Books. Do you like books? I like books. I cannot say that I devour everything out there. The truth is my book cravings come in bouts and waves. It’s kind of like when you notice your body is lacking some vital nutrient, so you start carting Costco-size bags of mixed nuts around and suddenly become a mixed-nut spokesperson, offering them to everyone around you with a knowing look that says, “You should really take better care of your health. Here, have some of my mixed nuts.”
That’s what happens to me. With books. I’ll suddenly become aware of the fact that I haven’t been reading lately and feel this overwhelming need to go out and buy a book. I start carting the book with me everywhere. Nothing else is as interesting as this book I am reading. I am filled with concern for the bookless people around me. I shake my head and mourn the dwindling number of readers.
Perhaps my passionate bursts of reading stem from the way I read as a child. Once I was into a story, it was impossible to tear me away from my book. I would stay up late into the night with a flashlight under the covers, desperate for the next page, and the next, and the next… And I could not detach myself from the story. I would start acting like the character, slowly turning my world into the world of the book. And it wasn’t all that subtle. Most notably, I harbored a steady obsession with Anne of Green Gables. I started signing my full name on all my school reports, Kaleigh Anne Bowser, “And that’s Anne with an E“, I would remind my teachers. I even underlined the E twice for good measure. I started calling friends “kindred spirits” and telling my family I was in “the depths of despair” if I was in a bad mood. I swear at one point I even looked in the mirror and thought I saw red hair.
So yes, perhaps the reason I am not a consistent reader is because I know once I am involved in a story, I am involved. That kind of intensity needs to be spaced out!
I had brought a few books with me to Ecuador. But there was so much bus traveling at the beginning that I finished them off sooner than anticipated. After a few months, the familiar awareness came over me. I need to read a book. I started asking around to know where I could find a used book store, with books in English, but no one knew where to point me. There were some stores in malls with a tiny section of books in English, but in addition to costing a small fortune, they were mostly about vampires. No, gracias. Besides, there is a certain charm to a used book store. I like the musty smell, the cramped feeling, and the owners who actually read the books they sell.
Alas, seven months passed with no used book store. Then one day while exploring La Mariscal district in Quito, two words on a corner building stopped us in our tracks: “USED BOOKS”
Used books! That’s in English! We took our time in the shop, soaking in the pleasure of what we’d finally found.
After settling on our purchases and assuring the friendly American owner that we would be back, we headed down the street. And wouldn’t you know it, another used book store! This one called The English Bookshop, as the owner himself is British.
It was a very, very good day.
The question of what book to start with was important. Did I want something modern and thought-provoking, or classic and comforting?
I went with comfort. Echoes, by Maeve Binchy. Comforting to me because she is one of my favorite authors and I love picturing myself living in a small Irish village.
These days I’m able to maintain my own identity while reading a book. (For the most part.) But there is one habit I can’t shake. Tea, and shortbread. They are my reading must-haves.
shortbread fingers recipe
inspired by Felicity Cloake’s perfect shortbread
100g unsalted butter, room temperature
100g salted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup golden sugar
2 cups white flour
1/3 cup cornflour
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
sea salt, extra
I have actually never made my own shortbread. I know, I know, how then has it been a faithful part of my reading routine? I would buy these guys. But I cannot buy those guys here! So it posed a good challenge.
I wanted to use rice flour, but when I asked for harina de arroz I just got a weird look from the sales clerk, so, cornflour it was! And actually I was really happy with the crumble-in-your-mouth results!
So, my version is pretty darn simple. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon until creamy and spread out. Add sugar and blend well. In another bowl, combine flour, cornflour, and salt. Add dry mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and combine with your fingers. Don’t overwork it.
Use parchment paper or even aluminum foil to line the bottom of a 26 x 22cm cake pan, leaving extra hanging over each side. Press the mixture into the pan. I put mine in the fridge for an hour before baking, to let it firm up a bit.
Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Remove your pan from fridge and poke all over with a fork. (I went a little poke-crazy and forgot about making pretty, even holes throughout. Woops.) Sprinkle top with the extra sea salt.
Bake for 40 minutes to an hour. Truth be told, up here in the mountains everything takes way longer because of the altitude, so I waited an hour and a half for it to be perfect. But keep your eye on it and take it out when golden and cooked through completely.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Remove carefully using the overhanging sides of parchment paper to lift it out. Cut into fingers.
Curling up under a blanket with a good book, a pot of tea, and delicious shortbread. Just what the doctor ordered.
Calama 410 y Juan Leon Mera
The English Bookshop
Calama y Diego de Almagro