Dorie’s Cookies – Moroccan Semolina and Almond Cookies

I haven’t brought a cookie basket to a meeting in a long while. (I guess if I wanted to be current, I’d put them in a box.) My favourite cookie basket was divided between snickerdoodles and chocolate crinkles, both recipes I’ve been making since I was a kid. They look dramatic together, but homey at the same time, and the flavours complement each other well.

Now, I think I’ve got a third candidate for that basket. These cookies have a texture that’s different from both, lemony top notes that are deepened by the flavours of the almond flour and semolina, and a coating of icing sugar that sparks nostalgia.

I made these on Sunday and by Monday they’d all been spirited away from my house. Well, spirited is probably the wrong word – eagerly packed up and driven away? Devoured in the lunch room? Those are more accurate descriptions. I managed to have two myself, so I’m not complaining.

I can just make them again, along with some snickerdoodles and chocolate crinkles, and share.

March’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Advertisements

Sharing Books, Sharing Culture

Books Too

Much has been made of the sharing economy and I’m a big proponent of it myself, as I’ve mentioned before. But for many of us, our introduction to sharing came from outside the economic realm, when we signed up for our first library cards.

Growing up, our branch of the library was a little under two kilometers away and my siblings and I would often walk there on Saturdays to browse the shelves. Our school libraries were also well-stocked, so we each had stacks of books from both sources scattered around our rooms. After University, I began to neglect the library, as my suddenly greater discretionary income allowed me to develop a more robust book-buying habit. That dropped off in my mid-thirties when I realized that I could never own All The Books and my purchases became a little more discriminating. I started visiting the library more often again, borrowing the books that I knew I would likely only read once and test-driving the ones that would eventually make it into my permanent collection.

I’m lucky to have access to a great library system in Vancouver, which was recently declared the top library system in the world (along with Montréal’s). Other library systems are in jeopardy, though, like the hundreds of libraries lost in the UK. Zadie Smith‘s description of a failed battle to save a local library is heartbreaking. More chilling are accounts like Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold and the emerging stories about the dismantling of Canadian science libraries.

Free access to knowledge is a fragile thing and the Internet is a poor storehouse for an intellectual commons. The resources that a library provides cannot be matched on the Internet, at least not for free. I’m reminded of Janet Frame’s description of winning a year’s subscription to her local library (called the Athenaeum) in To the Is-Land, which allowed her entire family access to a world of books that had been closed to them. What kind of intellectual life do we want to bequeath to the future? One that is closed to all but a small coterie or one that allows for the emergence of talent from the great mass of people?

So, do the future a favour and show your local library a little love. You might be surprised what you find there beyond the stacks – digital resources, a wealth of movies, music, and television, and even handy apps that keep you up-to-date on your library activities. And if you’d like, tell me what you love about libraries in the comments below.

Community Counts

I live in a housing co-operative, a mixed-income community with deep roots in our neighbourhood. Living in a co-op usually mean built-in community, but our co-op is scattered across several sites throughout our neighbourhood, which makes community a little more challenging. To help with this, we organized a co-op crawl, funded in part by the Vancouver Foundations’s Neighbourhood Small Grants program.

DSCF7270

Our members took an afternoon and visited each of our six sites, sharing food, games, music, and stories. We invited illustrator Sam Bradd along, whose work you can see at the top of this post. He created a kind of co-op map for us, showcasing our buildings and choosing features that help define each of our sites.

We were led from site to site by one of our members, a musician who played the fiddle as we walked along. Travelling the entire distance our co-op spans, stopping and spending time with each other at each site along the way, created a sense of cohesion in our community that I hadn’t felt before, for all of the hours we’ve spent together in meetings.

DSCF7268

Each of our members will get a copy of the map and we hope to also use it to amplify our presence with our neighbours, many of whom don’t realize that our sites are part of a co-op.

DSCF7273

Most of my photos show the food we shared (including Ottolenghi’s fabulous Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce), which is particularly appropriate for our co-op, as nourishment is written into our values:

“MISSION
VEHC exists to provide affordable and sustainable housing that nurtures a diverse community.

VALUES
Accessible:
We aim to prevent physical, financial, social and other barriers to housing and participation. We always consider the diverse and changing needs of our members.
Inclusive:
We aim to maximize participation of all Co-op members and to encourage individuals to find their own distinct way of contributing.
Sustainable:
We maintain a healthy community that takes into account future needs and is committed to ecological, social and financial balance.
Diversity:
We recognize and value the range of skills, experiences and perspectives that each member contributes to the Co-op community.
Nourishing:
We aim to build a healthy community that provides an environment for individuals to thrive.
Participatory Democracy:
All members have the right and the opportunity to express their views respectfully and to directly participate in the decision-making process of the Co-op.
Affordable:
We are committed to minimizing the cost of housing for members in need, including those with lower incomes. We believe that affordable shelter is a basic human right and
aim to contribute to affordable housing in the wider community.”

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know why I choose to live in a co-operative, as the values above reflect my worldview quite well, and building community is something that’s important to me. I think housing co-operatives have an important role to play in helping to maintain diversity in cities, especially ones that are becoming increasingly unaffordable, like Vancouver. They’re also a model for how community can be created in our neighbourhoods, combating the disconnection many city-dwellers experience. For me, the committee meetings are a small price to pay for the connections we’ve built with one another.

DSCF7267

Connection Isn’t Always Direct

Neighbourhood Book Exchange

I had an analogue childhood: records, cassette tapes, letters in the mailbox, and getting up from the couch periodically to change the channel on the television. The Encyclopedia Britannica, in its two-shelf bookcase, took up a corner of the living room. It was our equivalent of Google. I’m pretty sure the Encyclopedia Britannia is entirely electronic these days, but not all these things have disappeared. Records (and even cassette tapes) are being produced for new music and we occasionally get a card in the mail.

Certainly print books haven’t disappeared yet, though e-readers are becoming more and more popular. There’s something irreplaceable about the heft of a book, the texture of the paper, and the quality of light against the page. The history of a particular copy is also something that gets lost when we turn to electronic versions. The experience of reading a book is enhanced by marginalia, inscriptions, forgotten bits of paper, even creases and stains. Perhaps not always stains.

It’s also hard to share books, unless you’re passing the e-reader to your partner. It limits the potential of a single copy of a book. One of the things I love about travelling is how books end up taking their own journeys. When I’m away, I like to bring copies of things that I want to read, but don’t want to keep. Once finished, they’re exchanged for another from the bookshelves wherever we’re staying. (Not in private homes – in hostels, hotels, or bed and breakfasts, where this sort of thing is encouraged. Honestly.)

Helpful information.

I remember being on one long journey, thinking about the trajectory a book I’d just finished and really enjoyed might take. Considering the destinations of the other people staying at the hostel, I thought it might make it to Europe or South America and I wished I could somehow track its progress. A few years later, I heard about BookCrossing, which does exactly that.

BookCrossing is the sort of thing that I love about this new(ish) electronic world, because it is also rooted in tactile experience. The words real and virtual have had their meanings blurred, but in these cases they merge. Projects like this (and similar ones like Postcrossing or many iterations of mail art) are enacted in virtual space as they travel in real time. Eventually the trail stops and the book is never heard from again, though it might turn up unexpectedly, years later.

It’s not just the progress of the books that interests me, it’s also the generosity of spirit inherent in sharing with strangers. Like the sharing economy formed at Burning Man, looking out for strangers is an important part of creating community. Free boxes, extra umbrellas purposely left in cafés, community bookshelves – all these make a neighbourhood more liveable. It doesn’t replace socially just policies, but it helps enhance an atmosphere of neighbourliness.

The bottom shelf is all kids' books.

The electronic component of this process isn’t necessary, though it’s fascinating. The physical location is what’s important. I was thrilled to discover this Neighbourhood Book Exchange a few blocks from where I live. There are similar shelves in coffeeshops around town, but this structure is freestanding and free to visit, 24 hours a day. Another reason to love the Neighbourhood Small Grants project.

It’s exciting to see this sort of creativity and well, friendliness, at work. It’s something that makes me happy to live here. I’d love to hear about the things that make you happy to live in your neighbourhood. I’d also love to hear about instances of virtual community that excite you, or that you’ve followed into the real world.

My next post will be my 100th and I’ll be doing a little something to celebrate. Come back on Thursday to see what’s happening.