Tuesday, July 31, 2012

the agenda

Tomorrow, he'll be ten.

He started thinking about and planning how he wanted the day to go weeks ago; not making grand plans, rather, the ordinary, small pockets of happiness that add up to the best kind of day.

The agenda below is the first of several drafts he made. We're now going to a Mariners game instead of watching a movie at home, which seems fitting. Alexi and I walked from our First Hill apartment to Safeco Field and back - probably 10 miles round trip - a couple of nights before he was born, in an effort to move things along.

We'll be having banana splits - with ten toppings - instead of cake, and we're having them midafternoon, just before we head to the ball park.

It will be wonderful, and all him, and we'll savor it all.

Monday, July 30, 2012

at this point in summer

One of the great things about my neighborhood is its pool facility. In all of Seattle there are only two public outdoor pool complexes, and my neighborhood has one of them. There's a big pool for lap swimming, and a smaller, warmer one for the five-and-under set, and the parent-infant lessons. Summer wouldn't quite feel like summer to me without some time spent swimming outdoors, or at least watching my kids do it. This morning while Abbott and Cal were swimming laps I walked by the little pool on my way to the restroom. I couldn't help but notice the parents in there with their babies, singing If You're Happy and You Know It under the direction of an instructor. I was instantly full of gratitude to be past the stage when kid swimming necessitated my presence in the water. Some things in my life as a parent get easier by virtue of time. Other things simply change. Cal is starting to win arguments with me by superior logic. And then there are a few constants to family life. In summer, I start to wonder if I'll catch up on my to-do list before I die. We're approaching that point in time when I tend to start feeling that way, which is also about when our farmers markets are bursting with vegetables. I'm most excited about the green beans right now, but am happy to see zucchini popping up everywhere, too. They last a while in the crisper, so I usually have some on hand for times like today, when I haven't been grocery shopping since our return from San Juan Island.

This is the way I make zucchini most often. Cal dislikes every kind of squash - even pumpkin - but he'll eat it this way without complaint, or ketchup. Before we know it, we'll be moving into fall and on to other kinds of squashes, and things will be easier and harder, and there will be other challenges and constants.

Zucchini with Basil and Garlic
by Melissa Clark, from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Melissa Clark writes the New York Times column A Good Appetite, and is the author and co-author of a number of books. I've never made anything of hers I didn't like. This recipe can be served warm or cold.

1 1/2 pounds zucchini (4 or 5 small), washed, ends trimmed, and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the zucchini with the oil and salt. Arrange the slices on two baking sheets in an even layer. Broil until the slices begin to brown, about five minutes. Flip the slices and broil for about five minutes more. Transfer the zucchini to a bowl and toss with the garlic and mint or basil. Drizzle with additional olive oil and salt to taste.

Yield: 4 servings

San Juan Island

Whenever I visit any of the San Juan Islands, I dream of what it would be like to live there. Perhaps if I lived there, I'd dream of city life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

a little ways away

This morning the boys and I took a ferry to San Juan Island. We're staying with a friend and her two boys at their cabin. Our husbands will be joining us on Friday, and we'll stick around through the weekend. We love it here.

Have a good one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

as much as I could hope for

Twice in the same night while we were camping, I was awakened by Abbott laughing in his sleep.

I'm tired. Happy. OK with being at the midpoint of our summer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

been camping

Over the weekend, we went on our annual camping trip.


For the fourth year running, we stayed at Ft. Ebey State Park on Whidbey Island. I'm like that. If I find something on a menu I really love and it's available to me again, I'm hard pressed to choose something else.

I didn't camp as a kid and I don't think it's a prerequisite for a happy start to life, but I do enjoy the time in nature and the uninterrupted time with family. And I like that the boys are learning how to pitch a tent, build a fire, and split kindling.

More soon.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

like it's going out of style

As I type this, golden bursts of lightning are erupting in the distant sky, quietly magnificent. A couple of weeks ago I might have mistaken them for fireworks. I've only heard one faint rumble - so far, anyway - and the kids and the pets remain asleep.

Summer is humidity and lightning storms and swimming; sandals and farmer's markets and sleeping in a tent; picnics and flowers and fruit. When the fruit gets ripe, we buy or pick and eat it like it's going out of style. We have it in our cereal, in and on pancakes and oatmeal, by itself whenever we need a snack, and for dessert in all sorts of ways.

I ran across a crumble recipe several years ago that reminded me of the one we used to make when I was a kid, and I think it's just about perfect in its simplicity. Last summer, I made it with the blueberries we picked at my father-in-law's home in Nova Scotia and again with blackberries we picked at home and took with us when we visited friends on San Juan Island.

Berry Crumble
from a platter of figs by David Tanis

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
6 pints of raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries, or any combination thereof
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F.

For the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Add the butter, and work it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until crumbly.

In a large bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar. Pile the fruit into a large gratin dish or into two pie plates. Spoon the topping over the fruit.

Bake for an hour, or until the topping is browned. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: about 6 servings

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

a decade later

When I was pregnant with Abbott, I had abstract, daydreamy thoughts about parenthood that involved a cuddly, soft, sweet-smelling baby who behaved like a cross between a miniature roommate and a teddy bear. These dreams included images of Alexi and I smiling at each other, holding hands in a relaxed fashion, feeling even more like a family. We prepared for, and anticipated, Abbott's birth in many ways, but our lives, individually, and our collective life completely, permanently changed in ways we could never have foreseen. A decade into parenting, Alexi and I have learned many, many things about ourselves and each other, lost years of sleep, gotten pushed to our limits of patience over and over again, and have experienced more joy than we ever imagined possible.

Last weekend, both of our boys had a sleepover - Cal's first - and we were alone at home for the first time in ten years. We spend time alone together with some regularity on date nights, and we've had a few minivacations together, but alone at home was something new. We went out to dinner and then returned to an empty house that felt ridiculously big. I was keenly aware of the stillness as I walked up the flights of stairs to bed. I noticed Alexi in a new way; in an old, familiar, nearly forgotten way. It was easy to be a good listener. His face looked different to me as we sat and talked. I felt my muscles and my demeanor relax, and my breathing slowed.

Monday, July 16, 2012


I'm getting over a cold - the first summer cold I think I've ever had. I'm blaming it on the baby I sat by on the airplane the other week.

Every single morning of the past week I've woken to foghorns. Eventually, the fog gives way to sun. And we've had thunderstorms - a rarity for here. We lost power for about 30 seconds during a particularly dramatic one last week, and our cats hid behind the washing machine for hours. I heard on the radio we're supposed to have one again tonight - hoping it doesn't happen. I could use a solid night's sleep.

Happy Monday. More soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

so there you have it

As I was unloading the car this afternoon, a woman walking by stopped and addressed me. "Where are your tomatoes this year? I miss them." "Uh, well, you see, we’re traveling a lot this summer, so, for the first time ever, I didn’t plant any." "You have such a perfect spot for them. What amazing sun they got! I could always stand below your deck for a minute and catch one – the little sungolds liked to plunk down."

So there it was, out in the open. I decided not to plant any tomatoes, quietly, skulkily, a couple of months ago. I was just too busy. And since we’ll be traveling more this summer than usual, I didn’t want to have to worry about someone tending them while we’re away. But I’ve felt bad about it.

A couple of nights ago I went out to the garden to pick some mint, and noticed the blueberry bush I planted a few years ago, that I’d forgotten about, is covered with ripe berries. And so is a raspberry bush I planted a couple of years ago. No effort or intervention on my part. And there are a number of other flowers and herbs in the yard that are riding on the laurels of effort from other years.

So I told this neighbor about my discovery, and invited her to help herself to some mint, as there are no tomatoes to rain down on her. She advised me to pick the berries before the birds get them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

they ate them in the fields

My dad once told me about how he and one of his brothers would eat melons in the fields when they were working – or supposed to be working - on their farm in West Texas when they were teenagers. I’ve never eaten them quite that fresh, but melons of all kinds are a hot commodity around here. We go through a small watermelon almost every day this time of year, and quite a few cantaloupes too. Sometimes the table conversation trends toward who’ll get the last slice; whose slice is bigger/thicker/juicier. (On worse days, talking devolves to grabbing and shouting.)

It was the mention of melon that compelled me to tear the recipe out of a magazine over a decade ago that has become my best summer salad.

Chicken Salad with Melon, Feta and Greens
Adapted from a recipe published in Food & Wine August 2000 by Joyce Goldstein

Be sure to use the best possible ingredients - a good feta, a nice olive oil. If the melon doesn't evoke summer in smell and taste, fuggedaboutit.

Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.

1/2 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint, plus 1/3 cup small mint leaves
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each), pounded 1/2 inch thick
1 ripe cantaloupe (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
3/4 pound feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
3 bunches (about 18 ounces) watercress or other salad greens

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden and fragrant.

In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice with the chopped mint. Cook over high heat just until the mint is wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the lemon juice into a small bowl and discard the mint. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar and sugar into the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Season the pounded chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add to the skillet – 2 at a time - and cook over medium heat until golden and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board. Add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet, and cook the remaining chicken. Thinly slice the cooked chicken across the grain.

Put the greens in a large bowl, add the remaining mint leaves and toss with some of the vinaigrette, to taste. Divide the salad greens between 6 plates. Arrange the melon, chicken, walnuts and feta on top of the greens, and drizzle with a bit more vinaigrette. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Note: Any leftover dressing will keep, covered and chilled, for up to a week.