The lights are out. It’s dark in my apartment. But darkness is expected at two in the morning; it’s the silence that awakens me, the jarring absence of modern life’s electronic hum, that jolts me from my sleep. It’s eerie, but I pound my pillow a couple of beats and go back to sleep. Electricity goes out occasionally–a strong wind, a blown fuse. By the time my alarm chases me out of bed in the morning, and I stumble towards the kitchen, rubbing sleep from my eyes, the power is back, and the lightbulbs shine their yellow light at the flick of a switch.
But what if they didn’t? What if the lights stayed out, and the refrigerator didn’t cool, and double-clicking Chrome connected you to nothing (a tale of horror I assume will be added to the next Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology)? That’s the premise of Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest. Eva and Nell are two sisters ensconced in their remote forest cabin as society crumbles. Eva, a pre-professional ballerina, misses the musical accompaniment to her dancing, but Nell is a modern girl: her longings are for internet and food.
Her desire for food isn’t about survival though, at least not yet; their cupboards are still heavy with stockpiled staples: canned vegetables and soups, flour, beans, tuna, shelf-stable milk and cheese, nine-going-on-eight tea bags. It’s this last that is most important to Nell and Eva, though it sustains them least. Their mother, dead of cancer by the time we meet them, used to drink it, and, now, all alone in their forest, it comforts them with its ties to a past perhaps lost forever.
We all lose the past though, if not quite so dramatically as these two sisters. We grow up, move away, move on. There are things I miss from my childhood (understanding my math classes for one), but Nell cuts to the quick of my nostalgia for the past when she says, “Why is it that of all I’ve lost, sometimes it’s food I miss the most?”
I miss the junk food I ate as a child: chocolate Dunkaroos, those crisp cookies plunged into clouds of saccharine frosting by small, greedy hands; Fruit Roll Ups, squished into balls and rolled in palms before being popped, whole, into the mouth; Kraft Singles, folded in half so baby teeth could chomp a hole in the center, irregular like the gap-toothed smile that made it. These days I can get by without these foods; Dunkaroos were a novelty, fruit-roll-ups get stuck in your teeth, and Kraft Singles are more chemical than cheese. But I wonder: what would I miss most at the end of the world? The answer might be a gooey comfort food like mac’ and cheese hot from the oven with a slightly burned top, or it might be a special treat like good melt-in-the-mouth sushi, but I think the food I would miss the most might be something simpler: peanut butter.
Luckily, nut-butters are actually very easy to make. In fact, the only ingredient that’s absolutely essential is nuts. If you live in the Southeast, peanuts should be easy to find, even if it’s the apocalypse and the usual road-side vendors are nowhere to be found. Nell and Eva live in California though, somewhere north of San Francisco. They’re likely to have better luck finding almonds there. So in their honor (and because I happened to have some in my pantry), I’ve decided to make almond butter. The apocalypse hasn’t come yet and my electricity is still working, so I’ve added a few ingredients and used a food processor, but if you do find yourself caught up in the end of the world and in need of a peanut–or almond–butter fix, you can grind plain nuts by hand. It’ll take a while and be hard work, but if it’s the apocalypse, you’ll probably need that upper-body strength anyway.
Cinnamon Almond Butter
2 cups raw almonds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs vegetable oil
1-2 tbs honey, to taste
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Toast almonds in a 325°F oven for 10 minutes. Let cool for five minutes then process in food processor for 2 minutes. Add oil and salt and process for another 6-9 minutes. Mixture should begin to come together and look smooth. Add honey and cinnamon and process for another minute until combined. More honey, oil, and cinnamon can be added to taste. Store in refrigerator.
–By Mollie Gattman