Here are some things that happened over the weekend.
Tim and I drank a lot of coffee and started planning our wedding. We went to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra live at Bodega. They were amazing. A guy collapsed in front of me while we were there, which sent a shot of adrenaline to my heart like the “a shot of adrenaline to the heart” scene in Pulp Fiction,
but by the time I ran to tell the bar staff his friend had taken him outside. I made burnt butter madeleines for friends Kate
as a small token of my gratitude for giving us this beautiful formica table that they no longer needed. I’ve always loved formica, but it’s near-impossible to get hold of in Wellington, since every cafe and their mother seems to love it, too.
And I spent three hours – three whole hours to the minute – huddled under the dining table, with Tim, and our friends Kim
, during a big earthquake, and through aftershock-after-aftershock. So, uh, yeah. The aftershocks continued throughout the night, when Tim and I (I dazedly, Tim pragmatically) gathered medication and a jacket and bottled water and then went to bed. I slept somewhere between midnight and 3.00am, and that was…it. There have been aftershocks all morning. The table that this laptop is sitting on wobbled just before, and it probably will again. Right now my legs and hands are shaking and my head is sort of spacey and my butt and heart are twitching in a syncopated motion and I sincerely can’t tell what is tiny aftershock and what is me.
I’d like to acknowledge a ton of things: everything rattled fearsomely but nothing broke, we weren’t hurt, and Christchurch has dealt with this kind of thing x a million. Three hours is a long time to spend under a table, and admittedly we probably could’ve come out after an hour? Maybe even twenty minutes. But not only did it feel marginally safe under there, it was distracting. We had an instant world to focus our energies in. After the first big, terrifying quake finally subsided, we grabbed a bottle of whisky. Incidentally, the bottle Kim and Brendan gave us for an engagement present, and which we promised we’d drink with them sometime. This wasn’t what we’d pictured.
a whole new world.
Soon it acquired chips, pretzels, diet lift, dried fruit, knitting, the laptop that I’m typing this on, soothing music, cushions and blankets, and, as I joked weakly on Twitter, “a French Quarter”. While we were all varying degrees of scared, there was some bleak comedy happening under the table as well – like the shrieks of people excitedly playing Candy Crush on their phones jolting the rest of us, or when I elected to play Walk the Line instead of God’s Gonna Cut You Down (even if I don’t believe, Johnny Cash sounds like he means it), or our various Tetris-like attempts to fit comfortably under there. And just the fact that this was our house, and we had invited our friends there, gave me this unusual ability to channel general we-can-get-through-this Julie Andrews levels of brisk practicality. I mean, I was still kind of a mess, but honestly, relatively Andrews-esque. No one can brisk like her. After we’d dropped Kim and Brendan off at their house, I ended up having to ask Tim to pull over because I was having a small panic attack, I think my brain finally exhaled and stopped putting on a show. Later that night, after trying to lull myself into a false sense of security with Parks and Recreation, which is a surefire way to make myself feel like the world is a better place, I lay in bed absolutely awake, every particle of my body alert and unwilling to sleep. Tim, meanwhile, happy-go-lucky bastard that he is, was clearly half asleep already. And then he was all “we could just talk about stuff if you want, like the wedding” and so we did, even though I knew both of us were only trying to distract me. And it was so damn sweet I nearly cried. Oh no, wait, I did.
We’re both home today, partly because of my barely-slept NOPE in response to the world, but mostly legitimately – lots of CBD workers have been sent home or advised not to come in at all – trying to stay calm and ride out the aftershocks. My nerves are coming to pieces like the frayed end of a ribbon and everything feels very weird. A mix of “is this even that bad?” and “is this our life now? Waiting for earthquakes?”
In the middle of all that, I found a madeleine that didn’t make it to the container for Kate and Jason, and ate it. Still good.
Sweetly ruffled surface and palm-friendly shape aside, these madeleines may look a little dryly unpromising from the outside. However each bite rewards your mouth with dense, buttery sponge, made rich with almonds and the purposeful, necessary burning of the butter. Madeleine tins aren’t the hardest thing to come by, or else I wouldn’t have one, but I’m sure you could try making this in cupcake liners and something delicious would still happen. These do take a bit of effort and musclework, but sheesh, your friends just gave you a whole table!
burnt butter madeleines
recipe from issue 148 of that favourite magazine of mine, Cuisine. I doubled this, and used a whole 70g packet of ground almonds, because I just did.
30g ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Firstly, get your madeleine tin ready and set your oven to 180C/350F. In a small pot, melt the butter over a high heat, and then let it continue to bubble away scarily until it goes from a bright yellow frothy mixture to a darker, more burnished gold. Sit it in a sink of cold water, or tip into a cold bowl, so it quickly cools down. Whisk the eggs and sugar together for about five minutes, till pale and thick, then continue to whisk in the ground almonds. Sift in the flour and baking powder, alternating with pouring in the butter, and fold it all together gently. Let it sit for fifteen minutes, by which stage it should have thickened up quite a bit. Brush the madeleine tin with melted butter or a neutral oil (or some of the residual burned butter in the pan) and spoon small dollops of the mixture into the tin. Bake for ten minutes, then repeat with remaining mixture, allowing the cooked madeleines to cool on a rack as you go.
Am fresh out of adjectives, to the point of narrow-eyedly using the Thesaurus app on this laptop for the word ‘good’. I can advise, therefore, that these are outstanding, sterling, and simply ace. Like many foodstuffs I like, these are a pleasing melange (that was the thesaurus too) of fancy and plain, soft and spongy and sweet and yet calmly straightforward of flavour – despite the burned butter’s richness that I mentioned, they really just taste like sublime (that adjective was mine!) cake.
And I’d like to just mention again that I love the table. Formica is a little nostalgic, a lot practical, and looks damn sweet in photos.
Today, despite my nerves, brittle and fragile like a crisp meringue, I am enjoying just spending time with Tim and consuming more Orange is the New Black and knitting. It’s a bummer we’re here under these strange, nerve-wracking circumstances, but we might as well try to enjoy it while we’re here and be thankful for what we’ve got. It’s so odd going from being anxious about vague nothingness, to suddenly having that plus anxiety about potential reality, but on the other hand this affliction means I’m pretty much always fight-or-flight ready anyway? It’s not right, but it’s okay, as the great Whitney Houston once sang. I’m also super grateful for Twitter – the importance of that instant feeling of not being alone can’t be overstated. Stay safe everyone, pals, suspicious non-pals, the indifferent. And if someone works out how to, I don’t know, throw an earthquake in jail, I’d be open to listening. Especially if there’s a robust rehabilitation programme and preventative societal change involved.
Frank Sinatra, New York, New York. Rat Pack = soothing to me.
This isn’t music, but Tim and I listen to Bob Ducca’s list of ailments at least weekly, and did again on purpose last night. Makes me helpless with laughter every time.
Next time: Um. No more quakes, please. Seriously.