Forty Rooms, Every Woman’s Story of Dreams Deferred

Every so often I read a book that speaks to me directly and stays with me long after the last page has been turned. Inevitably, these books tell one woman’s story that reflects the truths and emotions experienced by all women. Of course, these truths and emotions are probably experienced by everyone (and in fact a male friend who also read this book has said that it spoke to him in the same way) but because I am a woman, I can only tell you about Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin from a woman’s point of view.

The story is told through 40 brief chapters, reflecting 40 rooms inhabited throughout a woman’s life. Through these rooms, we watch this woman grow from an imaginative child who sees her mother sifting through a box of her own memories, and imagines her as a mermaid, into a woman with six children who has pushed aside her dreams of becoming a poet for the sake of raising her family. At some point during her journey, though, she is no longer deferring her dreams for a higher good, but using her daily responsibilities as an excuse to no longer pursue them. At what point did this happen? Was it a conscious decision (nowhere does it seem like it) or just an ongoing postponement that finally eroded her vision? And what does that tell us, the readers, about the consequences of postponing our dreams?

Early on in the story there is a mysterious man who comes to her in her dreams and who questions her and offers her advice. At one point he says, “You can spend your days baking cookies for your offspring, or — as ever through the ages — you can become a madwoman, a nomad, a warrior, a saint. But if you do decide to follow the way of the few, you must remember this: Whenever you come to a fork in the road, always choose the harder path, otherwise the path of least resistance will be chosen for you.”

As the woman moves through adulthood, the reader senses a shift where her path does become chosen for her because she herself has neglected to choose. It is interesting to note also that this woman is a nameless narrator through childhood and young adulthood, but in middle age, when the shift becomes apparent, she begins to call herself “Mrs. Caldwell”, narrating her own story as if “Mrs. Caldwell” is an entity separate from herself. When I reached this part of the story, I have to say I found it genius. This woman had become so removed from herself, that she told her own story as a stranger would!

Forty Rooms has a thread of the surreal or supernatural running through it and this is especially prevalent in the early and later parts of the woman’s life, from her childhood imaginings, to the dream visits of the mysterious man, to the final rooms of her life where her memories and “what-ifs” crowd reality. In the end, I was left with an understanding of how easily a life can slip away if one allows the path of least resistance to be chosen for them, and really, how little time each of us has to realize our dreams in the first place! What a wake-up call!

Few books have stayed with me the way Forty Rooms has, and certainly fewer have motivated me with a sense of positive urgency to take a good look at my life, accept the choices I’ve made, and recognize where and why I may have strayed from my early dreams. The good news? While not a story of redemption for Mrs. Caldwell, it can be for the readers who take her message to heart.

Recipe to try: Le Pain Quotidien Chia & Coconut Pudding

A couple of weeks ago I was in the mood for chia seed pudding, something I had tried in Denver with my youngest daughter (shout out to Molly!) and loved so much that it took on a mythical quality…especially since I could never recreate it at home.  But this day was different.  I found a recipe in the Le Pain Quotidien cookbook by Alain Coumont and Jean-Pierre Gabriel (2013) that was topped with a beautiful passion fruit sauce.  With only four ingredients total, this recipe seemed easy, doable, and delicious.  If it came out anywhere near as yummy as the pudding I’d had in Denver, it would be a keeper!

The pudding was simple:  5 T chia seeds stirred into a 14 oz. can of coconut milk.  My problems with chia seed pudding in the past all had to do with it staying too runny, but this time it started to set immediately.  I poured it into ramekins and popped them in the fridge.  It was completely set in a couple of hours, and even though I did not serve it until the next day, it’s good to know i can be made more quickly (should I be desperate for a little fix…)

There was no passion fruit at the store, though, so that tasting will have to come later.  I replaced the passion fruit with a combination of yellow mango, raspberries, and pomegranate seeds.  The recipe called for the fruit to be added to 4 T agave syrup, brought to a boil and then immediately reduced to a low simmer for 5 minutes.  The combination of the sweet mango with the sharper raspberries and pomegranate was delicious, though I might use fewer pomegranate seeds if I did it again. I think this is one dessert where a wide variety of fruits could be used, with delicious results!

I would definitely make this one again!  Here is a link to the full recipe:

http://www.lepainquotidien.com/recipe/chia-seed-coconut-pudding-recipe/#.WRpdJ9zY-t8