Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 25

Sweetpeas are in bloom all over the neighborhood; so, too, is the butterfly bush. The air is heavy with fragrance.

Summer after summer, the same list of things stirs my emotions. How long the evenings are, before the last wisps of light leave the sky. How much the boys have grown since this time last year. The endless stream of friends, coming and going. The memories of being their age.

I get up at first light. This morning, something disturbed the geese on the water as I made the coffee, but I resisted the urge to investigate. I work furiously while the house is still quiet. My manuscript is due September 15, and as Alexi likes to say, “Nothing so concentrates the mind like the fear of being hanged.” With each chapter I’m immersed in a different time in my life, I assume a different age, I put on different music, I sift through the photos from those days. I dream in words.

Everything is ridiculously good. No matter how hard remembering an experience I’m writing about sometimes is; even when I haven’t had enough sleep. Someday, we’ll sit around talking about these days. How long the summers were; the way we used to walk the beach after dinner; how we ate the leftover pie for breakfast.

Erin’s Salad

My friend Erin posted this salad on Instagram recently, and I’ve been living on it. It’s the perfect summer lunch.

1 can chickpeas
1 small cucumber, or ½ large cucumber
1/3 c chopped cilantro
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 avocado
juice of 1 lime
¼ c crumbled queso fresco (or a mild feta)

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Cut the cucumber in half, then cut it in half again and slice into ¼ inch pieces. Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed, and cut into small chunks. Mix everything together gently. Season to taste with with salt and pepper.

Yield: 2 meal-sized servings, or 4 servings as a side

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

June 3

Twice last week, I made rhubarb raspberry rye crumble. There is nothing like the scent of baking raspberries.

I brought it to a party on perhaps the only day, so far, that has really felt like summer, here. It was hot and breezeless; the sky was white. I wore a lapis blue linen dress and sandals for the occasion, and as I sipped cold wine, a whisper of sweat trickled down my spine.

The event was for the parents of the fourth graders at Cal’s school. I felt a great sense of intimacy as I looked around, realizing that I understood something about everyone there. I know many of Cal’s classmates better than I know their parents, from years of driving on field trips, Cal’s stories, and the times I’ve had many of them over, maybe served them oatmeal pancakes on a Saturday morning after a sleepover. After the heat dissipated, the light faded, the crumble made its way onto dessert plates and the conversation ebbed, I was left with an abiding sense of quiet contentment.

This time of year always makes me a little melancholy. The weeks in May and June are full of “lasts,” and each and every end-of-the-school-year event makes my insides clench. I’ve realized I only have five more summers before Abbott graduates. He is all sinew and muscle and deep voice; soon, he’ll be taller than all of us. Yet there is still some time unaccounted for; I need to remember that. I’ve experienced loss since he left the womb; when he was days old, I’d think, regretfully, about how close he was to being a full week old.

Nelly is ready to have the boys home full-time - she’s bored with how much time I spend at my computer these days. And I’m looking forward to summer, too: to burning my feet on our sun-warmed deck, sitting outside after dark, hours of reading, picnics, iced tea, salted slices of tomatoes, and sundresses.

Rhubarb Raspberry Rye Crumble
slightly adapted from Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day by Tara O'Brady

Tara O'Brady is a Canadian ship captain’s daughter of Indian descent. She is one of the best storytellers and photographers out there, and one of the loveliest people I know. She recently published a gorgeous book, Seven Spoons, full of her stories, recipes and photographs. Tara’s recipes, many with a global bent, are exactly the kinds of things I want to eat, such as A Burger Treated Like a Steak (bathed in miso butter!), Feel Better Curried Soup with Crispy Chicken, and Savory Steel-Cut Oats with Cheese and Spinach. I typically don’t like rhubarb combined with any other fruit, but Tara knows her way around the kitchen, so I decided to try her rhubarb-raspberry-rye crumble. I am so glad I trusted her; this is one of the best fruit desserts I've ever made.

Streusel topping:
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup (110 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (50 g) rye flour
¼ cup (20 g) flaked (sliced) almonds
¼ teaspoon ground cardamon

2 pounds (910 g) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½ - inch pieces
1 ¼ pounds (565 g) raspberries, fresh or frozen
Juice from ½ lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (28 g) tapioca flour
¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 vanilla bean
vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Grease a 2 quart baking dish with butter.

To make the topping, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar and salt on medium-high speed until fluffy, around three minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and turn the speed to low. Sprinkle in the oats, flours, almonds, and cardamon; let the machine run until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the mixture starts to gather into a rough streusel, about three minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Place the bowl with the streusel in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

To make the filling, combine the rhubarb, raspberries, lemon juice, sugar, tapioca flour, and salt in a large bowl. Split the vanilla bean down its length, scrape its seeds into the bowl, and then add the pod as well. Fold everything until the tapioca disappears. Scrape the fruit mixture and any accumulated juices into the prepared baking dish. Using your hands, distribute the streusel over the filling.

Place the dish on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 50 minutes.

Cool on a rack for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Yield: 8 to 10 portions

Monday, May 25, 2015

May 25

Last Monday morning, early, I boarded an airplane to Los Angeles. I began reading as soon as I got settled in my seat. The next thing I knew, we had landed, and my book was precariously wedged between my legs. It was a muggy, gray morning in LA, and I took some comfort in that, because I was going to be indoors the entirety of my visit. After spending an hour driving twelve miles, I arrived at Pink Lotus, the practice of an old friend, to do some research for my book. By the end of the day, when I began the drive back to the airport, the skies had cleared, and as I stood waiting for the shuttle between the rental car facility and the airport, I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the warmth of the setting sun. After spending the day with a surgeon-triathlete-mother of triplet six-year-old boys, I needed another nap on the way home.

Speaking of humidity, I felt a trace of it all weekend, here, with a promising touch of warmth. And last night, there was this sunset that came out of nowhere, after we had gone to the beach and come home under heavy gray skies. The boys went upstairs to brush their teeth, and as I took Nelly on one last, short walk, fiery light filtered through the trees and onto the street and illuminated the water beside the road.

And speaking of great things, Abbott played his violin at a friend’s bar mitzvah over the weekend, with that friend and several others. They chose the song Tradition, from Fiddler on the Roof, and had been rehearsing, garage-band style, for weeks before the boy’s mom found out their plans. I love those guys.

As I type this, I’ve got a crisp in the oven partially made with the first tender stalks of rhubarb from our yard. I can’t ever grow enough to keep up with our demand, but still. It’s something.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

a comforting repetitiveness

Abbott will text me any minute now with a question, or information he wants to pass on, as he does every day during his lunch period. I’ll respond, and then snap a picture of Nelly and send that on to him, too, as I do. I am especially thankful for the Internet when I get his texts. He acts with the same constancy whenever we’re together. Both boys do. They hover around me with a predictable physicality, lightly bump up against me to verify I’m here, pull away, and then return, again, like the tide.

While the boys are at school and I’m at home, relatively free of distractions, I write. Nelly settles in somewhere near my desk and guards the house, ears pricked. This time of year, I keep a window ajar a few inches, letting in the damp, salty air and the steady chirping sounds from the nest in the snag next to the window. The occasional motorboat and distant lawnmower interrupt the relative stillness; the soundtrack of late spring.

There is a comforting repetitiveness to our days. I get up and make coffee; feed Nelly her breakfast and let her out; respond to emails and read the news while I drink my coffee; begin writing. I make breakfast; wake and feed the boys; take them to school. I write until noon; make lunch; write for another hour; take a long walk; pick up the boys from school.

But yesterday morning, after dropping off the boys at their respective schools, I detoured on my way to my desk. I was outside sweeping the front porch when a neighbor’s elderly husky, Ready, walked by. Despite being mostly blind and deaf, Ready is a Houdini about getting out of the house when left to his own devices. I summoned him; his large, white, fluffy frame trotted over, tail wagging. I put him in our garage with some water and a towel to lie on, and then called someone in his family to let them know he was here. Nelly growled threateningly at the garage door until I forced her upstairs.

I worked at the dining room table, instead of my desk, so I could listen for Ready. Nelly stationed herself at the top of the stairs, a low growl rumbling in her throat. I texted Abbott a picture of her in her sentry pose as I got up to make myself something to eat. I’ve been subsisting on kale; I love its sweet, earthy flavor, and the salad I’ve been making pretty much defines my ideal lunch. Ready went home before it was time for our walk. Nelly seemed disappointed.

Evenings, after sports and activities and homework I let Nelly out one last time, and then read aloud to the boys. Then we all read on our own before going to sleep.

Last night, after taking Cal to lacrosse and helping with homework and reading aloud I got under the covers and started An American Childhood. Memoirs are my current favorite genre. The light was fading, but there was plenty to read by. As it became darker, it was quiet enough to hear the sound of a light breeze on the water through the open window. When Nelly began snoring, from her bed, I went downstairs and told the boys it was time to stop reading, and switched on a light. Alexi and I watched an episode of The Sopranos, and then pulled up the blankets, and fell into a deep sleep.

Blanched Kale Salad

1 pound kale or other greens, such as Swiss chard or collard greens, thick stems discarded, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
large pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 ounces feta cheese, preferably French feta, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup pitted kalamata or nicoise olives
optional: 1/2 cup grape or other small tomatoes, sliced in half
bread, or pita, for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens, and cook until just tender, about two minutes. Rinse immediately under cold water. Drain well, pressing out the excess liquid.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt. Whisk in the oil. Add the kale, toss well, and then top with the feta and olives (and tomatoes, if you are using them). Serve with a slice of good bread or pita.

Yield: 2 servings