Wednesday, July 8, 2015

July 4

On the fourth of July, we packed up and headed out of town to spend the holiday with our friends Wendy and Andy on their farm. We knew it was going to be a great day. We arrived an hour or so later, after about thirty combined miles of interstate and state highway and country roads, passing grazing horses in pastures and fields of waist-high corn.

We arrived just after lunch. Their new golden retriever puppy, Mabel, greeted us, and as we peeled out of our now-dusty minivan loaded down with bikes, squirt guns, frisbees, and potato salad, Nelly was over the moon to realize she had a playmate.

The barn was already set up for festivities later in the day; there were deep buckets filled with ice and an array of beverages chilling. The kitchen was brimming with food ready to be set out.

The farm abuts a river. We put on our bathing suits, drove a mile down a dirt road, and then navigated the hot sand to the water’s edge. The kids immediately plunged into the chilly water, most of it not quite waist high on anybody, though they warned us about the danger where the current picks up at the bend. Nelly waded out to her neck. She doesn’t swim, no matter how hot it gets. I don't know if she can. Eventually, we all joined the kids in the water. The heat was blistering.

Over the afternoon, a haze developed, then cleared. The heat dulled our senses. After the swimming subsided they asked if we wanted to pick blueberries, but we were tired and sun weary, and wanted shade. So we headed back to the barn and drank cold wine, and waited for the air to get cooler.

As the sun began to lower, others began arriving in a steady procession. Wendy made a salad with red leaf lettuce and cucumber she’d picked on the way back from the river; Andy started a paella. Then we set out the side dishes everyone brought to share, and filled our plates. We toasted our country, and the bounty we’re surrounded with. As the light faded, the kids set off small firecrackers, their sizzling and popping breaking the vast silence of the countryside. Abbott and Cal each lit sparklers, a first for them, and I was glad to notice a brief flicker of trepidation pass across their faces. Then we all got back a safe distance to watch the big show they’d set up, and the blue-black sky over the fields became saturated with bursts of color. The valley was filled with echoing booms.

After the show, there was a piƱata, and then people headed for home. We spent the night at the farm, lulled to sleep by the howling of coyotes in the distance. It was one of the most restful nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time.

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.