5.22.2015

calm before the summer storm.

The sky went missing again.  Gone, poof, cloud-napped overnight.  In its place, a nubby wool blanket, hanging so low it's almost claustrophobic.  It's the color of old pewter and oyster shells and the very distant Pacific, just before slate sea meets steel sky.  Still, the pitter-patter on the deck is my bare feet, hands in the dirt. Highs are in the 60's, if the weatherman is to be believed, sort of optimistic, if you ask me.  The light is dim, the colors muted, rooftop-drab the new beige.  It is damp and dank and dripping.  I swapped out the sandals for rubber boots.  Shivered in my shorts.  But, every tree and bush decided to bloom at the same time!!!
 
I can hardly contain myself.

Oh, Ohio, I think you've made good.  I guess we're still squarely in the conditional love camp, you and I, but for bringing me this little piece of heaven, I forgive you.  I've seen your weather before, of course.  In April, when suddenly everyone swapped their woolens for slickers.  In Summer, when I've gawked, long past dark, turned backwards in my bed, all shock and awe at your thunderstorms.  They're magnificent.  Though, if you don't mind my saying so, a bit melodramatic.
   
But this gentle downpour business?  This is rain, Seattle-style, drizzle and sprinkle. The kind I love.  No danger of death by lightning strike, no golf ball sized hail.  Just the steady plip-plop of clouds breathing a long, damp sigh of relief.

I guess I could make noises about the sorry turn this spring's taken.  Normally I would shoot off a snarky remark about this unusually cold, overcast May.  I might at least moan and groan a little.  In my defense, I didn't whoop and holler, not once, even as I threw down 3 yards of mulch in my wellies and soaked up the soggy splendor of it all.  Though, if I were to be perfectly honest, I would also mention it wasn't yet seven and I didn't want to wake the plants.  Or the neighbors.

I've learned so much this past year, about how to survive, thrive even. I've learned to turn my usual schedule upside down.  To get out the door early, to pack my mornings with walks, weeding and planting.  To surrender the afternoons to prep for tomorrow.  To adore the instant satisfaction of a job well done on the run.  To humble up and admit there's no valor, and definitely no fun, in whining, or the awful cranky rancor of a martyr.  

I love looking back, seeing all the skills I've gained, but auto-pilot is nice. too.  And this brilliant bleak oceanscale runs in my blood.  It's instinct and inspiration all rolled into one, and all day, I am at ease, falling into one familiar routine after another.  I bust open the pantry for makeshift dinners. Curl up under a blanket with one of the year's better books.  Pull on socks.  Socks!  It's been weeks, a month even.  So once again I am padding around in whisper feet. 

If there is anything I’m tired of hearing myself say, it’s “Sorry I haven’t called/texted/remembered your birthday/been a decent friend, I’ve just been really busy.” Which is unfortunate, since it has become my personal mantra the last few months. I find myself constantly looking forward to “next week” like a beacon of hope, as though all I need to do is get through to the next few days and then I’ll have time to get organized/make a meal plan/return phone calls/write blog posts/look like I have my shit together. I have been waiting on this magical “next week” since last fall, and it has stood me up like a bad date.

I am finally starting to realize that instead of resisting the constant, unending flow of life, perhaps it’s time I started to embrace it. I may never again be the person who keeps her kitchen spotlessly clean at all times, or has all her meals planned out weeks in advance with a corresponding grocery list, and I am almost certainly going to be late with a few more birthday wishes. But maybe it’s in the pursuit of these unattainable goals that I can find my best self, even if it is less than perfect. And that may be just fine after all.

Just when I thought Spring was set in its ways, all bright skies and temps stuck in onward and upward, it interrupted itself.  Paused.  Retrenched.  Brought spluttery days of gorgeous gray.  Dove-soft skies and drippy windows.  Bought time.  Reprieve.  Calm before the summer storm.

Remember this.

I'll think back to when May marched on, right on track, fruit trees trading their pink, and pomp, for purposeful workhorse green.  Predictably.  Systematically.  Conspiratorially.  (I'm always sorry to see them go.)

But then?  The rains came, and chilly ones, too.  And with them, excuses to stay indoors. 
Light candles. Bundle up.
In May! 
Imagine.

Shorts were unpacked, mittens put away.  Flip-flops were worn.  Snow boots, archived.  Tank tops, worn, washed, worn again.  And then, I was reaching for hoodies.  Long sleeves. fleecy pants.  Pants?  seriously?


Tomatoes and geraniums are taking hold, and pride, alongside.  I am smug for having gotten around to getting them in.  May, turned coat, flirting with freezing.  I am recalling what pride goeth before. Oops.  And, oh well.  Runt tomatoes later are a small price to pay for gunmetal, sponge-minded skies, today.

just sayin'.


smash burgers

Burgers
1 pound freshly ground beef , 80/20 fat ratio
Sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons juice from a pickle jar
1 1/2 teaspoons ketchup
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Assembly
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more if needed
4 potato rolls, preferably Martin’s brand
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 slices cheese, American or whatever you like
Four 1/4-inch-thick tomato slices
Thinly sliced pickles, if desired
4 burger-sized pieces green-leaf lettuce (I used curly green leaf lettuce)

Prepare the meat: Form the meat into four equal-sized four-ounce meat “pucks,” roughly 2 1/2 inches thick. Place them on a plate lined with plastic wrap or waxed paper and freeze for 15 minutes, but no longer. We don’t want to freeze the meat, but we’d like it to be extra-cold when it hits the pan.

Make the sauce: Combine all of the ingredients, tasting it and making any adjustments you’d prefer. A dash of hot sauce, perhaps?

Toast the buns: Heat a griddle, large cast-iron skillet (my first choice and recommendation), or large heavy stainless-steel skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and place the buns, cut-side down, in the pan. Cook until cut sides are golden-brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Place toasted buns on four plates; you’ll keep using your griddle or skillet.

Cook the burgers: Remove patties from freezer. Increase heat to high and add 2 tablespoons oil to the griddle or skillet — you’ll need this only for your first burger batch; after you’ve made a couple or if you’re scaling the recipe up, the fat from the earlier burgers will be sufficient — heat until oil begins to smoke, at least two minutes. Working one at a time, add a patty to griddle and immediately flatten it to a 1/2-inch thickness with a heavy spatula and something with weight. Generously season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining patties.

Once the first side is deeply browned with crisp, craggly edges, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes for medium, flip it over. Cover with a slice of cheese, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, until melted. Repeat process with remaining patties.

Assemble burgers: Transfer cooked patties to toasted burger buns. Spread top buns with prepared sauce. Top burgers with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and dig in.


5.09.2015

tip my hat to that.


It's Saturday morning, and I'll confess, I could use a little tenderness.

Do you feel this way on the kind of mornings that start on the slow side while rain threatens to ping the panes? Or is it just me?

Complicating matters, I'm fresh off a week that challenged me to my core.  Just get ready, dude. Prepare yourself to be deluged with numerous play-by-plays all summer long. Here's a preview of coming attractions: food, garden, salsa, flowers, pie, books, ice cream, pickles, books, beach, naps, yadda yadda.

Are you excited???

Me, too.

I've had some weekends this past year that were real duds, but this weekend I'm hoping will make up for every single one of them.

There's something about the way the breeze blows through the screen off the lilacs that takes me back to my childhood, and when you're pushing a certain age, anything with the power to do that deserves a place of high honor in my heart.

Today, I'm 63 going on 7.

I woke up last week and realized I've been living in the past, around here.  Between the spring slide show and salvaged afternoons, an entire month has sort of slunk by.  It wasn't as quiet as all that, in practice.  I don't want to bore anyone silly with my day to day stuff, but because this is where I remember my days, I tip my hat to Spring once more before I commit to Summer.

My garden exploded, lost all self-control.  Out went the brown, soil, contrast.  In came stems, leaves, lush.  Everything growing tall, high, lyrical green.  Except where it's purple.  There's a lot of purple.  May, I think, is the garden's purple period.

I laugh, ungenerously, loudly, repeatedly, over the alliums' hysterical hair.  If ever a plant has a bad case of bed head...

May is ushering in the backyard bouquet.  There is such luxury in walking out of my door with scissors, and returning with stuff enough to fill three vases.  So what if the stuff is chive blossoms and weeds.  It is vital and free and eminently now.

Mostly, I am admiring them outdoors, monitoring their progress, squealing with delight over their arrival.

I waited on lilacs; I got lilacs.
I waited on iris; I got iris.
I'm waiting on roses... oh, you get the picture.  Spring is nothing if not instant garden gratification.

Well, except the peonies.  The peonies are a perpetual tease, bulging stalled buds for weeks on end.  They take their own slowwwwooo sweet time, a boon for the ants, an eternity for me.
Still, May needs something.  Any day now.  I'm sure of it.

It also helps to have windflowers out the window, all a-bobble.  Does any flower pack more charm per square inch?  Does any anything?

Out of my dryer, I've pulled socks and shorts, leggings and tank tops, t-shirts and scarves.  All from the same load.  All from the same week.  The flowers may be on a steady trajectory, but my goodness, Spring weather's a bit schizophrenic.

 I said my final farewells to the lunar dogwood, the lilacs, the tulips, the grape hyacinths.  And after days and days of  crabapple snow, I waved off the fruit blossoms, as well.

I've had some tired, tired afternoons.  I am not at my best on tired, tired afternoons.  But it helps to have a sister who paints my toenails for kicks. I don't know about you, but I can tip my hat to that.

just sayin'.



Salad With Warm Bacon Mushroom Vinaigrette and Poached Egg

 2 cups of greens (I used red leaf because it’s what I had on hand)
 1/2 tsp chopped chives, plus more for garnish
 1/2 tsp roughly chopped fresh thyme
 5 cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed, and sliced
 1/2 small shallot, diced
 2 slices of bacon
 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
 1 fresh egg
 1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
 2 oz blue cheese, crumbled
 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
 olive oil (optional)sea salt salt
 fresh cracked pepper
Wash and dry greens and tear or cut them into bite sized pieces.

Fry bacon over medium heat until crisp and golden. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate, blot, and set aside. Add shallot to bacon grease and cook, stirring, one minute. Add mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 T sherry vinegar (a nice red or white wine vinegar works well here too). Boil for 5 seconds. Remove from heat.

Bring a sauce pan half full of water to a simmer. Add 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar. Crack your egg into a small saucer or cup. Stir the water vigorously with a spoon or whisk to create a vortex in the center. Gently tip the egg into the vortex and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still runny.

Crumble or slice bacon into roughly 1/4 inch pieces and add back to the mushroom pan. Heat the mushrooms and bacon on med low to warm while the egg poaches. Add a small splash of good olive oil if the pan looks to dry to you. Taste and adjusting seasoning using vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Remove egg with a slotted spoon, blot dry on paper towels, and season with a pinch of sea salt salt and freshly grated pepper.

Pour warm vinaigrette over greens, sprinkle with blue cheese and fresh herbs, top with the egg, garnish with chives, and serve immediately.

4.30.2015

here comes the sun


I’m going to be honest. It’s still a goat rodeo around here and I’m no where near catching up. In addition to the regular drill, for some reason, I decided to add spring cleaning to the mix. So, this is fun. I’m no where near done, but I'm working on it.

Breathe.

Just, Breathe.

I was out walking, as I do, once the weather warms past, say, minus ten. These walks aren't usually, anything remarkable. They are for the most part short, familiar, pretty rote. Some days are all-in! Other days forced marches, same-old, same-old. I can (and do) sometimes stray, take different turns, go farther, go longer. But what makes them easy and often is that unthinking, old rut quality. It's just what I do, it's why it works.

Anyway, there I was, traveling an old groove, listening to my iPod when suddenly I came to a halt.

Turns out, I was staring at the sunset, a saturated thing, one vast sherbert gradient, shameless, gaudy. Obviously Photoshopped. Except, not. And really, the sky was just the last straw. Everywhere, every bulb was clamoring for attention, from the last daffodils to the earliest tulips. The plum trees, always the spring ringleaders, were full-on, with countless crab apples lining up in lock-step behind. As I gazed around I thought, "It should always just stay this way. Just like this. Like right now. ALWAYS."

Yeah. What I just said.

After that stretch of celestial drama, a few weeks back were a wonder of gentle breezes and perfect air, seventy-degree days and garden afternoons and knees caked irredeemably, exquisitely with dirt. The world was doing its Fantasia thing, colorizing itself before my very eyes. In Spring, in April, in Ohio, the number of inches on every living thing doubles, daily. Brown is barely in my vocabulary, any longer. The beauty is mind-boggling.

Meanwhile, I ask you, "Do you know why I try to do so many things in a day? It's because then I can do so much more in my life."

Amen.
And *ouch*.
(At sixty three?)
What I said, again.

Because this is this month, in a nutshell. The glory, and the gutting excess of things undone. The breathless spectacle and towering to do's. Transitions are messy, as evidenced by every suffocating surface surrounding me. I bounce between flip-flops and Uggs in the same week. I live (and sleep) like school's out for the summer, then study long past lights out. I've not yet left jammed schedules behind, but am straining to enter the slack of summer. I'm strung between seasons, a situation which can only and ever be taut. I'm old enough to know this; not yet wise enough to remember. It's only standard-issue Spring, the raggedy excellence of April. I should just add it to my calendar.

Instead, I've been doing the next-best thing, binge-listening to the soundtrack of my life, via my iPod.
 
As I approached a Level 10 meltdown the other day and I was forced to call time of death on my charming walk experience, I suddenly noticed the music that was accompanying my exit–my favorite opera aria, Nessun dorma, the exact part that gives me goosebumps–the part that makes me close my eyes and imagine I’m front row at the opera and Andrea Bocelli is singing it live, to me, and I’m feeling all the feels, crying in my black dress and pearls because my soul is being wrung out by the greatest musical crescendo that ever was. Even in that chaos, I felt it–the music, the goosebumps, the depth of feeling buried in all moments, taking flight given a good accompanying song. It was both beautiful and humorous, how perfectly timed it was. I was the final act, storming out in a dramatic scene of crying, making my way home as the music dramatically built and a tenor roared in Italian, “Vincerò! VinCEEEEERRRRRRò!”–which, come to find out, coincidentally means, “I will win! I will win!” I’ve taken it upon myself to make Nessun dorma (translated, “None Shall Sleep”) my theme song. All’alba vincerò!: At dawn, I will win!

Oh hey, Life!!! I see you dumped more crap in my lap and the temps are back in the 30's!! All’alba vincerò.

If opera can make tragedy beautiful and people pay money to feel the intensity of emotions that come from putting music to stories, then surely we could all benefit from more music. More theme songs for dramatic exits, more arias for quiet days, more lyrics remembered and tunes recalled and symphonies composed in our heads to pull all the feelings from these fleeting moments.

There are lyrical nuggets buried in every event of life. Under the sun in my garden this past Sunday, I wiped sweat from my brow, grabbed an empty bucket, took a deep breath and smiled while I hummed my own soundtrack–here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo doo)  


and I say, It's all right.

just sayin'.
Here Comes the Sun Spring Vegetables
This is more blueprint than recipe, swap in slivered snow peas, artichokes, or another green, or more leeks and no peas. Baby carrots, quartered, would be amazing. Or young turnips, sliced thin, with their greens. Shop your fridge, and your farmer's market. Fresh nutmeg would be ravishing, here. Finally: this looks like a lot of leeks, I know. Trust me on this one.

2 Tbs. salted butter
6 medium *or* 4 large leeks
1 lb. asparagus
1/2 lb. chard, kale or spinach
1 cup peas (frozen petite, or fresh)
1 rounded tsp. kosher salt + more to taste
splash of water, stock or wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
parsley
lemon, zested + juiced

In a large skillet, melt butter gently over low-medium heat.
While butter melts, prepare leeks: cut away root, and tough dark green ends, leaving white and all tender pale green. Next, halve leeks lengthwise, then rinse well under running water, fanning layers to remove grit. Leeks are sneaky; be thorough. Once clean, cut leeks crosswise into 1" slices. Add to melted butter, along with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss gently with butter to coat, and leave to melt over medium heat, smooshing a few times to separate layers, and stirring to expose new bits to the fat and heat. Stir occasionally, while you prepare remaining veg, adjusting heat if needed to prevent browning.

Trim tough ends from asparagus, then slice into bite-sized, shy 1" bits. When leeks have collapsed and are headed toward translucent, around 5-7 minutes, add chopped asparagus, and toss well to mingle. Continue to cook the two veg together, another 5-7 minutes (thicker spears will take longer), while you prepare remaining ingredients. If leeks and asparagus begin to look at all dry, add a splash of water, stock or wine, to loosen. Just a Tablespoon or two. Your goal is not to caramelize, but to braise and intensify their glorious juices.

Wash and trim greens, removing any tough ribs or stems (I love and keep chard stems, but lose tough lower kale stems). Slice greens into ribbons, 1/2" or so. Taste a few bites from the pan: when the leeks are silken like buttered noodles, and the asparagus almostdone, and al dente, add the greens (and fresh peas, if using; frozen go in a few minutes later), stirring them to coat. Continue to cook 1-2 minutes, then add cream and frozen peas, and stir to incorporate. Turn heat down to low, let simmer another minute or so, then stir in a heaping teaspoonful of lemon zest, and a good squeeze of juice, 1-2 teaspoons. Don't overcook. Your peas should stay green; your greens, emerald.

Now, heap a good spoonful into a bowl. Taste. Really taste. The seasoning that happens next is everything. You'll likely need a bit more salt, possibly more lemon, perhaps more cream. Once everything tastes exquisitely of itself, you are done. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over all, plus another good hit of lemon zest, and dig in.

P.S.
this is amazing tucked into a crepe!