The Zen of Empty Space + Banana-Oat-Cacao Cookies (GF)

It’s been exactly two whole months now that we’ve been practically camping out in empty houses. The adults in the family quickly adapted to the beauty of emptiness -its calming qualities, yes, but also the extra time in your day given that you don’t need to clean and care for things as much.  The kids are not as happy with this zen of emptiness mindset. 

Israel and I have always preferred a certain minimal aesthetics. Sure, we read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, just like everyone else our age, but to be honest, it didn’t do that much for us, as we have always very much disliked clutter. Nevertheless, there’s nothing like moving house (especially moving out of a very spacious house) to show you just how much stuff you have accumulated. Bruno did an amazing job of letting go of objects before the big move; he got rid of almost all of his belongings, sparing just enough clothes to fit into one of those expandable bags, which wasn’t even zippered all the way open. He even detached himself all of his lego toys, many of which had gone in his carry-on suitcase when we moved to California in 2013. Although I admired his detachment, that one gave me growing pains, I admit. 

Olivia is the only hoarder in the family. Because she’s the black sheep, every now and then I’ll go into her room when she’s not home with a big trash bag and toss some things I’m sure she will not even notice are gone. She always does. The first time she told me she had seen some of her things in the trashcan, I felt like the worst mother ever. But it didn’t stop me. After that, I had to start stashing them under other garbage or take them out to the container.  What’s even worse: I remember my dad doing the same thing to me as a child. Why do we have to become our parents? 

We shipped our container out on July 10, almost an entire month before getting on the plane to Barcelona. We were told the London Express’ voyage across the ocean might take up to 8 weeks, but were optimistic things would arrive before the beginning of the school year.  No such luck. Did you know you can follow a ship’s journey online in real time? For the past two months, Israel has  been waking up to a daily reminder of which port the ship is in and which one it’s headed towards. When we saw it had docked in Valencia, our excitement grew: yes! ahead of schedule! But then somehow the next day it set sail for Italy, and then France. What the….? Somehow we figured out that our container had been taken off of the London Express in Valencia and placed on another ship headed our way. By now we know it’s in Barcelona, but  going through customs, and only God of Customs knows how long that might take. 

This is what our workspace looks like. 

This is what our workspace looks like. 

The kids and I arrived in Barcelona August 1; Israel had flown in (with Ramen the cat) the day before to take care of the basics, namely mattresses to put on the floor until our stuff got here. I had a box waiting for me with a 1950s Limoges set of China, which I picked up last summer at a tiny French antique shop in Madrid. It has come in very handy and made even the most simple meals a pleasure. Beautiful things can do that. My mother-in-law brought an extra blender and two pans with her from Madrid (but no pot), one close friend lent us some utensils and another one came to the rescue with other essentials we realized we couldn’t live without (a cutting board, a strainer, the missing pot, a serrated knife for bread, a can opener). I had ordered an electric teakettle and a toaster beforehand; breakfast is a pretty important moment of the day for me, and tea is of course a serious matter. 

When we moved to California 5 years ago, we got rid of absolutely everything. After having lived in the same apartment for 15 years, the stuff was coming out of the walls, in spite of our so-called minimalism. People in Spain don’t really do garage/moving sales, or do they move too often, and everyone thought we were just plain weird with our moving sale. So on top of the letting go difficulties, I felt judged. That was not fun. The detachment itself though, was one of the most cleansing experiences ever. Israel turned it into a project, and built a website called “clearing out the house” with a photo of each and every single item we were letting go of, down to the last article of clothing. We spent four months on this “project”; perhaps it was a good distraction from all of the more unsettling aspects of our move. 

We set off to our new life with only 10 suitcases and tons of excitement. It was a lot of work building up to get to a place we finally felt settled into, but we made it happen. And then we moved again. This time, not quite five years down the road, we didn’t feel ready to get rid of everything again, so we decided in favor of shipping a container. It was another small ordeal, but we did it. 

Between the empty house and the stillness of August in Spain, when all the locals are gone and everything is closed, we have had a pretty calm first month here. But now that the kids are about to start the school year and work is picking up, I can’t wait to be finally settled in. The other day we drew a map of the kitchen and decided what is going into each and every drawer and cabinet. I’m not OCD, that’s just how eager I am to finally and entirely land on the ground. It’s a fairly large kitchen, with space for our dining table (and there’s even a chimney!), so I’m excited to have my bookshelves with all of my cookbooks in here, too.  

The zen of emptiness has been accompanied by a decision to shut myself off for a while for the news around the world. The two countries I belong to (in addition to Spain), Argentina and the US, are going through perhaps their worst moments in history, so it’s a very conscious decision, albeit selfish. I have enough going on emotionally with moving right now. Plus, the way I got my news in the States was mostly via the radio in the car while driving; life in Barcelona is car-less (especially now that our car is in the container, too), so I don’t have that either. (My beloved Japan is bleeding from natural disasters, which I can't help finding out about. Ouch.) Not hearing about all of the international tragedies on a daily basis has made things lighter, to say the least. 

I don't even have styling props! 

I don't even have styling props! 

On a culinary front, this post could also be called: What you do when you’re sick of waiting for your container to arrive from the other side of the world, you’ve been living in an empty house for 8 weeks, you really want to bake something for your kids (and maybe yourself too) on the last lazy Saturday afternoon of the summer, your daughter has a new friend coming over, but you have no kitchen utensils to work with. I mean none. No mixing bowl, no measuring cups or spoons, no spice collection, no fancy Oaktown Spice Shop vanilla powder. No electric mixer, not even a whisk. You are just starting to build up your new home’s pantry, but your glass jars haven’t arrived yet either, and storing ingredients in plastic drives you nuts, so flours are still scarce, too. Bare bones cookies. Not too bad, though. Especially with the good-looking pure cacao powder you scored at the village farmer’s market spice stall this morning. 
So here’s what you do: you bake!

All measurements are approximate (and thus pretty flexible), as I was measuring with a coffee mug.

Banana-Oat-Cacao Cookies (GF)
makes about 15 cookies 

1 large banana, mashed
1 1/4 cups gluten free oats
1 1/3 cups brown rice flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 egg
1/3 cup honey
4 Tb butter, melted
1/4 cup raw cacao powder 

Preheat oven to 350ºF/175ºC. 
Mix the oats, rice flour, salt, and cacao powder in a large bowl (or a pot, as I had to do, for lack thereof). Make a well in the center and incorporate the melted butter, egg, honey, and banana. Mix well until combined. 
This is a pretty soft dough, so ideally it should sit in the fridge for about 15 min.  
After the dough has chilled and hardened a bit, shape into balls, roughly 1.5 Tb of dough. Spread them apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet (they won’t spread too much) and press down a bit with your fingertips. 
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet and serve immediately; these are best enjoyed shortly out of the oven, or you can freeze them for future use.