great weekend, and enjoy your own private obsessions, whatever they may be :-).

 

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Ba-ba-ba-Banana

Everybody already has a recipe for banana bread, I’m sure, and if you don’t, there’s always Jamie Oliver or Martha Stewart or Cynthia Barcomi to look to. I started experimenting with banana bread using Jamie Oliver’s recipe, in fact. He uses a lot of honey, and the overall experience is kind of sticky, and too solid for my personal taste.  With absolutely no disrespect to any of the paragons of modern cooking, I feel the compulsion to share with you these fluffy, moist and wholesome banana buns today. There’s next to no sugar involved – all of 2 TBSP is all the dough needed. I did use 10 fresh dates (my new favorite sugar source), which I pureed with the bananas. You see, it’s like this: My daughter claims to detest dates, so I thought it might be wise if she wasn’t even aware she was eating any. Seems to have worked, too, she and her sweet friend wolfed down 2 apiece after school ;-). Wanna give these babies a shot? Here’s how you go about that.

Boombastic Banana Buns

4 overripe bananas

10 fresh dates (or more to taste, pitted)

2 eggs

100 g butter, melted

1 glass of milk, warm

1 TSP sea salt

1/2 p vanilla sugar

Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon (it was just there, you know how that goes)

1 p dry yeast

500 g spelt flour

Potato flour, maybe a large handful

2 TBSP sugar

Some spelt semolina (or flour, which I was out of, hence the semolina which added some nice crunch, though)

Warm milk and melt butter in it while you’re at it. With a stick blender, puree dates and bananas. Add vanilla, eggs and the liquid butter and milk. Add salt, sugar, flours and yeast. Grate the lemon zest and squeeze. Knead the dough until ingredients have blended well. The dough will be somewhat sticky, but that shouldn’t faze you, as you’re going to use a muffin tray later on so you don’t need the dough to hold its shape.

Set aside to rise. I left it to its devices for approx. 2 hours.

After, I preheated the oven to 160 °C and buttered my muffin tray. With a large TBSP, I scooped out portions of the dough and set them in the tray.

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The coarse stuff you see is a bit of semolina – I was out of spelt flour and felt the surface needed a little dusting of, well something that wasn’t wheat flour, as I gave that up for lent. Joking, I’m joking. I’ve not gone all Catholic on you all of a sudden. But I am taking a break from wheat, in the (maybe futile) hope this will make my belly fat magically disappear. We’ll see. It’s a long-term experiment.

A word on potato flour while I’m discussing unusual ingredients. The other day, when searching for a recipe for one of my favorite Arabic indulgences (and there are many), Oum Ali, a creamy-bread-pudding-raised-to-the-max, I stumbled across a charming food blog. It’s called Cleobuttera, and the Cairo-based blogger lady is fabulous, in an almost anarchistic calories-be-damned way. Maybe she’s very young, maybe she has an enviable metabolism, or maybe she just doesn’t care. Either way, in the recipe linked above, she explains all about the use of potato flour, so I’ll just let her do the talking. She makes a valid case, and I’ve been substituting a portion of regular (or as the case may be, spelt) flour with the fine white powder ever since I read that post. I’ve also bought Za’atar ;-). Yum. Not on banana buns, though. Duh.

I put the tray in the oven and baked it for approx. 30 minutes. Mine is a gas oven, so yours may need other times – just watch the buns like a hawk after 20 minutes. They should look like this when they come out:
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Whether you eat them with butter, cream-cheese, jams, honey or Nutella is entirely up to you. I had mine with apple slices, which was all I needed this greyish cold end of winter afternoon.

Work-wise, I’ve submitted my piece of the Story of Food – a book as huge as it sounds; I translated about 250 pages in a matter of weeks, phew … After what felt like a full day of exhaling, I started on my next book project, a very cool modern embroidery book by crafts artist Kristin Morgan whom you can also find on Instagram as marigoldandmars. Such pretty, creative hoops :-).

Because of my recent work overload, my own crafts projects needed to take a backseat for a while. But I picked up speed again after submitting the manuscript a week ago. Here’s what happened:

Pair of new hand-knit socks for my little squirrel.

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A bright little mandala for my friend A. who turned 50 and will hopefully enjoy seeing it when taking luxurious sips of outrageously expensive Sencha green tea from her pale green Japanese cup ;-).

And I have begun the process of assembling the Dotty Blanket, finally, check it out:

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So many Granny Squares, OMG … one day I’ll have to work out how many hours of happy crochet went into that blanket. It’s seriously the most time-consuming project I’ve ever worked on. But I have a feeling it’ll be worth it once I’m done.

Punching out today with a few ice skating pics I took last Saturday – check out the magic, misty early spring sunlight, and my two hobby figure skaters:

Enjoy the sunshine while you can … and do let me know how your banana buns turned out!