There are moments of contentment in life that can often spring from nowhere. Each moment acts as a smug inner smile that stretches across the extent of your entire being, which you embrace without question or opposition. It feels different to happiness, as it does not make you silly and giddy, more so relaxed and satisfied; there will be no crashing dip to sadness as you ride the wave of contentment. More importantly, these moments can hit at any time on any day – they are not reserved for or biased towards special occasions, but instead favour the underdog that is your average day.
Once again, my twilight hours had been rendered sleepless as insomnia had reared its unwelcome head. The mechanics of my ever-whirring brain were refusing to shut down and the rest of my body was left in a limbo of restless fatigue. It was imposing wordy thoughts that could not be silenced. However, it was not the end of the world. There were times when I was younger when these sleepless nights would bother me, but one day my mother told me that clever people do not actually need as much sleep, as their brains relish the further time of thought. As I have grown older I have become slightly more sceptical about this theory, but it still continues to comfort me to this day – assuming she regards me as clever, that is, which I am sure is an obligation for most parents. Wherever her stance on my intelligence, it has taught me the importance of not concerning yourself too heavily with things you cannot change – as well as allowing me to fully experience the benefits of instant coffee.
The morning after this merciless night of broken and stunted sleep, I awoke to a bitterly cold air around me. A cup of hot tea soon rekindled my frosted being into life, but I was still feeling dangerously unmotivated. The day seemed to be shaping itself into a rhythmic tedium, just like any other, and with an irritatingly familiar feeling. My time was also limited, but I took the extra moment to toast two slices of bread and smother them in butter, as well as indulging myself the minutes to sit at my kitchen table to gorge upon them. I was now running very late, but at least my stomach was pleased.
I darted towards front door, when I noticed an envelope that was patiently waiting for me after what is likely to have been a distressing fall from the letterbox. The letter-writing market, by this point, had suffered a brutal and unfortunate demise, so I wondered who had kindly taken the time to put pen to paper and stamp to envelope. As I bent down I noticed my grandfather’s neat slanted handwriting, and I smiled with the knowledge that I could rely on the more traditional generation of my family.
I left the comfort of my house and ran errands – the details of which are unimportant and of little consequence – before returning home. That afternoon I reread my grandfather’s letter and wrote a reply, before starting on the very overdue housework. I blasted Motown music through speakers as a means of reinforcing my perkiness, my pleasure acting as a sly wink towards an era that I had never lived through, but was able to appreciate purely through aural delight.
As the busy afternoon crept gradually towards the evening I moved into the kitchen to start thinking about dinner, only to become thoroughly sidetracked when I stumbled across a bag of pecan nuts slumped at the back of my cupboard, unused and unloved. I adore pecans, especially because they act as a slightly more attractive alternative to the walnut, their wrinkles streamlined into sleek patterns and their bite just that little bit sweeter. However, these pecans had passed me by ever since I bought them on a whim a few months previously, and it was at this precise moment that I decided to utilise my purchase. Knocking aside sensible ideas of pasta or casserole, it was soon decided that my dinner was to be Pecan Pie.
Now, making pastry has never been one of my strong points, but I see it as a necessity when working with such fine ingredients. I placed the apron around my neck, tied the strings into a dishevelled bow behind my back, and took an apprehensive breath. The butter and flour sat in front of me menacingly, but I would not let them defeat me. I weighed the desired amounts of each ingredient with precision, and gently worked my hands through the mixture. I then carefully rolled it and even more carefully placed it into the pie dish that had once been my grandmother’s. I felt a tiny pang of betrayal as my pastry was laid over a recipe for Apple Pie printed onto the base of the dish, but a quick memory of the dessert I was actually making soon countered any doubts. The pastry was then blind baked – a term that always conjures up insecurity for me as it is left in oven with neither care nor attention, leaving the baked goods in the realm of the extremely unpredictable.
A slightly shaky fifteen minute wait and a calming cup of tea later, I removed the dish from the oven and found the output to my liking. The pastry was golden – but not too golden – and had kept its form. While it cooled on the table I moved onto the filling: a gooey, sickly, coppery and nut-riddled mess that involves wicked quantities of pecans, sugar, golden syrup and butter. I chopped the nuts roughly so that I was left with a diverse mix of whole pieces and dusty shards, and over a low heat I mixed the delectably unhealthy concoction all together.
The pie was then subjected to another stint in the oven, where I had to restrain myself from nervously prodding it too much. I felt like an overprotective mother wanting to fuss over her long-suffering child, although my child was a pie and really I was only feeling anxious because its success was very much in my interests. I had to merely accept that it would be fine, and after the forced patience, it was ready. Within a few short moments a warm slice was sitting happily in my pink polka dot bowl – an item of crockery reserved for especially tasty treats – underneath an immense blanket of cream. With the addition of yet another cup of tea, life had become very good indeed.
One friend once likened contentment to a state of neutrality; neither up nor down. I understand the logic behind this sentiment, but feel that a more appropriate label would be one of balance. Neutrality implies a level of impartial disinterest, but if you are balanced, you are composed, stable and poised. A life can be lived through dribbles of simple pleasures – there will be peaks and troughs along the way, but as long as there are also pockets of contentment then the state of affairs quite frankly cannot be that bad.
Pecan Pie for dinner works pretty well.