LGBTQ Salad

This post is dedicated to everyone who struggles for the safety and freedom to be who they are. And to everyone who, in the midst of their fight, reaches out in kindness and solidarity to create a community. 

”It’s supposed to be sooo great to have babies but it sounds like it causes a lot of problems that I keep hearing about,” said my youngest the other day in a cheeky tone. She may have overheard a conversation I had with my physical therapist that went something like this, “Can you fix this? TELL ME YOU CAN FIX THIS!”

I told my daughters that though I hesitate to give advice, (false) and we don’t always have control over life’s events, (true) it would seem that it’s preferable to have children at a younger age – younger than I was, anyway. I had my second at 35, so I was presented with a brochure titled, “Questions You May Have about Your Geriatric Pregnancy.” First question: where can I burn this brochure?

“So now would be a good time to have a baby?” said my 17 year old, “Because I literally have nothing else to do.” Okay, why didn’t I think of that?! Remember when I said that pandemic deprivation had made me long for either a basketful of kittens or a fertility loan so I could get pregnant with one of those 3 remaining eggs that are past expiration (what’s after a geriatric pregnancy?)? Clearly, we need something to focus on and cuddle.

My daughter is young and healthy, likes babies, and really, when is she ever going to have this much time again? She’s a high achiever who wants to study neuropsychology…wait, bioneurology?…phychoneuroses? Anyway, something that involves endless hours in a lab getting rickets because you haven’t seen sun since your high school grad party. Now is the moment! My husband is working from home. If he can use words like “process-oriented” in zoom meetings, while drinking coffee, he can change a diaper and Skype.

And what a brave, new, weird, world we will be bringing my grandchild into. In terms of social inclusion, it’s a drastically altered landscape from the one I grew up in. Marriage equality? Who’d have thought it? A woman president? Who’d have…oh wait, scratch that. It’s a step forward and three back: America is also a nation at war with itself, fractured over social issues and (because there’s always something new to hate over) even fighting over the best way to combat a virus (we’re all scientists now – no degrees required!). On the upside, there’s the widespread use of cilantro.

I was raised in a world where cilantro was either unheard of, or suspect. The use of quinoa would have outed you as a communist sympathizer. The other night my children gleefully pointed out to me that I had just made an LGBTQ salad, and just in time for Pride month! In this case, LGBTQ stands for: lettuce, (roasted) garbanzos, bacon, tomato and quinoa. Make it with pride! Or even wear it with pride, when you spill a little on your “Make America Gay Again” shirt.

The salad is simple, and the ingredients are contained in the title, though I did add avocado. This one had turkey bacon, but use what you like. Here’s a version of green goddess dressing that really makes this salad sing. And what will it sing? “I Will Survive,” of course.

Pride Dressing

I cup plain yogurt
2 cups of herbs such as parsley, mint, lovage, tarragon or cilantro
3 tablespoons chopped chives (approximately)
juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a bit more olive oil if needed. You may want capers in the dressing, or as a topping. If you use them, wait to add salt until you determine how much saltiness the capers lend to it. Adjust the tartness and saltiness to your taste.

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The View of Nowhere is the Same Everywhere

Last week, I drove to Mount St. Helens for a hike. I parked at the Hummocks trailhead and walked up five miles through increasingly ominous damp and chill. The Johnston Ridge Observatory is a place typically blanketed in tourists, but that day, only in clouds. It was built directly in the blast zone, and serves up a stunning view into the crater. This year it’s deserted and eerie with echoey parking lots and one cynical and desperate chipmunk.

The mountain held captive the imaginations of young Washingtonians in the early spring of 1980. I was nine and I remember the cloud, the ash, the terror, and finally: the pride. We had our own volcano! Add that to Bigfoot and you get a very cool state.

It’s a weird year for the outdoors. I’m glad some trails are open and that many hikers are polite, trying to obey the rules by stepping six feet off the trail for others to pass. Though stepping off trail goes against other rules; do you want to crush delicate native plants or get someone’s potentially viral breath coating your mucous membranes? Lately, life is full of lousy choices.

As I walked along, I realized that I wasn’t getting to that flow state I longed for. My mind was up to its old tricks, hamster-wheeling through my fears and frustrations in an endless, squeaky loop to nowhere. I longed for that elusive, pure absence of thought, to be attuned only to my pounding feet and hard breathing. I pictured my mind as an expanse of clear blue to which I kept trying to return, even though I wasn’t sure I’d ever been there.

Coldwater Lake

I knew then that I’m always searching for something when I hike. Typically at the end of it I have figured out what to cook for dinner the next night. While that’s useful, I’d like to emerge with more than that for an epiphany.

I was there because I wanted the meaning of all of this revealed to me. Not so much the meaning of it all, but the meaning that I was supposed to make out of it, the story I was compelled to tell. Why was I living in interesting times?

Indian Paintbrush

I wanted to ascend that walkway to the observatory, come to the edge, behold the obliterated side of the mountain, and see my story written there in the destruction. If I’m fortunate enough to have grandchildren to regale with stories from my life, (please God, give me grandchildren to simultaneously spoil and bore) then what will I tell them about 2020?

The cloud smacked me in the face and I stood shivering, gazing out at nothing, and hoping for a miracle clearing. I ate my lunch hastily, ignoring the dour chipmunk, and descended in record time (it was my first time, therefore, a record). I had cell reception on the way down so I could send my family my preferred Mod pizza toppings. The clear reception also enabled me to text my daughters about emptying the dishwasher. I could tell they were missing me, and I just wanted them to know that even when I’m gone, I’m always there.

And that’s it. No view. No revelation. I drove home through the groves of Douglas Fir that appeared, with their shelved branches, to be straight out of my daughter’s Minecraft village. I listened to podcasts about our broken country, sinking under COVID 19 and racial injustice/unrest. I felt lucky that, in all this, I had a place to return to. As I said last time: give thanks, even if it’s because there’s nothing else to do.

I used to run road races now and again. The two half marathons I did were difficult for me, mostly because I always felt like my legs were going to detach at the hip and simply clatter to the ground. In the monotony of pain, I cast about for a mantra; the one I settled on and returned to through several races was: “Gratitude is what I came for.” When nothing is clear, when the meaning of everything is clouded over, then I can only drop to my knees. This is all I get; I have to love it, even the pain.

P.S. My husband found it funny that I listed my toppings in the exact order they would get placed on the pizza in the assembly line at the restaurant. I know how it’s done. If you don’t have Mod’s app, I recommend it. Here’s what goes on my pizza:

red sauce
mozzarella
parmesan
arugula
basil
hot and sweet peppers
artichoke hearts
roasted garlic
rosemary
pesto drizzle
and finally: Thank you

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Giving Thanks: What Else is There to Do?!

When all this is over, I may, in my euphoria, forget to show gratitude. I only say this based on my, and all humans’, past behavior. I tell myself I will be shouting “Hallelujah!” whenever I get to hug someone, sit in a restaurant, or go to a concert, for the rest of my life. But chances are, when Covid-19 is a memory, I will be the same self-serving person I am now. Plus all that shouting might be a little too eccentric. So let me take this time to say some thank yous.

Thank you to Dr. Teal’s: your pink Himalayan bath salts are on my top five favorite scents for any body product. Bergamot! Who knew? Thanks for 72 quarantine baths and counting.

I didn’t know my husband took this, but it works. My knee I has an alarming bruise.

Thank you to my therapist. Don’t ever retire (call me!).

Thank you to my daughters for never asking to break the rules. I broke the rules and you scolded me, but please trust me that I needed to give that hug to my sister. I hope you would do the same for each other. Side note: the opposite of thank you to you both for becoming vegans. I did not see that coming. Way to keep me on my toes.

Thank you to my dad. Remember that time you handed me a 20 dollar bill and I lost it in the store and came out to the car looking sheepish and you silently handed me another one? Or that time I careened across our pasture in reverse and bashed into the only object in our whole field, which was your car? And you didn’t make a big deal out of it? Thank you. I love you and I miss you.

Thank you to Fred Meyer curbside grocery pick-up. You allowed me to stay clear of your store full of maskless children and seniors coughing with moist abandon. I forgive you for the time you had nothing I ordered, except grapefruit and radishes, because I realize you were encouraging me to practice clean eating. Thanks for looking out for me, but you can forget it.

Thank you to the Wordscapes app. I can’t believe I was this far along in life and didn’t know that “leu” is a unit of currency in Romania and Moldova, equal to one hundred bani. How was I carrying on verbal discourse before this?

Which brings me to my final thank you. Many thanks to the enduring, dependable love of my life: food. Thank you food, for being something to look forward to. I’ve been fortunate that my relationship with you isn’t addictive, like mine with Wordscapes (Slipe? It’s a word!). A vibrant, crunchy salad; a batch of ginger cookies cooling on the rack; a soup topped with fresh herbs – all of it continues to give me something to do. Someone, somewhere, said that without writing we’re just stuck with life. Without the pursuit and creation of delicious food, I would be stuck with (little to do, and) nothing to write about.

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Serve me Cookies in a Tree

My morale seems to have washed away gradually with my hair color. Initially, I didn’t really notice. Then one night I went to bed a gently aging Rita Hayworth, and awakened a full-blown Miss Havisham, complete with her sunny outlook. The only thing missing was a cobweb-encrusted wedding cake. I know what I said when I looked in the mirror, but feel free to insert your favorite swear word here: ________.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, BBC.com

Thankfully, the natural world is doing the inverse of my root job. Sometime in April, I was typing away, regarding the maple tree outside my window: “That tree isn’t at it’s fullest,” I thought testily, “what ever happened to Spring?!” Fortunately for us, nature gently goes about her business, ignoring the inelegant humans who bask in her beauty like ungrateful slobs. Soon after I made my disparaging observation, I sat down at my computer to behold the tree exploded into verdant leafage, filling the window. She pulls this off every year, independent of my moods.

The waning of my morale isn’t surprising, given the recent death of my father. I told friends that I keep getting hit by the grief bus, but upon reflection I’ve decided it’s a horse-drawn carriage. There’s a distinct trampling sensation. Predictably, it’s pulled by four horses: sadness, exhaustion, irritability and hunger.

I’ve spent much of my life anticipating the next meal; maybe I’m just more aware of it now that every strong feeling, like hunger, transmutes into another strong feeling, like sadness. Emotions have ceased keeping to their stalls. I thought I was angry, but I was actually exhausted. I thought I was sad but…no, I was hungry – seriously hungry. It’s a cavalcade of overlapping emotions, galloping unbroken in every direction.

Bereft and scattered to the four winds though I am, I can still order groceries on the Fred Meyer app (a virus-free but joyless way to shop because it lacks a rendezvous with the in-store Starbucks). And I can get a meal on the table in some fashion, at predictable intervals.

My sylvan walking path

I’ve also been asking my daughters to cook once a week, which is how I’ve been able to eat tacos so delicious that the ghost of every taco I’ve ever made cried out in jealous despair. My oldest is attentive to detail, and the sautéed peppers were a revelation. It reminded me that I don’t sauté often enough. It’s meditative work, conducive to sorting through untamed emotions.

I don’t want to include a taco recipe because there are so many out there, and I think everyone should put whatever they want in their taco shells. But the same daughter also made cookies that blew the doors off, so I’m linking this Food Network “Top Secret Chocolate Cookie” recipe. If I had made them, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to top them in sparkling sugar. But she attentively dipped each one, and it made them extra delightful, in taste and optics.

So if I’m looking for some hopeful, quietly persistent beauty it’s always around. Observe that tree, I remind myself; eat that artisanal sparkling cookie (I don’t have to remind myself); feel happy when your husband generously refers to your hair as “blond.” And now have just one more cookie, which is known in our house as the “last, last one.”

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La Tristezza è Solitaria

What is it with women my age and Italy? Have we all read too much Eat, Pray, Love? Do we think it’s a place where, in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend upon hearing she’s headed there, the men are still “digging the old babes?”

There are evenings when I say to my husband, “it’s going to be an Under the Tuscan Sun night for me.” He has no wish to join me, though I’m not sure why he wouldn’t want to look at gorgeous Diane Lane. But he knows I’m not inviting him. I go into my room, clad in a robe that whispers not “come hither,” but “go thither,” to cheer on Lane as she restores her crumbling house, flirts with the handsome realtor, and has amorous adventures with a man so beautiful that, like that sun, he will burn your eyes if you behold him directly. Diane, you are doing this for all of us.

I have a collection of cat-scratched wicker my husband has threatened to burn.*

The last few weeks have been difficult. I said goodbye to my father, and though I feel blessed to have had the chance to do so, I feel a sense of unfinished love, something trapped in my throat. There’s always more to say, isn’t there? Is there an “enough,” when you know it’s your final conversation?

I’ve heard you are not supposed to make big decisions in the midst of traumatic events. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it might be true for me. I don’t have revelations like: it’s time to finally clean out the garage. I float brilliant intentions like this: I’m going to move to Tuscany.

Thankfully, all my girlfriends – even the quirkiest – are at their core, quite sensible. When I mentioned my plan to a couple of them they cautioned me about the high number of COVID cases in Italy. Thanks for looking out for me, ladies. And I probably shouldn’t clean the garage either, right? No need to tempt fate.

I simmered down a little, but grief is unwieldy. I do have a constant sense of “what now?” Now that I’m halfway to being an orphan, I should have my life sorted and not be chased by the dogs of longing, right? As usual, I have more questions than answers. And the handful of answers I do have are only about food. Ah yes…food; the last refuge of the grieving quarantiner.

I told my husband that I feel like after quarantine is over I am going to make a great contribution to science. What happens if you keep your activity level the same and double your consumption of calories from fat? Has anyone ever researched this? Because I feel like it’s uncharted territory; anything could happen! I have no hypothesis. I’m going in with an open-mind/mouth.

Here’s a recipe I found in Bon Appetit that will ease your pain (not forever, but perhaps for tonight). And if you are going to eat pasta, you might as well watch Under the Tuscan Sun while you are at it. That yoga Zoom can wait.

Spicy Baked Pasta

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1 lb. rigatoni, ziti, or fusilli
8 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced into half-moons
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. (or more) crushed red pepper flakes
2 bunches broccoli rabe or 3 bunches baby broccolini, trimmed, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
12 oz. sharp white cheddar, coarsely grated (about 3 cups), divided
1 cup chopped chives, divided
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs or panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425°. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a generous amount of salt. Cook pasta, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking together, until just barely al dente, about 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

While you are cooking the pasta, get the broccoli rabe going. Heat 5 Tbsp. oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium–high. Add leeks and season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are softened (but not so much that they don’t have any texture left) and starting to brown, 8–10 minutes.

Add red pepper flakes to leeks and stir to incorporate. Add broccoli rabe by the handful, stirring to combine and allowing each addition to wilt before adding more. Season with salt and black pepper. Once all of the broccoli rabe has been added, cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green and wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove pot from heat and set aside.

Add pasta to reserved broccoli rabe mixture along with cream, three-quarters of the cheese, ½ cup chives, and reserved pasta cooking liquid; mix well. Season with salt and black pepper and add more red pepper flakes if you prefer more heat (keep in mind that the saltiness and spiciness will increase as the pasta bakes).

Transfer pasta to a 3-qt. baking dish (or, if your Dutch oven is ovenproof, just leave it in there). Toss breadcrumbs and remaining 3 Tbsp. oil in a medium bowl until coated; season with salt and black pepper. Scatter over pasta, then sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake until pasta is bubbling across the entire surface and breadcrumbs are deep golden brown, 30–35 minutes. Let cool slightly. Scatter remaining chives over pasta just before serving.

Cook’s Note: I have made this with garbanzo pasta and was pleased with the results. Because broccoli rabe is not widely available, I have used broccoli and broccolini. I used butter instead of olive oil, but only half the amount, and then drizzled olive oil on the finished dish.

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*cartoon by Roz Chast, goddess of hilarity

 

Thanks Again, Dad

bonappetit.com

In honor of my father, Les Perry, who died a few days ago, I am reposting (with minor revisions) what I wrote after his 80th birthday in 2012. He had a long life, characterized by a gentle toughness.

Last week I opened my Bon Appetit magazine to behold this alluring cheesecake. My Dad was turning 80 and we had a family gathering planned for Veteran’s Day, so I made haste to shore up blocks of cream cheese.

When I was growing up he always requested cheesecake on his birthday and I would always wail, “But it’s a cheesepie! Look at it!”

I pulled out a photograph of him from 1951, taken in Korea. I can’t imagine how that young man must have longed for home – even though home wasn’t much. He was somewhere I have never been, longing for something – anything – familiar. That picture was taken when he was 19, and I was 19 years in his future.

Over the years there have been moments when I have wanted to travel back in time – with both my parents – to comfort them in their dark hours, to remind them that the future would be bright (it would contain me!). I have tried to show him I am grateful he came through it all: a childhood of scarcity and cruelty, a war, a stroke. He appreciates simple pleasures – he always has – so I offer him some small but decadent comfort now and again, in the form of his favorite dessert.

And it is, absolutely, a CAKE. Cheesepie it isn’t. That sounds masculine to me, like something the Brits would add kidneys to and slap down directly onto a wobbling, wooden table. No, this little lovely is dripping with feminine charms.

The recipe is not my own, (I made minor changes: less sugar and no syrup, just the pomegranate arils…oh and I made my own crust but that’s another blog) but I took the liberty of renaming it for my dad’s favorite actress. This dessert has what my dad likes to say Marilyn has, “Just that certain quality…hmm…how to describe them…I mean it…” Yes, Dad, we know. His second favorite actress is Raquel Welch, so you get the idea. Raquel might eventually grace some toffee-soaked pudding (cloying and uncomplicated?) with her name, but Dad will have to wait until Father’s Day.

Thank you Dad for all your service and sacrifice: four years for your country and forty-two for me. Here’s to long life!

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Home Bittersweet Home

I completed my last post right before hearing the latest in a string (imagine a daisy chain of dog turds) of bad news. No school until next fall.

The governor knows what he’s doing, but I still get to feel angry. He may control my life, but his long arm can’t reach my inner life. I can fantasize about toilet papering (my last roll, too!) his mansion all I want.

After I heard, I decided to do something I never do: take it like a man. First, I assured my children that I loved them, grieved with them, and wished that I could fix it. Then, I went running with my music up much louder than is prudent, hurting my ears, but providing me with satisfying self-torture. I drank a beer while washing my car, music still blaring in my ears. I refused to cry, talk with friends, or verbally process. We ordered pizza.

My only bit of talking took place in the garage where I vented some things I won’t repeat, into my husband’s long-suffering face. Then I played 25 levels of Wordscapes. Clearly my taste in video games exposed me as a novice male. So I gave up, ate a salad, took a long bath and hennaed my eyebrows.

Friday was my daughter’s 14th birthday. I asked her if it was okay if I paged through her baby photo albums and cried. “Sure.” she said, off-handedly. She was occupied making breakfast for us and skyping with her Australian bestie (who called at 1:30 am Australia time). It was shaping up to be a full day for the birthday girl, and her family. Here we were, desperate to make her day feel festive in the absence of friends, the annual slumber party that she devotes ten months to planning, and the desert canyons of Arizona that we were supposed to wake up to that morning.

The “Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake” she requested

I don’t need to be told how fortunate I am; I feel it every day. My husband kept his job, cancelled work of mine wasn’t crucial to our income, we aren’t sick, and we have enough food and love to last through what comes. My daughter had a birthday cake, a beautiful present, and even, blessedly, a sunny day. But what I felt at the end of the day, side by side with my profound gratitude, was grief.

For my children, and everyone’s, I feel the weight of countless personal losses. The loss of collective experiences like concerts and plays, (how I was looking forward to seeing my oldest and her friends perform The Little Mermaid) rites of passage, (the 8th grade graduation that has been bright on the horizon since the day my youngest entered her wonderful middle school) the marking of my nephew’s, sister’s and mother’s birthdays this month (21, 55 and 81 respectively). Every one of these occasions is momentous, its own miracle.

If I would be willing to fight off a mob of sharks, bears and cougars (please God, not all at once) to save their lives, then why can’t I fix this? If my fierce devotion to them could be quantified, (How do we measure love? In hours? kisses? tears? predators slain?) I really think it could conquer anything. Or rather: nothing at all. I have no power to make anything better. Ah…parental love.

I used to try to fix things when people told me their problems. I still do this sometimes, so a blanket apology to everyone who has had to endure my utili-kilt approach to their troubles. All anyone usually needs is someone to bear witness, not start taking measurements and getting out clipboards. At least I’ve improved. When my children were young, I read that most people just want their feelings validated. I recall thinking this was one of the best “how to be a person,” bits of advice around.

So that’s what I can do for the people I love. I can look honestly at their pain. My neighbor told me how much she misses her job at the high school, seeing students every day. She then said she was grateful for all she has. Like me, she’s fortunate. I concurred with her, but before we said goodbye I added, “It’s okay to say you miss your life.”

So I can only say to my daughters, to anyone: tell me your sorrow and I won’t get out my clipboard; I will simply say, “Tell me what you miss.” And then, hand in hand, (or 6 feet apart) we will don our N95 masks, pass through a spray tan booth of hand sanitizer, and then solemnly go forth to toilet paper Jay Inslee’s house.

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Still at Home

As an introvert who savors long walks, I like to think I’ve been in training for this moment all my life. My days are now indistinguishable from one another. Obviously, we don’t leave the house anymore, except to take walks, Otherwise, I do push ups, use FaceTime, (practically licking the screen at the sight of familiar faces) and call my husband at his new office (in the next room) to complain about the kids. Then I cycle through a Sisyphean loop of dirty dishes, go running, watch an episode of High School Musical, the Musical, the Series (HSMTMTS) with my daughters, then take it all from the top (once more, with feeling!). 

I’ve been ordering groceries and picking them up outside Fred Meyer. After a nineteen-day absence from my second home, I donned my mask and took one terrifying trip to Trader Joe’s. I skittishly chose my items among a crowd of unmasked, ungloved shoppers, many of whom were seniors. It seems that older folks feel that when it’s their time, it’s their time. I admire the equanimity in the face of death, but guess what? It’s not my time. So go home, or please wear a mask; and lady in the freezer aisle, stop touching your naked face.

Don’t go out without a mask!

It’s a time of some regret and longing, for everyone, I’m guessing. My concerns are paltry compared to those of people in economic and immune peril. In fact, I feel silly enumerating them. But I don’t think you are reading this for its high seriousness. You can always listen to NPR afterwards.

So: because I thought I had all the time in the world, I didn’t go night skiing. I seldom ski, but when I do, I feel joyful – a rare and precious sensation in adult life. After driving through Snoqualmie pass in January and beholding the slopes lit up, aglow and inviting, I vowed to go. Then I delayed, and the slopes got Corona-ed. Next season you’ll see me out there the first week, gliding along gleefully, between falls.

Skills I wish I had learned: hair cutting and barbering. My husband is going to look like a werewolf before long, and I am not a fan of Twilight. My daughters sport feral, brillo pad manes of split ends. I asked my husband what barbering for females is called and he said, “Barbarella-ing?”

A task I’m grateful I accomplished on March 13th, just as the viral s#€% hit the fan: picking up the dog’s flea and tick medicine from the vet. What a drag it would have been to be cooped up with a dog covered in crawlies. What do I also wish they’d offered at the vet as a courtesy? Human tooth bleach – I could really use some of that. I’ll suggest they stock it.

Speaking of teeth: what should I have gone to school for? Orthodontia. Besides the obvious fact that I’d be rich, I could help my daughter out with her pointless mouthful of gears and sprockets that can’t be changed out and are doing absolutely nothing now save widening the gap between her front teeth. This is a gap she didn’t start out with.

Cooking has been strange. I made a “lasagna” the other night, and never has mozzarella been so promiscuously layered on, covering a multitude of sins of omission. Did I have Ricotta? No. Nor cottage cheese, nor fresh basil, nor meat. You might wonder what was in it; that would be mozzarella. Was it lasagna, or just an outsize square of melted cheese? I wasn’t welcoming comments, but then my husband said, “there is nothing wrong with this lasagna.” That may not sound like lavish praise, but it was generous.

For a couple weeks, ingredients have been just missing each other. I would use up all the carrots before I got celery and would never get to make soup. At this moment I have a surfeit of celery,  but the carrots passed them like a ship in the night. However, yesterday the stars aligned.

As a reminder that nature persists in its mission to renew, chives sprang up in my yard a few weeks ago. And I had a few things in my crisper that I wanted to use. I didn’t expect my girls to flip over this crunchy little salad, but they did. This was a small victory, a reason to celebrate. Guess what else? I found a mint condition toothbrush in my car. Too late to really make a difference on my daughter’s teeth, that will require a wrench. But hey, in the meantime, I took it as a good omen, like seeing an owl (wait, that augurs death…). I don’t know if there’s any relationship here but I believe that one of my introverted strengths is that I’m easily delighted. Another quiet evening with my family beating me at games? Yeah! A foraged toothbrush? Hurrah! Being a little bored, but alive? Where’s the confetti?

Crunchy Quarantine Salad

whatever kind of cucumber(s) you can find, cut how you like them
sweet peppers, about 7, sliced (if you like large bell peppers, use them)
about 2 cups snow peas, green beans, or any vegetable you can cut into 2 inch sticks
olive oil (start with three tablespoons)
Juice of half a lime
freshly ground black pepper
coarse salt, if you have it
sesame seeds, toasted, or a dash of sesame oil
chives, finely chopped

Toss together cucumbers, peppers and blanched vegetables (see below). Add the remaining ingredients.

The amount of dressing you use here will depend on the amount of vegetables you end up with, and personal preference of course. Writing down a recipe for this was difficult since I threw everything I had at it. So allow yourself some leeway, as always, depending on how tart you like your dressing.

Blanching vegetables: after you trim off the ends of peas/beans, and cut them into the size you desire, immerse them in salted bowling water for 1 minute, then plunge them into an ice bath. This may all seem fiddly – like a pampering spa for veggies – but it’s worth it for the tender-crispness and sharp color. If you really want crunch here, immerse the sliced cucumbers in an ice bath for 15 minutes, then drain and pat them dry before putting the salad together. That is truly a fiddly step butI had time.

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At Home

After reading my previous post, my Uncle Frank noted that I was the final woman in Washington to get a hair appointment before every salon switched off their lights. “We’ll be seeing a lot of gray roots out there pretty soon,” he said matter-of-factly. I believe this makes me the luckiest, and most hated woman in Washington state.

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You might think there’s no point in laying down cash to get your roots retouched and then going directly into isolation. Freshly enhanced hair with no one to see it is like a tree falling in the forest – not true! Like Marlene Dietrich dressed to the nines to face a firing squad in Dishonored, I go down fighting. Recall Braveheart’s (now that was a good head of hair) rallying cry (okay, technically the virus can take our freedom, and possibly our lives, but never our will to appear younger than we are).

Here’s to…home

In these strange times, my mood fluctuates, depending on whether friends are texting me depressing statistics. Less CDC, more cute babies please. At times, I’m optimistic; today I ordered a bathing suit online! Perhaps a smidgeon too optimistic, since I only ordered bottoms. Apparently, I think I’m going to Spain. Then I had a mood swing and told my husband I wanted a litter of kittens, pronto, or a reversal of my tubal ligation.

I find I lack some survival skills – more on this next time – but I have this in my favor: I love to be home, baking. One of my efforts was Irish soda bread to celebrate Saint Patrick’s day, at my youngest’s request. My family of origin probably got our hair/skin/allergies from Scottish, not Irish, ancestry, but who cares? As Kent Brockman on The Simpsons said, it’s the day when everyone is a little bit Irish, except the gays and the Italians. My daughter was dying to celebrate, but was deflated when I classified our ethnicity as Celtic Pallid crossed with Pasty Anglo.*

This soda bread calls for a throw-back ingredient, candied orange peel. I’ve made this with orange zest before and it’s lovely but the preserved peel has extra “pow.” Combine that zing with the chocolate bits and this moist and crumbly mammoth scone will have you longing for what many of us now have: a life lived at home, waiting greedily by the oven. You’ll refuse to leave the kitchen, even after the governor lifts the restrictions.

I bought wheat berries so I can try out my mom’s flour mill. My parents used it when I was growing up and it’s so loud we all had to vacate the house when it was grinding and disgorging flour in six directions. Can’t wait to fire it up with my noise-sensitive daughters, histrionic cat, and husband trying to work from home.

Stay Home Soda Bread

Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2005

Makes 6 (consider doubling it)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks cut from a bar
3 ounces candied orange peel, diced (this often comes pre-diced)
5/8 cup buttermilk or runny, plain yogurt
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 F

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, butter the parchment. Whisk first five ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in chocolate and orange peel. Whisk buttermilk or yogurt and egg in medium bowl to blend; add to dry ingredients. Stir just until incorporated.

Turn dough onto floured work surface and knead gently, just until dough comes together – about five turns. Form dough into a round about 2 1/2 inches high. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, cut a 1 inch deep, 3 inch long slit in top of bread, forming asterisk pattern.

Bake bread until well browned and firm when pressed. Start with 25 minutes.

 

* “I hate being so white!” I told my husband. “Hate the privilege too?” he said. And now I hate him.

marycake

 

Superheroes Needed

Here’s to heroes: teachers, epidemiologists, small-business owners, first responders, health care providers, journalists, and every person hard-hit by the current crisis. Let’s all lift each other up, whenever possible.

I began typing this last week at the hair salon, with my frizzy, chemical fright mop encased in plastic wrap. Listen, I figured if there was a pandemic on, I needed to be looking my best.

Earlier that day, I refilled my anti-depressants, (thanks, science!) and bought thrice the normal amount of groceries at Trader Joe’s (God rest his soul). When I returned home, freighted with treasure, my youngest texted her sister this, “Mom had a midlife crisis at the store.”

She explained to me that I’d purchased every item they’ve ever begged for, despite my consistent prior refusals. White baguettes! Pirate Booty! Vegan cookies! It’s like I was desperate to buy their love. In the immortal words of those poets, the Jonas Brothers, this crisis was, “…making the typical me break my typical rules. It’s true.”

I was desperate to find something that would cheer them up as we awaited the news that soon enough, fell on us with a dull thud: school closures. They’d been dreading a possible two week closure but…six weeks? This seemed needlessly cruel, but I’m trusting it’s based on the advice of experts (Gee, thanks science!🙄).

Not much was in my control. But artificial measures designed to make me appear more attractive than I am? Those I could control. So there I sat waiting for a chemical reaction to prolong my hair’s youthful appearance (Okay for real this time: thanks science!).

As always, life and its little surprises drives me to the kitchen. These muffins are popular with my husband, friends, and catering clients. I never fly to San Francisco without grated carrots, so I can make them for my best friend when I arrive.

The recipe is from Run Fast, Eat Slow. I made plenty of changes: cardamom in place of cinnamon, coconut rather than oats, double carrots over zucchini. I like to make a recipe my own, and I encourage you to do the same. The original suggests raisins, chopped dates or chocolate chips, but I’m fond of currants in these.

I hope they make you feel like your immune system and mental health can weather a six-week school closure, social distancing, and rampant fear; if not, go easy on yourself. I know it’s my task to ease the pain of mounting disappointments for my daughters, as every fun thing between now and 2030 is cancelled. Perhaps this superhero fuel will give me, and you, that pick-up we need so you can pick someone else up, too. Go, be someone’s hero.

Superhero Muffins

Makes 12

2 cups almond meal
1 cup unsweetened, flaked or shredded coconut
2 teaspoons cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I omit this)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I consider these optional)
1/2 cup currants or dried fruit of your liking
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups grated carrots (or 1/2 carrots, 1/2 zucchini)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with muffin cups.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal, coconut, spices, baking soda, salt, walnuts and currants.

In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, carrots, butter, maple syrup and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each to the brim. I like my dough scoop for this. Bake until muffins are browned a bit on top and a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean, though not dry. Baking time can vary but try 27 minutes to begin.

marycake