I’m still unsure what the story is that I’m supposed to be telling, but the drive to tell it has pushed my fingers onto this keyboard. There it is; I had one sentence to distract you while I stalled, attempting to find something to keep your attention, and it’s used up. Here goes nothin’.
I learned a new word this week: compurgator. Awkward looking thing isn’t it? You’ve said it in your head as you’ve read it, but now say it out loud: com-perg-uh-ter. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Just kind of bunches up and then spills out around the nooks and crannies of your mouth. Okay, okay, enough speech therapy. Compurgator: one who under oath vouches for the character or conduct of an accused person. How on earth did this pop into my life? Oh, I compurgated. Sounds gross, I know. I wasn’t in court, and I wasn’t under oath, but there were character reference letters written and there is still the possibility of being sworn in to tell everybody that I meant it. Don’t worry, the letter was much less rambly and much more interesting than this post is so far; I’m sure they’ll take me seriously the first go around.
At any rate, the experience made me pause a few times. I couldn’t help but think of that final compurgation, that last earnest and loving plea that comes from our Savior when we’re down to the wire. He has intimate knowledge of our mistakes, but he also knows the rest of our hearts; the good portion that hurts when we make those mistakes. When we can no longer speak for ourselves, Christ speaks on our behalf, tenderly pleading for our release from sin.
I found this tucked way way back, at the very beginning, at the very heart, of this blog. I thought it worth posting, to remind myself.
“All my life I’ve been concerned with what others wanted me to be, yet underneath, my Self was screaming in protest. I’m in my early twenties, that weird transitory period where I’ve been on my own for a while, but have yet to find my way. I realized that I am floating through time and space, a virtual lump, barely existing. I am trapped by my own lack of action. I would dip into the lives of others, admiring their gumption and dreaming about greener grass, thinking, “someday I’ll do that.” Well, someday is passing me by, and I feel like I can barely keep up with the pages of time flipping by…if I don’t stop this meaningless drifting my chapter will close and the story will go on without me. That being said, this blog is for me. I would love to be one of those inspirations with charmed lives and charmed words, but how can I do that without something to drive me? I have lost what drives me. This blog is a search for my Self, a place to keep all those things that make me feel alive. It feels good to feel alive. I have to live to feel alive, and this blog is about coming alive.”
More to come.
I have sad news. Today it was 99 (as in one less than 100) degrees outside. Oh summer. You make it so difficult to get into the car. You make it so difficult to walk to the car. Where has my lovely dappled spring sunshine gone? But, hark! Is that greenery I see? Crisp cool lettuce and soft merciful mint?! Oh, dewy tomato!
We are finally successful gardeners. Like the best pets, our garden started by finding us. At the very beginning of this hot season, an heirloom tomato and unknown pepper seedling found themselves in our unlikely care. Unlikely? Quite. I’ve never had much luck with plants. Oh, I love them and want to be their friends, but you shouldn’t give me a plant for the same reason you shouldn’t give out live chicks at easter. We’ve tried gardening before, but even the best dirt and best sun can prove ineffective without consistent watering and weeding. Or, I don’t know, maybe it was because we started with brussels sprouts.
Well this time has been different. This time has been glorious! We set out to find homes, friends and nourishment for our new babies. One of the local wineries also has a nursery right on their property, literally in the backyard of their restaurant. It was all I could do to pull my culinary man away from the herbs and greens; we couldn’t adopt them all! Piled back in a corner were a bunch of half-barrels, stained deep purple maroon and smelling of wine. Even if we hadn’t adopted any plants, those were coming home with me. Two big handfuls of plants, two half-barrels and four bags of “good dirt” later and we were ready to go!
Let’s talk about the babies. Gardens are part of my earliest memories. My mom loves to garden. One of my favorite childhood memories is digging up the most gigantic worms you’ve ever seen from our garden. Squirmy, blind and awesome. One of my least favorite is finding fat, alien tomato caterpillars. Ew. Step one, spot the icky green invader. Step two, freak out. Step three, pry him off the branch. Step four, freak out because he’s in your hand. Step five, run into the house. Step six, freak out because you can’t get there fast enough. Step seven, flush it down the toilet. Step eight, freak out at the thought of that winding watery death. So far, I haven’t found any of those on my tomato baby. Yes, I am thankful.
It’s because of my mom that my garden plants are my green babies. Besides taking care of your babies, you have to love them. I also remember my mom teaching me how to use my fingers to measure an inch between seeds. At age 7, I thought that was remarkable; who needs a ruler? I remember eating that garden. It was delicious! There’s nothing like sugar snap peas and carrots straight from the earth. There’s a flavor that gets lost when veggies have to make too many stops between their stomping grounds and your plate. I’ve never understood the zucchini dilemma, either. Too much zucchini?! When it comes to the redistribution of home-grown zucchini, it’s like the “bring out yer dead” scene of Monty Python. Come on, it’s good raw and lightly dressed, it’s good sauteed, it’s good roasted, it’s good all sugary and loaf-shaped…yum. I would love to have an overabundance of nutty, fresh zucchini. Don’t worry, I would still share.
My mom also kept goldenrods and marigolds by the front door in a half-barrel, so I snagged a marigold. They were the guardian flower, deterring mean mosquitos as we ran in and out to play. It’s never been my favorite flower because they’re so plain jane, but I felt if I was going to have a half-barrel garden, I needed one to stand sentinel. Now that it’s my plain jane baby, I love it and think it’s beautiful.
I also got a geranium. Did you know I hate geraniums? I’ve always really hated that harsh smell that clings to them and rubs off on your fingers. My grandma always had lots of the neon red and pink ones, and they were just too much for me. They were too in my face! So why am I bringing home geraniums? No, I’m not a masochistic gardener. Just like the marigold, they hold sentimental value. When I was newly married I lived in Long Beach. There’s not much green there. In the middle of that concrete desert I would linger in the entrance of grocery stores, just to hang out with the flowers for a while. My hubby wanted to fill this green hole in my heart, and so set out to find me a pretty. After he found something he thought I would like, he sniffed around for my opinions on flowers. Well, his sleuthing resulted in me launching into a tirade of contempt for the stinky geranium. Poor guy. He gave it to me anyway though; what a man! It was the sweetest little stinky pink flower I ever saw! I fell in love immediately. Who knew? So when I saw a pink geranium at the nursery, I knew it had to come home with us too.
This little garden has been thriving on our teeny little valley of a street. It’s a relief to see all of our little plants looking so cool and collected when I haul my sweaty-mess self out of the car. I love being greeted by it every time I come or go. I love the sound of the water hitting the dirt when I give it a drink. I love that when the watering can brushes against the basil a sweet spicy perfume fills the air. I love having fresh salad greens. I love that the smells left on my fingertips from petting the thyme, basil, mint and tomato remind me of my husband. I love nurturing something and seeing it grow.
I’ve Got Love In My Tummy…
I heart food blogs. And when I say heart, I mean love. And when I say love, my hand is over my tummy. It happens. But really, all my life and what I’ve noticed in others’ lives, is that food and love are intertwined. How many of our favorite foods are made by somebody that’s special to us? My mother’s bread, my grandma Rosie’s chili rellenos, my dad’s omelets, my grandpa Frank’s orange juice, my grandma Hayashi’s pickles… How many people do we make food for because we care about them? Why do we make our husbands their favorite chocolate or apple pie for Father’s Day? Because we love them. We even go as far as shipping cookies to far away loved ones. But why stop there? That’s where food blogs come in. Food blogs take food-shaped love and share it with the entire internet community. These food bloggers share pictures that not only look scrumptious, but feel like a hug. They tell stories about their loved ones. So many times the post will start with something like “I made my daughter these cookies..” or “my parents are coming to visit…” or “my husband’s new favorite”. Food is all about sharing. Sure, I’ve been guilty of hoarding a brownie or two, but I want to make a giant chocolate cake for a party small enough that there might be
too many leftover slices. I want my grandchildren to ask me to make “those cookies”. I want to ship my dad large quantities of chocolate and homemade bacon. I want to drive 35 miles just to drop off homemade macarons to a friend that I miss.
That being said, this is not a food blog. I’m just not that cool. Don’t let today’s post fool you! I do hope that you can feel the happiness in our kitchen, though. Rhubarb is in season right now. All the food bloggers are baking and blogging rhubarb, and it hit me in the gut; I wasn’t going to be able to get on with life until I filled the rhubarb pie-shaped hole in my heart. When I was little my mom made us rhubarb pie. It was magical. Sweet, tangy rhubarb magic. I’ve loved it all my life, but have only had it once since those childhood pies. That one time, I had stumbled across a wedge in a charming little diner. It was good, but only good enough to tickle the memory of those pies of the past. So this rhubarb season I had to find out. Was that elusive phantom taste on my tongue just a trick that memory was playing on me? Could it really have been that good? I greedily shoveled rhubarb from the shelf of the grocery store and into my cart. I made my pie crust, lack of pastry cutter and all. I tossed gorgeous, silky, pucker-sour rhubarb chunks with sugar (two kinds!), spices and vanilla. I tucked it all into the buttery buttery crust, and baked it until pretty pink juices peeked out at me. We were barely able to wait long enough for all those juices to be saucy before cutting generous wedges and plopping them along-side some Cherry Garcia. And oh, it was good. Even now, I need to take a moment. The sun was down and it was pretty dark in our living room…I’m pretty sure my husband saw my soul shimmer when I took that first bite. All the pucker was gone, and it had been replaced with velvety, vanilla-scented love. Memory became a reality, and I had love in my tummy. What made it extra special? My hubby had never had rhubarb pie before, and he loved it. It was so killer, (really, I almost died) that I’m giving you the recipe so that you can make memories of your own!
Crust - adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Throw in the butter cubes and use a pastry cutter on the mix until the butter is the size of tiny peas. I’ve found that pastry cutters work best for crust versus food processors. They’re cheaper, offer you more control, and only dirty one dish. Don’t get crazy if you still have a couple larger chunks of butter. Add 1/2 cup of the ice-cold water and stir it in with a fork. With a fork. Not a spoon or your hands. Hands melt butter and both spoons and hands overwork the dough. Trust me. Keep adding water a tablespoon at a time. When it still looks a little dry, but you’re scared to add more water, give it a quick squeeze. Does it hold together? If it does, you’re ready. Gather all the dough together, divide it into two, and shape each half into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1-2 hours in the fridge.
Trim off the ends of the rhubarb and peel it. Peeling is just insurance, and not absolutely necessary. Just grab the edge and pull, like celery. You don’t have to peel the whole thing, like cucumber. Chop into 1/2-inch slices. Combine with the rest of the ingredients and let sit for an hour while your dough chills…how ‘bout that! This prevents the fruit from shrinking while it’s baking and making a hollow crust dome. This is true with apple pie, too. Tired of having pies that are like the turkey from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Macerate your fruit, people. I don’t think it works with turkey. Yeah, don’t macerate your turkeys. It’s not the same as brining.
After an hour (I know, I could only wait one, too) preheat your oven to 400. Pull out your dough and roll it out so that it’s larger than your pie dish by roughly an inch and a half. Use your rolling pin or a bench scraper to loosely fold it into quarters to transfer it into the pie dish, then carefully unfold it. Make sure it’s sitting pretty, then trim off your extra dough so that it’s just a little too big. Roll out your second crust the same way. Drain most of the gorgeous syrupy liquid off of the rhubarb, to be saved and used on top of pancakes or ice-cream. Then dump the rhubarb into the pie crust. Top with your second pie crust. Trim your edges so that you have an extra inch hanging over. Tuck that edge under your bottom crust and crimp together, cutting 6 slits in the top. Put the entire pie on a baking sheet (look, Ma, no burning pie juices!) and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for another 20-25 minutes. The crust will be golden and you’ll see pie juices bubbling through the slits. Oh, my. Yank that sucker! Cool on a cooling rack until the pie comes to room temperature and the filling is set, or right before that point, because you just have to eat some.
The Afternoon Tide Turns…
Spring is a time of excitement, a time when all living things burst from the waiting of winter. Wings, petals and leaves unfurl and bees start to hum and sing, lifting lips into curly smiles and putting twinkles in every eye. The world seems to laugh as it lifts its face to feel the sun!
Spring is a time of newness and the discovery of firsts; the first flowers, the first return of birds, the first warm evening…and the first strawberries! Even cherries! Even though I know the next harvest will be sweeter, the siren song of the first is too hard to resist. Dimpled and delicious!
Spring is also the time we celebrate our mothers. I can think of no other season more appropriate to devote to the wonder that is my mother. As I greet all the smaller smiles of spring I cannot help but think of her, the mother that showed me how the worms wiggle, the curiosity of the roly-poly, and the subtleties of the snails and slugs. The first dandelions of spring always belong to my mother, and every Mother’s Day I gather her a small yellow bouquet as a pure and simple reminder of who she is; my Mother.
Spring is also short! An intense flurry of color and warmth, spring quickly settles into the lingering afternoons and warm nights of summer. Summer brings its own gifts of anticipated firsts, one of which has already arrived at my doorstep…midnight chalkings!
At My Feet…
Life has a way of throwing us from flying triumph to the drudgery of despair. Life does this to all of us, large and small, flora and fauna. We are all submitted to the risks of living.
What mysterious and tiny dramas might unfold on a branch of lichen? What evolutionary odyssey did the dandelion undertake to become so strong and prolific? What adventures would be encountered during a day alongside a slug? I feel a kinship with the moss that climbs so slowly and so insistently towards the light. Each carefully measured movement is too minuscule for me to see, yet somehow it makes progress. Life goes on. All this, at my feet.
When your head is hanging and your eyes are fixed on the ground before you, remember that beauty and muse can still be found there. Take the time to wonder, and your feet will move forward of their own accord.
For my darling husband; may he find beauty at his feet.
I Can’t Help Myself…
I eat this little guy up on a daily basis. He’s pudgy, and fluffy and he smells good. Did I tell you he’s pudgy? We were very lucky that he bullied his way past tarantulas and pit bulls to end up in our arms. I’ve had the companionship of many cats, but Cosmo is…something else. He’s weird. He’s beepy. He has me completely enslaved. Did I mention his pudge? There’s a reason why I don’t get anything done, and someday that reason will get off my lap. At the end of a bad day, or even a good one, the best thing is burying my nose in his chubby belly, and giving him a raspberry. He doesn’t mind…even when I make fun of his feet. That’s real friendship. Can I make fun of your feet?
This made me stop in my tracks. It’s finally springtime, and here in the Napa Valley spring lasts a long time. I’ve lived other places where spring lasts a week, but here I’ve been able to watch spring unfold and the world be reborn. I’ve been keeping a casual but hopeful eye on this tree. It went from barren and mossy, to green and mossy, and then it started pretending it was molting. Eh? Molting in spring? Already? It can’t be. So I kept watching, wondering if the scraggly little messes would turn into anything. Flowers? Nah, not that kind of tree. I kept waiting…
The other day I walked past and…wait…I stopped in my tracks, grocery bags in tow, and went back to look. This is what I found!
New life! How had I missed it? Nature is so sneaky.
This tree struck me with the variety that it had to offer all on it’s own. I mean look at it! There are greens, palest cream, baby-cheeks pink, and combinations of all three…and that’s just the leaves! Set against the damp lichen and moss-covered bark, they’re stunning.
I lost myself there for a good while, finding newness in every angle. What had been such an unassuming tree in the corner of my yard has become a stationary drama. How do I describe it for you, this tangible feeling of life? Imagine a butterfly in its first hour of transformation. The fragility, the wildness, and the daring! The tremulous ache of wings that have yet to be in flight…the newness of this tree is tremulously vibrant.
Just to end the suspense, I did put the milk away when I ran inside to grab my camera. The fruit snacks? Not so much.