Friday, August 31, 2012

at the farm











The last time we were in New Hampshire, Abbott was three and Cal was one. We used to go east every year or so to visit Alexi’s grandparents; his grandfather in New Hampshire, his grandmother in Maine. The whole week would be a blur of driving from place to place, catching up, trying to hang on to the fleeting minutes together. We haven’t been back to those parts of New England since his grandparents passed away. Earlier this year, Alexi’s mother retired. She’s been on the farm in New Hampshire, where her father lived, since her retirement, so we spent part of our summer vacation with her. Seeing the warning signs - ‘Thickly Settled,' 'Moose Crossing’ - and the covered bridges took me back to earlier times on those same roads. I miss my boys' baby selves that accompanied us on those final visits with their great-grandparents. I miss the grandparents.

Friday, August 17, 2012

out of office



When Alexi gets home tonight, after work and his Friday night hockey game, he’ll be off for one day shy of three weeks. Setting up an ‘Out of office until September 7’ email autoreply had to have felt good.



In four days, we’re getting on a plane, returning the day after Labor Day. I don’t feel compelled to feed our housesitter, much as I love her, so we’re cleaning out the pantry. We had a pot of rice and beans for dinner last night, and refashioned the leftovers into tacos tonight, topped with avocado, tomatoes, corn, and sour cream. The next few days we'll have yogurt parfaits, bacon and eggs and biscuits, and other pantry-cleaning meals, while we pack and organize and daydream about what we’ll be doing for the remainder of the summer.





The boys had camps this week - Cal chess, Abbott hockey – and, unaccustomed to the grind of traffic while getting them to and from, I found myself muttering inappropriate things under my breath more than once. I don’t think the kids caught it. I heard on NPR recently that Seattle has the fourth worst traffic in America.

This morning I took a walk through the Arboretum, hovering under the shade of the massive trees. Inadvertently, I left my headphones at home, so I took a day off from my audiobook, The Grapes of Wrath. It was kind of a relief. Steinbeck, he's like a preacher that can make you squirm.

Cal wanted to know what I’d done while he was at camp. I told him about meeting up with a friend, who he knows, then amended my description to say, specifically, that I’d had a lemon brioche and my own little teapot full of tea. He smiled and imagined it. I also described my walk, and we reminisced about a recent field trip there, together.

After dinner, we cooled off in the ocean, then the boys collapsed in their beds. Now it’s dark, and for the first time all week I need a sweatshirt outside. I hear a light breeze on the water, and a distant train horn. Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

little moments of magic



On warm nights, we sit out on the little deck off our bedroom. We’re talking about buying an outdoor heater for the space so we can use it even more than we do. We read, or watch an episode of Friday Night Lights on a laptop– we’re midway through season 3 – or just sit and catch up. I saw my first shooting star last night, just as we were about to come inside. Alexi said he hadn’t seen one since he was around 8 years old. I couldn’t believe my eyes - I felt like a character in a movie watching a UFO fly by, or something. One of those little moments of magic that happens around me all the time, somewhere in the background, that I was lucky enough to see this time.

Also noteworthy, I made my first and, likely, last batch of ice cream of the summer. It was well worth the wait. Nectarine. Cooking the nectarines, in the process of putting it together, nearly knocked me out. If I’d had peaches on hand, I probably would’ve also made a pie, just for love of that scent.



Our dinner was entirely comprised of vegetables.

When I was growing up, we ate home grown vegetables all summer; legendary sized cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like, thanks to Alaska’s midnight sun. Most of our back yard was roto-tilled and turned into a garden. When we were hungry outside of meal times, we were sent to the garden to get a snack. Scallions were a particular favorite of mine, and remain so to this day. One of my chores was weeding; early on in the season, trying to do it without also pulling out the tiny vegetable shoots was a challenge. The accidents, however, were usually happy ones. Nothing tastes better than a baby carrot. We were all outside working together, and there was goodness in that shared experience. I suspect my parents gardened both as a way to have better things to eat, and because it was what they were used to doing, both being the children of farmers.

The rest of the year, much of the produce we ate was of the canned variety. The only fresh vegetable I remember having in winter was in the form of a salad of iceberg lettuce accompanied by tomatoes that tasted like nothing. I suppose this was due to the distance from the source. Not much was shipped to Alaska in winter, and what did arrive was expensive and not very good.

Generations ago, the first people in my family who became farmers did so because it was a way to survive, most likely, and not for the love of it. Their cultivation of food was so that they’d have it. It may have become a love, for the land, for the act, and that may have been passed on to their descendants. A few years ago, close to retirement age, my parents took up farming. My dad started out by studying agriculture in college and if his father hadn’t died when he was twenty, he might have stayed put in Texas and farmed with him. I know my parents feel a great tie to the land they inherited, and their present efforts at least partially spring from memories of place. I’ve never felt that way about anywhere. I choose to live where I do because the climate is perfect for me, the terrain is beautiful, and it feels culturally similar to what I grew up with in Alaska. I’m comfortable here. Food relates to my sense of home in that I do grow my own from time to time, because of my memories of doing it, and I'm selective in what I buy and prepare for my family. I love good food. I hope my boys take that love and that selectivity with them throughout their lives.

One of the vegetable dishes we ate with some regularity in the winter months of my childhood was canned green beans with canned new potatoes, and I loved it. (I think it’s safe to say this is the only canned vegetable dish I can speak about with animation, aside from canned spinach, and that’s another kind of animatedness entirely.) When I was deciding what to make for dinner, looking over the contents of my refrigerator, I took out the pound of beans and pound of fingerling potatoes, remembering that dish. I decided to make something I bookmarked some time ago in Canal House Cooking, a constant source of seasonal inspiration. We all loved it.



String Bean and Potato Succotash Salad
Slightly adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 1

1 pound waxy potatoes, such as red potatoes (also called boiling potatoes, or new potatoes) or fingerling potatoes
1 pound string beans, trimmed
4 ears corn, shucked
1 shallot (can also use 2 scallions, or ½ a small onion)
a handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, followed by the corn. Remove the corn after 5 minutes, and let it cool. Add the string beans to the pot with the potatoes, and cook until their color changes from bright green to a deeper green, 3-4 minutes. Scoop the beans out of the water with tongs, and cool them in a bowl of cold water. When the potatoes are tender, after about 15 minutes, drain them.

Cut the corn off the cobs and put it in a large bowl. Cut the potatoes into chunks, and add them to the bowl with the corn, followed by the string beans. Add the olive oil, parsley and shallot, toss, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more oil if it seems dry.

To make it a main course, add feta or olives if you wish, or enjoy as it is.

Feel free to add squash, peas or other vegetables you have on hand.

Yield: 4 as a main course; 6 or so as a side

Sunday, August 12, 2012

the twists and turns life takes



At the beginning of the summer, some of our closest friends moved to the east coast. Several months ago we changed churches, after nearly 20 years. The combination has left me feeling somewhat adrift this summer, perhaps because I'm also not seeing the familiar faces of the other parents at school. It’s good to have people in your life with whom you share a history. Serendipitously, we just reconnected with friends with whom we’d lost contact for no good reason. Their kids happened to be enrolled in a sailing/kayaking camp with Abbott and Cal last month. In a follow-up email exchange, I had the urge to allow my sheepishness at my failure to be in touch get the better of me, but I didn’t.

We went to their house for pizza, their preference, to keep it simple in the wake of her recovering from a minor surgery. The four kids vanished immediately. As we had cocktails - they made us something they'd tried recently in New Orleans, equal parts lemon juice and gin with muddled sage and some sugar, over ice – we talked about her surgery. The surgery she’s recovering from is the final of several for reconstruction after breast cancer surgery, and I found myself discussing the particulars of my breast reconstruction and how I felt about it; a first, in mixed company. I found that I was completely comfortable doing so.

I brought a salad with grapes and bacon and curried cashews, and lettuce bought that morning at our neighborhood farmer's market. She’d made a salad of arugula, watermelon and goat cheese. They’d made a berry ice cream that happened to be perfect with the almond cake I brought for dessert. It was a northwest summer evening at its best. Hot enough of a day that the humidity-free air remained warm, as it grew dark.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

how we're rolling this week



The light is now blue at both ends of my day. The open window had condensation at its base when I got up this morning.

Bedtime has its ups and downs. Last night I yelled at Cal to stop talking and go to sleep, and he told me that he likes me less when I yell. I apologized.

Usually, around here, one boy wakes of his own accord, early, eager to get on with his day; one requires elaborate effort to rouse. My bright ‘good morning!’ is followed by some tickling, cajoling, a matter-of-fact request and then a stern admonition. Today, Alexi decided to wake him by reading him some of their bedtime book, The Lord of the Rings, on his way to work. So the boys were both up, Abbott reading, Cal building with Lego, when I came downstairs. Cal asked me to build with him. I resisted the urge to think about what else I could be doing, and was the mother I would like to be for those fifteen minutes.

As I heard the front door close, I thought about how stressful Alexi's job is in the life and death sense, and how my day’s stresses are in the mundane.

I make them a list every morning at breakfast – their ‘honey-do’ list, I call it. ‘Brush teeth’, ‘take a shower’, ‘hang up towel’, ‘make bed’, ‘practice piano 10 min’. ‘Unload the dishwasher.’ ‘Check for laundry under your bed.’ They’re diligent with it; everything gets done. It’s sacred, somehow.

They are at times querulous, at times wrestling like puppies, laughing, up to something together. Later, when one wants to read, alone!, and barricades his door with a chair, the other talks to him through the open window of the next room.

There is time to get bored. We play, and read, a lot. I’ve cooked a lot. We’ve taken long walks. We make what we want for our meals. We don’t rush.

On the way home from doing errands this afternoon we stopped and bought clams for dinner, because we were driving by Fisherman’s Terminal, and we could. I make them how a fisherman friend, who knows his way around the kitchen, told me to years ago.




Linguine with Clams

1 pound linguine
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds small clams, washed well
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a large pinch of red pepper flakes
½ cup white wine
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Bring a large salted pot of water to boil. Add the pasta, and cook until just done. Drain, and return the pasta to the pot.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. When it gets warm, add one tablespoon of the olive oil, along with the onion, carrot and celery, and cook them until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the clams, wine, garlic, and chile flakes, cover, and cook until the clams open, about five minutes. After the clams have opened, turn off the heat, and add the parsley and the rest of the olive oil.

Add the clams, vegetables, and all their juices to the pasta, toss well, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I admit it



I admit it. I bought the pint of them because they were beautiful, pure and simple. Red currants. Little red berries that are sold still attached to tiny stems. Champagne grapes have the same dollhouse-type appeal for me, even though I don't like them. I want to like them; I've bought them more than once. This summer, the boys are old enough to send around the store on their own to retrieve items on our list, treasure-hunt style. A definite improvement over other summers' constant refrain - "How many more things do we have to get? When are we gonna go?" - and I get a minute here and there to peruse in peace. And that's when I found them, enjoying the quiet of the produce aisle on a Monday morning. They were next to the pints of blueberries I added to my cart. So I got the red currants too, like a magpie with a shiny object, and brought them home, washed them, and popped one in my mouth. Well. As it turned out, they're mouth-puckering, in a way that reminds me of gooseberries. We had a bush of gooseberries when I was a kid, and my sister and I would pick and eat them from time to time, maybe out of boredom, as neither of us liked them. Since it was apparent I wouldn't be plucking these beautiful berries off their stems for snacking, I pulled out my go-to for fruit, Nigel Slater’s Tender, Volume II: A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden, and just as I knew I would, I found something wonderful to do with them.

You're probably thinking, who needs another berry muffin recipe? I'm telling you, this one is something special because of the brightly tart flavor of the berries.



Nigel Slater's Little Currant Cakes

adapted from Tender, Volume II

9 Tbsp. (125 g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (125 g) lightly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (125 g) flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
150 g (about 1 cup) red and/or black currants, removed from their stalks

Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400F. Line a 12 capacity muffin tin with paper muffin holders.

Place the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, and salt into a food processor and blend until well creamed. Add the milk a little at a time until the batter is of a consistency that will fall lightly from the spoon. Gently stir in the currants.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin papers. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the tin halfway through, until risen and lightly browned. They should be light but firm to the touch. They will fall slightly on cooling.

Best eaten the day they're made.

Yield: 12 muffins

Sunday, August 5, 2012

August 5






All of a sudden, it got hot. At the beginning of our weekend heat wave I found myself walking through warm shade, briefly confused, trying to remember where we'd gone. My brain doesn't register heat with Seattle. The boys strip down, unselfconsciously, to nothing. If it keeps up I suppose we'll go to a matinee tomorrow for the air conditioning.

The only thing on tomorrow's agenda is a trip to the grocery store. We're due for a day like that. I hope yours is a nice one.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday evening







Every year we ask the kids the same set of questions on their birthdays, and film their responses. I've had daydreams about some of Abbott's expressed hopes and dreams, both short term - 'I want to cook more, independently, controlling the heat source myself. And use a knife! ' - and long-term - 'I want to be a writer.' I've tried to imagine what my future life might look like, say, in a decade, and what I want it to look like. I don't have any big answers for how to create a convergence between my hopes and reality but thinking about it seems a good first step. In the meantime, the here and now is very good.

Wishing you a relaxing weekend.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

August 2



Hello.

I'm happy to be a guest at habit again this month; I'll be contributing there at least a few times a week.

I hope your August is off to a good start.