The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Heaviness around the middle

Rachael Conlin Levy

Fundamentally, I’m happy with myself.

No, that’s not true.

I’m completely dissatisfied.

— A conversation in my head, January 4, 2013


“Here’s how it works,” she said. “You have your kids and you love them and you take care of them. And what somebody else does or doesn’t do, it doesn’t matter.”

“Still,” James said. “It’s not fair.”

“Fuck fair,” she said.


“No, seriously,” Jenny said and lit another cigarette. “Fair is like a children’s game — your turn, my turn. It’s like what five-year-olds do, and then it goes away. And when you get married and you have kids and it all comes back. I changed the daiper last time. Now it’s your turn to change the diaper. Fuck that.”

“What else is there?”

“You just go,” she said. “A thousand per cent. You just give yourself up. Bliss.”

“It doesn’t sound like bliss.”

“Oh, it is. You just abandon yourself. The temple of yourself — you know, that big important thing? You just let it go. Standing there with my hands dirty with baby shit, cleaning the floors, it’s super simple. I love them. I do what I can to keep them alive and happy. It’s like I’m  not even there — there’s no person, no history.”

— Excerpted from “Mayfly” by Kevin Canty, “The New Yorker,” January 28, 2013


If I were alone for one full week, I would sleep for long stretches of time with no regard to the light or the time or to what day it was. No one would waken me. I’d turn off the phone and the radio so that the silence cradled me. I’d sleep until I was plump with rest and so saturated with silence that I could hear the thudding mechanics of my own heart. Only then would I get up. I would stand at the window eating an omelette and watch a white sun travel across a gray sky. I’d walk for miles through forest and beach without hurry. I’d walk until my toes were cold and my fingers cold and my brain would awaken, taking note that it was its own appendages that were chilled and not those of a child’s, and it would tell my body to push on and I would comply. I’d walk through city streets and watch people pass, wondering how their richly complicated stories were written onto their fierce and ugly and weathered and beautiful and wise faces, and enjoy my anonymity as a walk-on character in their lives. And when I was sufficiently frozen and tired, I’d go home to eat oatmeal for dinner and no one would complain.


Rosemary apricot squares are a purely adult dessert. Their savory/sweet combination makes them unappealing to my children, which means that rather than surreptitiously eating them, I can savor one slowly with my afternoon drink while in full view of my peanut gallery. A simple and small and sweet joy, sinful to the waist but certainly not adulterous, and, given my current frame of mind, it appears I’m taking the lesser of two evils, which makes me think that we continue to take what Frank O’Hara calls “sharp corners,” even at 42.

Rosemary Apricot Squares

Adapted from “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Yields 9 large squares

Ingredients for the rosemary shortbread

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons rosemary leaves, minced

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Ingredients for the apricot filling:

2 cups dried California apricots

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons brandy pinch of salt

Ingredients for the crumb topping:

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (I substituted roasted pumpkin seeds, due to a son’s allergy. Their green looked pretty with the orange apricots and dark flecks of rosemary)

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Begin by placing the apricots, sugar, honey, brandy and salt into a saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water and simmering over low heat until apricots are fork tender and the filling is thickened. This should take about 40 to 50 minutes, but I got sidetracked and cooked mine for an extra 10, scorching and blackening a few apricots, but without permanent damage to either the filling or the pot.

As the apricots bubble on the stove, make the rosemary shortbread by beating the butter with the powdered sugar, vanilla and salt until fluffy. Add the flour, salt and rosemary. Dump the dough into a greased and parchment lined 9-inch square pan. (Let the parchment hang over two sides in order to use the edges as handles when removing the bars.) Using lightly floured hands, press the dough into an even layer. Put it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Don’t forget to stir the apricots.

Slide the pan into the oven and make for about 30 minutes. As the shortbread bakes, scrape the apricots into a food processor and puree until smooth. Check the shortbread. When it’s golden, remove it from the oven.

While the shortbread cools, make the crumb topping by mixing the flour, brown sugar, nuts or seeds and salt with the butter until a sandy crumb forms. (If you have a tried-and-true crumb topping recipe, I’d swap it for this one, which is mediocre. I’d probably add more nuts or seeds, as well.) Spread the apricot filling over the shortbread and sprinkle the crumb topping over the filling. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the crumb has browned. Let it cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes before eating.

12 responses to “Heaviness around the middle”

  1. Beth says:

    Your idea of a week alone sounds lovely. I’d ask to come along, but then you wouldn’t be alone and that would defeat the whole purpose. 🙂

    Thank you for sharing Frank O’Hara’s poetry- love Animals and think I agree with him in the Ave Maria poem- what harm could sending the kids to the movies in 1960 really cause?

    If I eat this yummy dessert, I’m sure I’ll be feeling the heaviness in my middle, too. What the hell- it’s the end of January!

  2. Have I told you lately that I love your bold honesty? I do. And I like the combination of rosemary and apricot in your squares.

  3. Andrea says:

    Mmmm, that’s the best kind of dessert…the kind kids don’t like. I was alone for two-and-a-half days last fall, and that’s pretty much how I spent them, though not nearly so eloquently (and cream of wild mushroom soup instead of oatmeal).

  4. Rachael says:

    Beth, a fellow writer would be most welcome company!

    Denise, I’d considered not putting these thoughts (and photo) out there, but then decided why not? I live once, I might as well live real.

    Andrea, mushroom soup in silence sounds delicious.

  5. Just returned to your Frank O’Hara link and read A TRUE ACCOUNT OF TALKING TO THE SUN AT FIRE ISLAND. A good morning poem.

  6. Rachael says:

    Yes, I liked that one too. Shine on, Denise!

  7. Christina says:

    I wish I could make your week a-drifting come true for you.

    About all I can do is bake up those bars and enjoy them in your honor.

    Or bake them and bring them to you when you’re enjoying some longed-for solitude, leaving them on the doorstep!

    I only have the one child of course…and yet I remember, when she was small, how just the walk around the car after buckling her in, from the right side around the back of the car to the left, was a moment to savor because nobody was asking anything of me for those five seconds…which I sometimes heedlessly stretched to six seconds 🙂

  8. Rachael says:

    Chris, you’re right that it’s all about seizing the little moments.

  9. Christina says:

    I’m not really as Pollyanna as my comment might imply though…I bet you have never thrown your clogs at the door in frustration at your offspring 🙂 (But then again you’re too stylin’ to be wearing clogs 🙂

  10. Rachael says:

    No shoes, but a bucket of water over the head? I’m afraid so.

  11. Linda says:

    A bucket of water over the head??? Who and when? Afraid to point out, hija mia, that we’re part of the same quilt, no? Enjoying my silent home …. most of the time.

  12. Rachael says:

    Mi madre, the bucket should come as no surprise after the overturned cake, the splashed glass of wine — all directed at the people I love most.

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