I made popcorn balls today, somewhat out of the blue. My mother used to make them when I was young – some we hung on the tree, some we set outside for birds, squirrels and chipmunks, and some we ate. I loved them so much that I often stole little bites from the ones hanging on the Christmas tree. Even stale they were quite lovely.
I say this to be clear that in all my rambling about the Ground of Being and the folly of thought and so forth I am hardly above the creaturely comforts of life in the world. It is important to be honest about this: with ourselves and with those with whom we share the spiritual path, be it A Course in Miracles or some other iteration of the return to/remembrance of God. Awakening is not a denial of anything. It is more in the nature of an enfoldment. Nothing is excluded.
Cooking makes me happy – and cooking for people I love makes me happier yet. I get nervous cooking for people I don’t know or only know at arm’s length. But my mother was happy and creative in the kitchen and I glommed onto that quite early. I loved being her sous chef and just generally being around her while she cooked. She was – and is still – a great cook. I learned a lot in her kitchen. Eating food is such a primal experience and each successive level of grace we bring – attentive preparation, communal sharing etc. – can only be described as spiritual, even if we are not always precisely aware of it as such.
Anyway, the semester for me has finally ended and it was as it always is busy and intense, with a few extra moments of drama this time around. And, of course, Christmas draws near – with its flurry of commercialism, visiting family and so forth. Two days ago we were at the kids’ piano recital. Yesterday we visited a local gingerbread exhibit and went out to lunch with my parents. Today we are facing a crazy rain storm which likely means a flooded basement which likely means no sleep and a lot of bucketing. Life in the world! It can crowd and overwhelm us if we are not gently and consistently giving attention to what lies beyond it. We have no problems, but remembering that can be a challenge.
So what do we do? Well, we can reach for the small graces that remind us we are not alone and allow us to extend love to those around us. So I turn for example to popcorn balls: the familiar joy of creation, consuming, sharing, celebrating. God is never not with us, regardless of how unwilling or unable we are to remember and embrace that fact. There are no small steps to Heaven!
I don’t often cook via recipes so I can offer only a rough approximation of how I make popcorn balls. First I pop a batch of popcorn – aiming for roughly twelve cups, which seems to be the default for half a cup of unpopped kernals. I let it cool then warm it – toast it, really – in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes
While it’s toasting, I mix half a cup of corn syrup with half a cup of sugar (the latter measured by hand, the former by actual cup measure) with a few dashes of salt and then a generous scoop of peanut butter. Over medium heat I stir this into a smooth and bubbly sort of batter. Then I take it off the burner and add approximately a half teaspoon of baking soda and a generous splash of vanilla. Baking soda is so amazing to watch. I have a simple chocolate cake recipe where it combines with vinegar right at the end in the chocolate batter and the pale bubbly swirls are like watching Van Gogh paint right in front of you. Simple pleasures.
When the sugar/peanut butter mix is ready I pull the popcorn from the oven and put into a large bowl and slowly drizzle the mix over it, stopping often to mix with a wooden spoon. You have to work somewhat quickly at this point because the mixture thickens once it’s removed from the heat. There’s a point where it stops working and you’re stuck with caramel (which I know is not exactly the worst place to be stuck).
Once the popcorn is all covered I wet my hands and form about a dozen or so balls which I then cool in the fridge. If you are feeling artistic, you can add a few handfuls of dried or chopped cranberries (or crushed candy cane or shaved chocolate) into the mix. It makes them a bit more festive in appearance and somewhat more complex on the palate. But I didn’t do that this time. These are not going to be tree ornaments: these are for nibbling throughout the day, probably with hot chocolate and some winter coffee (coffee with cinnamon and nutmeg and peppermint added).
And the day will pass as days do, and what is will remain what is, and my love for it will deepen and solidify, even if I am not aware of it, and that’s okay because the self I think I am can’t do anything anyway and so more and more I – with you – will gather on the metaphorical lawns of Heaven to be reminded – again – that we never left and so remain – hand in hand in hand – maybe eating popcorn balls – joyfully one in the radiant light of which we are all forever composed.