Saturday Morning Swooning

Do you get excited about going to the grocery store? Is it okay with you if you loiter about the market for over an hour? Does your market lure you in, whisper to you? Sing a siren’s song? Do you linger in aisles and query the produce mongers and the beauty manager and the plant specialist? Do you debate–for whole minutes–over which thumb-sized cheese chunk you will drop in your cart? (Answer: all of them.) Skim the bulk section for at least five minutes, imagining what you will eat (despite your grocery list) over the next few days? Is there excitement as you scoop lentilles du puy into your former marinara jar?

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They are so…*sigh*…beautiful. All layered and moody green-blackish.

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Do you buy locally grown savoy cabbage because it’s so breathtaking that you can not go home without it, even though half a head of cabbage sits patiently in your crisper at home? Do you ask your husband, and the cashier, Isn’t it beautiful?, as though you’re pointing out a sunset or an infant’s smile.

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Do you and your partner-in-crime stock up on dark chocolate when it’s on sale because the cupboard isn’t complete without a full catalogue of cocoa?

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Do you squee in delight–and imagine decorating a room in the palette–as you crack open pistachio shells? Who would have thought greens and purples and taupes could look so rich together?

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Does the inside of a grapefruit remind of you bacon? Sans the fat. Plus the vitamins?

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Do you love to try out a new recipe–Heidi or Deb (oh god–those brownies!) or Molly–but tweak it just a bit, given what you have on hand, and your current seasonal obsession (still grapefruit) to bring to a dinner gathering?

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Do you–at least once a month–revel so deeply in your purchases that you want to photograph your market loot? Collards and apples and pears and leeks and beets and cabbages and kales all from your little farming valley?

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You too? “Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell. They’d banish us, you know.”

Come to Jesus Salad

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If you have eaten the equivalent of an entire Costco pumpkin pie…

If you have stumbled upon the world’s best eggnog and now drink it by the gallon…

If you made holiday cookies and have pictures of you eating half the bowl of dough…

If you consumed coconut brownies, a chocolate pistachio covered apple, and a hot buttered rum in one evening,

then this is your altar call. REPENT, you sinner!

I’m not saying you did. I’m saying I know you have more willpower than me and the person who did those things does not exist in 2013.

But just in case…I had my first grapefruit of the season today and, as I cut into it, I remembered this salad: last year I made it once a week from January through the end of grapefruit season. It’s that good. And it will totally vaporize any of that crap you ate in 2012. (I know, you didn’t eat any. I hate you.) And if that’s not enough, you get to SUPREME grapefruit. True verb. As I tell my students, for most verbs, you can add an -er to the and get a noun–the person who does those things. Hence, you will be a SUPREMER. It just doesn’t get better than this, folks.

I dare you–double the recipe: SUPREMEST.

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Grapefruit Kale Salad:

2 grapefruit (I like the ruby red ones)

2 Meyer lemons

4 dates, pitted

1 bunch of kale

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  1. Remove the ribs from the kale and chiffonade the leaves; place them in a medium bowl.
  2. SUPREME! the grapefruit: Carefully cut the skins from the grapefruit, taking care not to remove the flesh. (I tried for a long time to put words to the rest of this process, but now I’m just shuffling you over to this video. I like the Miami Vice music in the background and how she reminds you to “be careful not to slice your thumb off.”  Add to the bowl (grapefruit, not thumb). Some people like to massage the kale with the grapefruit juice, saying that it breaks down the greens a bit. I’m too lazy to do this. I won’t tell if you are too.
  3. SUPREME! the lemons and dice them; add them to the bowl.
  4. Dice the dates and add them, along with the mint, to the bowl.
  5. Enjoy your repentance!

Binder(s) (clips) Full of Turkey

A new Thanksgiving tradition: parking lot turkey

I know you can’t believe it: when I finally post after damn near eons I’m going to make a Mitt reference and give you the 411 on some drab house-hold item? Just you wait, my friends; this will be the tale of intrigue, imagination, ingenuity and of course, a chuckle over the endearing ways of my hysterical husband, N. Remember this “bread” debacle?

N and I had a Thanksgiving date with the Ferrells, Interstate 5 and 12 hours of traffic. After a half day’s worth of work, the boy and I divided and conquered: I would gas up The Silver and he would brine the turkey. (This is where I should have smelled the sour odor of chores gone awry: N in the kitchen and me at the car? Huh– Nevertheless, I came home to a packed cooler; we loaded up the car and dashed, only to sit and sit and sit in mid-day traffic on our State’s only  coastal artery.

N mentioned, somewhere around Seattle, that yes, he had brined the turkey–in its’ plastic bag–and yes, the giblets and neck were stiff frozen and shoved in the carcass. “The brine will defrost it and I’ll pull it out when we stop.” True enough.

Cue the stop: seven p.m. (six hours of driving and still not out of the state). We’ve gassed up the car and pull into Safeway to snag some ice for the cooler. N decides that he will pull out the giblets and neck.

“Gonna wash your hands, right? I mean, you just pumped gas.”

“Nawh. I’m just going to reach in and pinch out the bag.”

“No. You’re gonna wash your hands, right?” I feel my teacher index finger alert and point like a blood hound. “The bathroom’s in there, to the left.”

He concedes. Returns. Dons his headlamp. It is dark, remember? And we’re in the Safeway parking lot, remember? In the second stall, close to the entrance…for all those last minute shoppers to gawk and realize, “Hey, I’m not in such a bad spot: look–these dorks are pulling giblets out of their turkey in the middle of a grocery parking lot.”

N and I–we’re always tickled to make others feel better.

N rolls up his sleeves and switches on his headlamp. We remove carrots and celery and sage from the top of the cooler, and there is our turkey–brining, floating in a vat of plastic encased water; peppercorns and cloves, salt and orange rinds undulating around it like some Aphroditian bath.

And that plastic bag? Yep. Closed shut with binder clips.

Binder clips. To seal a plastic bag holding a gallon and a half of water, laying horizontally.

It will remain one of the great shames of my life that I do not have a photo of that particular Ferrell fix.

To his credit, it was holding, and to his credit, he’d had the foresight to prop up the bird with a colander, so the whole thing didn’t tip over.

And then he fetched the giblets.

I  had the camera out at this point–we’re in the parking lot with headlamps with hands shoved up a turkey’s ass. The guts were stiff frozen inside. N’s hands were freezing, his headlamp shaking with fervor. “Grrrr…ahhhh….gaaahhhh!!” He stood in a lounge, as if he was a gladiator going into a war in Antartica…with a dead bird. There was so much grunting, I’m sure several passersby considered that one of us was giving birth, but then, I stood alongside, laughing so hard that I couldn’t even hold the camera still enough to shoot. So, the flesh wasn’t coming out of me.

Finally, after some serious hand warming and lamaze breathing, N ripped the guts from the bird. I think I recall a large suctioning noise. Slup. “It looks like afterbirth,” he said.

Thank goodness we had retrieved a monster-sized paper cup from Safeway, cause isn’t that where Martha stores her gizzards and hearts before cooking them? Now, with turkey-laced (and washed, thankfully) hands, N began the process of re-binder clipping the brining turkey.

We made it to Oregon after midnight and cooked one hell of a bird, innards and all.

Lest you think I condemn my husband’s ingenuity, I have taken to seeing the binder clip in a whole new light. Sure, we’ve always used them in the kitchen for chip clips, but just last night, when the parchment paper wouldn’t stay down in the loaf pans–voila! A binder clip on each side’ll do’er.

A binder clip to cinch together all those escapee half empty nut bags in the bottom of the freezer. A binder clip to hold open the cookbook page. One to hold my stirring spoon off the counter; two to rest my laptop on. One to clamp down my Tom’s tube. A solution–finally–to the damn wet brillo pad mess: a binder clip hanger! I’m going to hang one from my headboard to hold my phone changer tail and here’s a tip for using binder clips to slip on your duvet cover.

It’s difficult to tell now which humble, unassuming guy is more brilliant–this one:

Or this one:

Three cheers to them both!

Dog Days

I will not bore you with the details of N and I sussing out the best ice cream in Skagit Valley (Co-op, you know how I feel about your mint chip and chocolate cherry!) Instead, I will tell you about the last week of my summer, one that made heading back to work today almost bearable.

A friend invited me to her beach cabin on the Long Beach Peninsula. The fingerling of land boasts America’s longest stretch of beach–twenty-eight miles.

During one evening’s walk along several of those miles, we watched sandpipers, I think, fly down the coastline. For as far south and north as we could see, the plume of birds jetted by, hundreds, we figured, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands, because for the thirty minutes we gazed, they kept flapping by, now millions heading south on their winter migration. Some thousands of them formed an ebbing cloud, circling over the waves, some bobbing on top of the white-caps. It was like something on the Discovery Channel, all those birds and birds and birds and birds. I was reminded of two passages I teach where both James Audubon and Annie Dillard quake undercover of a skyful of birds. I don’t expect in my lifetime to ever see that magnitude of movement again.

Behind us,the grassy dunes–a far cry from the So Cal beaches of my youth–were the foreground of beautiful grey, purple and white clouds. I have a hunch one long winter’s night I will find myself hunkered over a canvas, capturing that landscape now lodged in my brain.

I rode an old pink Schwinn, much too small and  squeaking wearily under the weight of my bum, around the beach cabin lanes, to the market for chocolate and wine and to the bakery for still warm blueberry scones. It’s the kind of place where you can leave ‘ole trusty lodged up against a sand dune, take a stroll on the beach and come back to find your bike and baguette in the basket still there.

We went for a jog in Leadbetter Point Park, where we hoofed it over beach and forest, on a single track just wide enough for my shoe. Since the peninsula is home to more black bears per square foot than any other place, and since we curled around tight forested corners, I expected to stumble upon a salal-grazing bear at any minute. Instead I found a pristine sand dollar, a beach comber’s treasure, and clutched it gently in my hand for the run back.

Sand dollar secure on the dash, I scurried home to pick up my better half, a change of clothes and headed for the North Cascades. Way back in the spring, when we still had our right mind, my friend and I had signed up for the Cutthroat Classic, an eleven-mile race over a section of the PCT. I hadn’t really been training; the longest I’d run was seven miles, and I hadn’t run at elevation since, well–ever. But it’s amazing what a night of camping beneath an illuminated sky of stars, a Shimmer Sister of a running buddy and a bus ride to the base of Rainy Pass, elevation 4,700 feet, will do.

It’s also amazing what climbing 2,000 feet in five miles will do. Constrict  lungs and remind you that you are alive and reflect on your lack of preparation and conjure conversations with whatever spirits may be listening and emit awe that lungs and legs are still working  and suggest you not dwell on how far till the summit, but rather, how insightful the journey has been. And it will afford you sweeping views of Mother nature’s greatest wonders.

Reaching mountain tops–with a ragged breath and gracious heart–is a spiritual experience.  A six-mile descent allows recapture of your breath, your stride and your soul.

In the end, N and I found some inner tubes and Summer Solstices and floated down the Methow River. There is a town named Twisp. Twisp. Swallows that dart across the slow-moving water and a duck diving for rock scum while a trout, facing upstream, hovers over a gravel bar. The sun splashed across our shoulders, the water, across our legs. We drove home, exhausted, but happy, with just enough energy to taste samples of ice cream at the Methow store and Cascadia Farms. We were, after all, on a mission to declare a winner.

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Rounding Rainier

Amidst visitors, jaunts to San Diego, A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in a “black rock amphitheatre,”  fresh Frazier River sockeye at a “Happy Little Farm Party,” more home-grown produce than two people could possible consume (yes, zucchini and peas and beans, I’m talking about you) and soaking up as much Washington sun as humanly possible, N and I found a week to get away from it all.

It only took us two hours, but the drive ended where the trail began, the start of what we both consider the most epic backpacking trip we’ve ever taken–beating out even NZ, says N. These smiles should say it all:

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And because words nor photos could do the trip justice, I’ll just dole out a bit of both, and tell you that this little 38 mile jaunt, with its snow-capped peaks and glacial tilled valleys, its wonderland of wildflowers and pockets of pristine forest is worth moving to Washington State for. Okay, a visit will do too. But be sure to pack your dehydrated food and your open-air tent; the weather is balmy and the mossies biting–the sweat and bite marks evidence of a journey well spent. The views don’t hurt either.

Fresh feet and smiles at the trail head of the Northern Loop

The carpet of wildflowers swayed with the wind and wafted sweet scents

Nikolai’s charming hat, Sam, is not only useful for fending off mossies but also for holding your trough when your hands are too tired.

Narrow trails through the forest floor conjure joy for the soul

And climbing 3,000 feet in one 14 miler of a day conjures wincing quads and lungs.

Water abounds for washing, pumping, and gazing

Another climb reveals another peek at the face of Rainier

Aptly named Mystic Lake

A suspension bridge that swings and squeaks with every step you take over the Carbon River

How can you not grin while trekking through fields of Glacier Lilies?

The wake of a mighty glacier

At 6,700 feet, we lunched while watching the specks that were climbers descending from the summit of Rainier

It’s not hard to figure out  why they call it the Wonderland Trail.

How to Have a Summer

Ingredients for a Summer

 

  1. At 4:30, forget the gym and have a nap in the afternoon sun.
  2. Forget the gym again at 5:30 and pour yourself a glug of wine in a jelly jar.
  3. Harvest whatever you can—however small—from your garden.
  4. Clutch a good novel under your arm.
  5. Don a sweater if the weather refuses to match the calendar.
  6. Walk barefoot across the just-mowed grass.
  7. Convince one neighbor to have freshly cut cedar planks and another to grill over charcoal. Force the wind to waft these scents your way.
  8. Lean heavily into a lawn chair.
  9. Raise your feet onto an elevated platform.
  10. See to it that the jelly jar is still brimming and within arm’s reach.
  11. Sit to read and read and read and read.

High Theft

This is my mother-in-law. She is a thief.

I am her accomplice.

Prior to her ten-day visit, I plucked–and really, pruned, they should thank me–bits of blooms from the neighborhood. I did this out on walks. N would shake his head in shame and pretend not to notice. Hide behind an azalea bush.

But his mother. OH! His mother! She is a voracious bloom thief and plucked every shade of lilac, both kinds of heather, several bleeding hearts, and god knows what when I wasn’t home. Between the two of us, the house looked like a nursery.

I had planned on taking a quick walk this evening to capture that spring slant of seven o’clock sun. But the clouds. They have the final say around these parts. Instead, I found myself eyeing all that would make a good everyday bouquet: flowering kale, lilac, wisteria, golden chain tree branches. Is it wrong to get as excited over my neighbors’ yards as I do mine? I promise to not pluck their first and only iris.

Or the first peach-fuzzed poppy head.

In exchange for the fruits of their labor, they can have some of mine:

Will these guys make it all the way to fall? Our first pear crop from our 5-way pear tree wedding gift. Plenty to go around the block.

And I might be able to spare one or two of these guys:

I know Valerie Easton’s subtitle is Bouquets From Your Garden, but no one household can use all that wisteria. Maybe I’ll just leave a mason jar bouquet on each porch from whose yard I pluck. How can you shake a finger at a girl delivering spring in a jelly jar?

Between the Pages: Blood, Bones and Butter

Love this vibrant jacket

 

I have temporarily suspended my Harry Potter Fest for a bushel of cooking/eating books. Among the collection: Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food (putenescca sauce, I would like to marry you!) and Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter.

I savored Hamilton’s book as I would chocolate cake, anything from Tweets, or fresh fig. Her first chapter–in a storied house, on hallowed ground, with ecclectic father and French ballet-dancing mother–has me walking stride in stride with her: I am camping out by the coals, slathering homemade marinade over the lamb on a spit and standing barefoot in the creek, passing out booze to partygoers. I am nine too.

Hamilton, an accomplished chef, is indeed, also a writer. Some of her prose is so lyrical and laden with images, I am transported into her scamming days as a bar girl, her kitchen at Prune, her local Italian market:

“In the square, I found my ideal kind of man. Missing most of his teeth, with his zipper gaping open, he was selling zucchini blossoms under the shade of a large tree. Guys like this are getting hard to come by anymore, even here in this little Italian town. He pulled back the burlap that covered the wagon of his three-wheeled motor cart and showed me, with shaking arthritic hands, his fresh black-eyed peas in the shell, his dark purple green beans, his zucchini flowers. he had a little crate of imperfect prune plums ans a small dark green watermelons no bigger than a regulation softball. I take some of everything he’s got. I know that when he dies he’s the last, and this–this–the pants held up with a piece of twine, his work shoes dusty and curling up at the toes, and the simple way  he has tossed his wares into the bed of the wagon next to the jug of gasoline and the coil of thin rope and the cracked plastic pails, covering them with a light sheet of burlap–a grain sack split open to make a sheet–this all goes when he goes.”

Only two minor details left me disconcerted. First, and most repugnant: I am on the opposite coast as her resturant. Hamilton’s vivid descriptions left me salivating with nary a way to get to Prune. Second, the general organization and flow of the memoir feels a bit stilted; I don’t mind the huge gaps in time, but many of the chapters seem to be written as vignettes, and are joined together loosely as cheesecloth. However, describing homemade ravioli as “small and delicate and a beautiful yellow from the yolks in the pasta dough and you could see the herbs and the ricotta through the dough, like a woman behind the shower curtain” bypasses all angst I might harbor about structure. Who needs structure when you have ravioli as delicately described as they must have been to devour?

I admire Hmailton’s self-proclaimed diligence, and found myself laughing out loud on many occasions (it’s not often you hear a first-hand account of picking up both human feces and a maggot-infested rat in one sitting).

Most important, Hamilton encapsulates the joy of cooking, as I feel it in my hands, head and heart: “We split the pods open with our thumbnails and slid each pea out into a colander set in between us. What I have loved about cooking my entire life, especially prep cooking, is the way that it keeps your hands occupied but your mind free to sort everything out. I have never once finished an eight-hour prep shift without something from my life–mundane or profound–sorted out.”

There is, indeed, zen in washing lettuce.

The Rugbrod Riot

This has to be a secret. Don’t tell my husband I told you about this. If you ever meet him, do not reference this blog post. It will be our little secret, okay?

I should couch this story by saying these two things: first, I adore my husband. He is beyond handy (did you see those raised beds?) and literally brings light into my life and closets. There are only two domains in which I prevail over him: on the page and in the kitchen. He’s got me by aces everywhere else. So yes, there is both the adoration I have for him in the kitchen, attempting to bake, and the small glut of satisfaction as he roams around looking for utensils/ingredients the way I look for power tools in the basement. Second disclaimer: this may only be hysterical to me. Really, if you don’t laugh once, I won’t hold it against you.

(Note: this picture is not posed. Honestly.)

This is him: my husband. He’s cute, no? He’s HYSTERICAL. On this day, he had me in such fits of laugher I was reduced to tears. See that dishtowel over his shoulder? He slings it there like some men do a gun holster. He does it when he’s serious about his kitchen work, which is, ummm, maybe twice a year. But Jesus, does he get serious. See that bag he’s reading? It’s in Danish.

Picture our cozy kitchen, last Sunday. I’m doing my usual thing, organizing the groceries and prepping the week’s food. Making whole-wheat pizza dough in the bread maker. Reading a recipe from my computer. Dreaming of carbohydrates. How N even entered this scene of serenity, I can’t recall. All I remember is that suddenly, he grabbed that bread mix out of my hands. It was on its way into the trashcan. Literally—halfway in the can. Remember this detail. This, I promise, will be situational irony at its finest.

“Why haven’t you made it?” N queries, and I already begin to laugh.

“It’s in Danish, silly. Remember, we brought it home from Denmark two summers ago? You’re the only one who reads Danish around here. Besides, it’s expired.”

This is where he grabs the bread mix out of my hands. I guess I should pause to insert a minor detail here. This is not bread mix; this is Rugbrod mix (pronounced rug-broy. No, that’s nothing like it sounds. You have to pretend you have a raccoon trapped in your throat to make that gnarled “r” sound, which I’m not sure how to indicate via symbol in Microsoft Word). This shit that bakes up so hard you could build mini-malls from it. Cage wild animals in it. Use it in wars to hurl at people and decapitate them. This is serious shit, which you must slice Kate Middleton thin so that you can chew, swallow and digest it. But it’s damn good.

N translates the date in red—I think it’s written in international date, which means it’s SUPER DUPER expired—yet he concludes, “No, that’s just the sell-by date. It should still be fine.”

And what can I do but concede—he’s the one who speaks Danish.

He flings the dish towel over his shoulder (I’m going to have to watch more carefully next time to see if he actually uses this prop, or if it’s merely a gimmick to make him look more professional, like the way my favorite collegiate debater wore fake glasses, only to pull down his nose when he had a contentious point to undermine) and begins to read the package out loud.

Have you heard the Danish language? I’m sure some consider it beautiful, but it is not a Romance language for a reason. Some of the words, spoken out loud, sound so guttural that it’s difficult to take N or his mother seriously when they speak. The language has tones that I can’t even hear, so I’m bound to make fun of it, because the pronunciation is literally beyond what I’m capable of.

Carefully calculating

So he’s reading out loud, realizing that he has to convert deciliters into cups and that he has to make sure the water is at a perfect 95 degrees for the yeast. (He’s the kind of baker that follows directions to a T, so I dutifully get out the kitchen thermometer, the likes of which I have NEVER used, and he, cursing, takes the temperature of the water.)

As the yeast fizzes, N realizes, upon further guttural Danish gibberish, that “Shit, there are two recipes. One for wet yeast and one for dry.” He of course, was using dry yeast, but had calculated for the wet. It was Sunday, the week of Spring Break, and I must have been prone to fits of laughter, but hearing a man with a towel draped over his shoulder discuss wet and dry yeast as though his life depended on it killed me.

He is twenty minutes into his baking project, and has to begin again. I procure the new bottle of (dry) yeast from the freezer and round two commences. N reads more Danish out loud. Enter the issue of grams; he needs nine grams. We have no instrument, device, small child or machine with which to measure grams. So we backtrack from the original yeast package, which was who-the-hell knows how many grams, but was almost one tablespoon. We banter a bit about this vague measurement, shake a dead chicken over it, click our heels three times and N scoops out an arbitrary amount of yeast from the jar and chucks it in.

Somewhere around the thirty-five minute mark (I’m halfway through my puttanesca sauce by now) N gets out the hand mixer. I think the thing is a waste of time and would rather use a wooden spoon, but N loves power tools, and this one qualifies. He turns on the beaters, and splat! Splat! Splat! Hunks of what look like brown concrete fly onto the backsplash. One makes its way to the towel on his shoulder.

“F***!” he cries.

Wooden spoon, I think, but dare not say.

In his translation, then calculation, he decides that the Rugbrod must bake at exactly 392 degrees. “Does our oven go that high?” he asks, and tears of laughter rollick down my cheeks. I cannot begin to distinguish which is funnier: the fact that he is thrilled our electric, LCD-paneled oven can be dialed in precisely to 392 degrees or the fact that despite his moderate use of the oven, he is, at this lynchpin of a moment, uncertain as to whether it will be able to accommodate the high standards demanded of a Danish Rugbrod.

I explain to him how our oven runs hot and how he should probably check on his Rugbrod at least 15 minutes before the time called for on the package, lest it burn after all this baking investment.

And then he searches for **the perfect** Rugbrod pan. Which clearly, we don’t have, as we don’t make Rugbrod. Ever. He translates and then calculates and contemplates. “Do you have a 2.3 liter puss that I can put this in?” he asks. Remember how I said there were sounds that I don’t even hear in Danish? Well, when your now-baker husband begins asking about your puss selection, and if it’s large enough, and you are prone to the mental proclivities of teen-age boys, and you’ve already been laughing, well, ladies and gentleman, all hell breaks loose.

So we discuss my puss selection for at least seven minutes. It takes this long because I can barely breathe through the laughter. Plus, we have to do some Mad Max calculations using a four-cup measuring cup, as if that’s some magical conversion into liters. I pour water into one puss, and realize it’s not large enough for the job, so we opt for the largest of the three pusses, based on some voodoo calculus equation involving pi.

I remind N to butter or oil my puss. Rugbrod caked on my puss really angers me. Bless his heart, he slathers more butter around the dish than Julia Child used in her entire career, and holds the pan up with a smile. It was one well-lubricated puss.

(He tells me now, days later, as I read this aloud to him, that puss means “bag,” and that we needed a plastic puss, aka. a plastic bag, for what reason, neither of us is sure.)

This happens to me all the time. It's just never this funny.

Now, the moment of truth: transferring the dough into the puss. (See, I hear you still laughing too. How can you not??) He holds the bowl up and pushes the mound out with a spatula. It lands with the thud of a dead body in the pan. This is serious bread. He uses the spatula to smooth out the heap, but the spatula breaks. I can think of nothing funnier.

It’s been over an hour into the Rugbrod adventure, and the oven chimes that it’s preheated to the specified 392, precisely. N lowers a rack and places it in the oven.

At which point, I must call his Danish mother. I’ve only witnessed two Christmases in the Danish tradition, but there is a lot of translating and calculating and cursing and general mayhem and fuck-ups. There is a lot of laughter, too, and I had to share this time with her.

We giggle about the calamities of cooking in foreign tongues. Then N gets on the phone with her. Reads the back of the package to her: “Add water and yeast. That’s all I had to do,” he says.

NF phone home

ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS ADD WATER AND YEAST?? That’s it? Water and yeast? I look over at him incredulously. I could not believe that adding water and yeast was all he had accomplished over there, towel over his shoulder and all. It was like the Betty Crocker mix of Rugbrod. Here I thought he was, slicing and roasting rye kernels and cutting in butter and preparing a bowl of the dry to churn into the wet. I thought he was measuring out spoonfuls of sourdough leaving agent and seeds and baking soda and powder. Nope. Water and yeast. In just under an hour-and-half. I could not stop laughing even if I wanted to.

N, because he is diligent and follows directions well, pulls the Rugbrod from the oven at the precise time, which is to say earlier than the package instructed (if you are translating and calculating and cursing). I watch as he tries to get the loaf (brick-like) out of the pan. Even with all that butter, it was still wedged in. He looked to me as I must look to him when I use a drill or saw: beyond frustrated, totally out of my element and absolutely hysterical. I tell him about running a knife along the edges. The bread fell from the pan, all ten pounds of it.

N's first (and probably last) Rugbrod

The instructions say to wait a day—seriously, a day?—before you cut into the loaf. But we’ve the patience of Americans, so we generously wait ten minutes.

We glob on enough butter to leave tooth marks, as the Danes are prone to do, and take bites of the steaming bread. “Does it taste weird to you?” he asks as he searches for the jam in the fridge.

“Kinda.” But warm bread is warm bread, rancid flour or not. “Like the flour is rancid.”

“Ya.”

“Well, we have had it for over two years,” I remind him.

He watches me as I take another bite. Knifefuls of melty butter convert even the sourest of spoiled ryes.

“I think we should toss it.” He picks up the loaf, now nine pounds, eleven ounces, and chucks it in the garbage. This time, it fell all the way to the bottom without anyone snagging it. “I should have let you chuck it the first time,” he says.

An “I-told-you-so” is in my brain but it comes out as hysterical laughter.

In a serendipitous twist of fate, I remember that earlier that morning, I had taken out Trader Joe’s loaf of Rugbrod from the freezer. “Want a piece?” I dangle the bag and take out a slice for both of us.

It was toasted, buttered, jammed and consumed in under 3.92 minutes, deciliters be damned.

Face the Sun

The last two weeks have created “The Rage,” as my teaching friend and I like to deem it. The last two weeks spurred this almost-blog entry (okay, well now it is a blog entry):

Skimming blogs and Facebook, one might be led to believe that every one’s life is hunky dory, 24/7. That every recipe tested comes out Saveur Magazine worthy, every event, Martha Stewart-esque. Slate Magazine published a great article on “the human habit of overestimating other peoples’ happiness.”

Libby Copeland gets it right in that article when she argues: “Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort.” 

Lest you think that all my Pacific Northwest days are sunny, that they all end with perfectly funky raised beds, happy marital grins and savory soups and scones, let me let you in on a secret:

Sometimes my life sucks too.

Sometimes my hair thins.
Frequently I despise my job.
I have to work hard at my baby marriage.
I found a free bed frame and sanded it and painted it and it came out looking like ballet-pink vomit and it’s sitting, purposefully ignored, in my basement.
I can’t always zen out while picking and cleaning spinach or washing dishes again.
Some weeks I come home from school and sit on my ass, eat Ben and Jerry’s. All week long.
I freeze the recipes that come out tasting like cardboard or dirt, in hopes that N will unknowingly take them to work and take them away.

And…drum roll, please…

It’s okay. While looking for an old recipe from Ashley Rodriguez’s beautiful Not Without Salt blog, I saw this post, which almost brought me to tears. Her honesty, her hardship felt so human. I adored her even more for her struggles. For seeing them through. I watch my neighbors, both thirty-something-year-old public school teachers with a ten-month old and a three year old, and I see them melt into pools on their porch Friday afternoons. I know that one of my wonderful former teaching buddies suffers from a chronic disease and yet still wins teaching awards, and should win Mother of the Year and Friend of the Century. I look around and I see that our lives are challenging. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a oh-my-gosh-I-know-that-this-professor-is-going-to-turn-into-a-werewolf-right-now-and-I-can-save-my-friend-if-I-can-just-force-my-friend-to-let-me-break-the-code-of-using-the-time-travel-watch kind of challenge. (1,339,276,299 points for a Prisoner of Azkaban reference, right? And yes, thank you for asking, I am on book four.)

I think society makes us–me–feel like it’s complaining if we share our struggle. In this idealized world of perfect Hawaiian sunset photos, perfectly coiffed brides, perfectly raised souffles, I think it’s important to remember that we are human. That we make mistakes. We have to work hard for the good things in life and encounter struggle frequently. And that each day, we have to pick ourselves up, make a decision to keep fighting on, and pull off another day. They won’t all be pretty. Up here, the trumpeter swans will not always create alphabet letters across a tangerine-dyed sky. Not all my seeds will sprout. It’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t live in the adorable Storybrook Lane, where our lives fold up neatly and can be tucked away for the night.

Messy is good. Imperfection is necessary.

My hesitation in posting this was not that I second-guessed myself, it was that I couldn’t get my ass in gear to find all the necessary links it HAD TO HAVE to go live. (No, I don’t have an ounce of anal-retentiveness!)
But yesterday, in the middle of one of those days where you work and laugh and love so hard it makes your belly ache, I made a giant discovery while staring, boozed-up, into the eyes of my fava bean and daffodil flowers:

Face the sun.

It’s that easy. These flowers and plants could have all chosen to pirouette, attempted to set flowers on the north-facing side of their stem. And they would have wilted. Mother Nature is one savvy chick: she doesn’t even give them a choice; the plants just set their flowers on the side that provides the most light. Every. Last. One of ’em. Without fail.
So, I’ve made a conscious decision: I’m going to face the sun. It’s where beauty blooms.