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.

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Goodbye, Joe

Americans were saddened to learn that Joseph Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s, died this past week, at the age of 89. May his spirit rest easy. It’s a long life, but for someone who played such a crucial role in my own, it wasn’t quite long enough.

Of all the men who’ve loved me, (you’ll only need one hand [from a three-toed sloth] to count them) perhaps Joe was the one most attuned to my needs. Cheap wine, honey? Absolutely. Dark chocolate almond butter cups? Precisely. Caramelized onion cheddar? Joe, you know the answer.

He just got me.

How many times have I looked at my TJ grapefruit-ginger-sugar scrub and longed to whisk it with some olive oil into a tangy vinaigrette? What has kept me from consuming it straight from the tube? Only the thinnest veneer of propriety.

Thank you Joe, for the kiosk of tasty samples, my favorite sparkling water, and the cheese – oh, the cheese. I’m raising a glass of jalapeno limeade in your honor. The stuff has kick.

Here’s to Joe!

Taken on a recent trip to my local TJ

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Happy Shirley Valentine’s Day

Ever since my Aussie friend introduced me to Cypriot salad, I’ve been meaning to write about it. I was intrigued that it included some of my favorite foods in a rare and happy confluence. Never have I seen currants, capers, cilantro, and pumpkin seeds commingled. Thank you to the isle of Cyprus, and its people.

Cyprus: come for the salad, stay for the views

So I was idly casting about for writing fodder, rifling through my brain for what I knew about Cyprus. Aha! I thought, it’s Grecian (it isn’t)! Armed with that retrieved bit of misinformation, it seemed only right to browse Airbnbs in Greece.

I have longed to go to Santorini and jump off a cliff into the bluest water, ever since watching the second Lara Croft movie (my love for the Tomb Raider, and Santorini, is well-documented). Confessing this cornerstone of my entertainment preferences may brand me as a frivolous person. I try to be serious about what matters, but occasionally, I need to see Angelina Jolie kicking people in the face (but only against a gorgeous backdrop of cerulean blue).

In the middle of my Airbnb bender, I remembered something about Greece, (yes, I am tracking that I mistook Cyprus for a Grecian isle – back to the salad in a moment) which was how much I loved the 1989 movie Shirley Valentine. Shirley is such a likeable character: funny, forgiving, reflective – a better, if not better-dressed, role model than Lara Croft.

I decided to watch it again. At midlife, Shirley – played superbly by Pauline Collins – muses that she lost herself in years of “unlived life.” She’s frank about her fears, her grief, and her sense that no one would miss her if she left; so why not go to Greece? I recommend you double feature it with a Tomb Raider. Now that’s a holiday weekend I can get behind, since I can’t afford Santorini.

Which brings me back to salad, because all roads lead there (and to Rome, as the Greeks can attest). This salad is versatile: rice, farro or freekah all work here. I’m not much on Valentine’s Day, (I think a good day to give chocolate/say I love you/fly me to Greece, is any day that the sun rises) but I think the best way to say I love you is by making healthy salads for the object of your affection. Hence my lack of a reputation for romance.

Cypriot
Salad

Cook’s Note: I omit the onions; it’s Valentine’s Day, after all! I may think it’s a silly holiday, but I’m not devoid of amorous ambition.

1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely diced
Approximately 2 cups cooked rice, farro or freekah
1 cup cooked puy lentils
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup currants
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pomegranate

Sea salt to taste

Cook grains and lentils separately according to package instructions. Allow to cool.

Make the vinaigrette with lemon juice and olive oil.

Set aside a few pine nuts for the top, then combine all the ingredients. Toss with vinaigrette.

Adjust seasonings and ingredients to your liking. I added more capers and currants before serving.

marycake

 

 

Fear Her “No Tea Face”

The other day I was having a “some assembly required” morning (assembly equaled tea – lots). I mentioned to a friend that it’s disconcerting to think 75% of my blood is black tea, but he thought this would insure an easy transfusion. Okay, once that was true. But not since my favorite tea was DISCONTINUED.

Why wear anything else? (Besides pants)

Now I will simply have to bleed to death. To death. Choice Organic Teas, a Seattle company that, until recently, had all my fervent love and loyalty, made a version of Russian Caravan that I drank like it was going out of style. Because it was.

It’s not for everyone. My friend Kirsten won’t even allow me to drink it in her presence. Imagine the scent of a campfire crossed with an acupuncture clinic, both of which I find pleasant. Stick me full of needles? It soothes me. Perch marshmallows on the ends of the needles and scoot me up close to an outdoor blaze? Even better. I admit, it’s an acquired taste.

And acquire it, I did. I was seduced, and abandoned. Kirsten claims they stopped producing it because I was the only one drinking it. I scoured the interwebs, located some stray boxes from Swanson Health products and ordered fifteen, perhaps the last in existence.

And now, I am down to the final box. This week, I will brew my last cup. I ask what I often ask: why is a life of privilege and ease so hard?

My husband noticed that I was flying through the tea bags, not squirreling them away for special occasions. “Shouldn’t you be like Elaine on Seinfeld with her limited supply of discontinued spermicidal sponges?” Yes, perhaps I should assess each day’s teaworthiness.

But as I told my husband, “I could die anytime.” To which he merely cocked an eyebrow. As in: make sure you tell me when, so I put the yard waste on the curb, because you probably won’t get a chance to do it before keeling over (from lack of tea).

In the pages of a family favorite, Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk, the children dread the father’s No Tea Face. My own visage, when likewise deprived, has become legend in our home. Will my family see more of this expression, or will I find my transferred affection rewarded by Arbor Teas? We’ll see; my order has yet to arrive. They make a Russian Caravan, though not in tea bags, at least not until I speak to the manager.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some final cups of tea to drink. My husband and children all got called away on urgent business with unspecified return dates –  strange, but I can’t be bothered. And now to steep (perchance to dream, of…nothing, nothing but tea).

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Daughters

Last weekend, I dropped my youngest at the mall to meet friends for a movie. In the rearview mirror, I noticed she had taken special care with her voluminous, wayward mane. Her long, transparent lashes were tipped with mascara. This is my second, and final, round as the mother of a teen girl.

I’ve been told I’m good at endings, but life keeps handing me open books I can’t close, questions I am unable to answer and seal up. I didn’t want to draw the curtains on 2019, because in this new year my youngest enters high school, and my oldest begins her senior year. These enchanting, goofy, insightful girls are becoming women and could someone – anyone! – hand me a Kleenex?

I have thought of parenting as a bittersweet venture. It’s a chance to give everything you have to someone who leaves you. You hand your heart to them and say, “Break this.” If they are able to leave, then you have done good work. But…okay remind me again: why are they leaving?

I am tempted, when I see them off to school, to say, “Have a great day honey, and no one will ever love you as much as I do. Here’s your lunch.” But then, I want someone to love them as much as I do. I want them to have adoring friends and a besotted, devoted spouse who brims with kindness, sparkling humor, and (why not?) good grooming.

I’ve always told them it’s fine to choose singlehood, but (perhaps because I am conventional) in the secret heart of me where my deepest secrets are buried and never brought to light except publicly on this blog, I do want them to find partners someday. I want those partners to be so genuinely kind, so wildly giving, that I never fear for their hearts. Can you believe all the stuff I want? And that’s just the first item on my list.

I can’t run ahead of them on their path, shoveling away every obstacle. I can’t presort friends and love interests, weeding out the faithless from the true. I can only see that they know my love is durable, and that my constancy in this is the last, best thing about me.


I do not think I am necessarily a good person. Well, good sometimes, but not great. I try to keep to a sort of social Hippocratic oath and not crash my way through life leaving a trail of confused victims coughing in my kicked up dust. I could do more; I know this. But I have loved my children with my whole, flawed self. My heart is broken, but full, and entirely theirs. 

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth ‘you owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky.
Hafiz, circa 1330

 

Night of the Iguanarita

My Florida friend sent me a warning about falling iguanas. I assumed this was from The Onion, but no. When temperatures drop, the poor lizards experience a torpor – hey, I get it! – and they plummet from the trees like so many scaly Granny Smiths. As if Floridians don’t have enough to worry about, with rising oceans greedily usurping their state. Sure, they have sunshine, beaches, and citrus trees; but from those trees rain listless, fun-size alligators. There’s no free lunch.

Years ago, when I fancied myself a cocktail drinker, I got one dropped on my head. Not an iguana, a margarita. I say fancied because I liked to drink, but had no talent for it. On the night in question, I was seated as the waitress (overworked, in a bar bursting with sloppy-drunk students) managed to land a double on the rocks, in a 16 ounce stemmed glass, square on my head. It coated me in freezing, sticky liquid and shattered on my skull, leaving my bare legs littered with ice and broken glass. It shocked me a little, but Eaters: I got a free margarita. No, not the one I licked off myself; I got a gift certificate. This beats dodging a drop of humiliated lizards any day.

My days of margaritas are over, partly due to the traumatic brain injury I sustained that night. It’s too bad, because my husband makes delicious ones that include Cointreau. Though robbed of certain abilities, (mainly that of consuming more than 1.5 alcoholic drinks over 2 hours without needing to karaoke Pat Benatar’s greatest hits [and if I don’t, it’s everyone’s loss]) I maintain enough wherewithal to make dessert.

Last summer, I found a recipe in Bon Appetit for frozen margarita pie. It sounded kitschily delicious, and just the thing to sooth a darting, reptilian brain. For the full effect, have someone drop it on your head in Florida and you will get to take home a creamy, swooned lizard in a broken pie dish.

Frozen Margarita Pie 

Cook’s Note: I am reproducing BA’s recipe here, except that I substitute vanilla cookies for graham crackers and omit the sugar in the crust since cookies are sweeter. So then, not really reproducing it, I suppose.

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces vanilla shortbread cookies
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
5 limes, divided
1 14 ounce can sweetened, condensed milk
3 Tablespoons white tequila

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to cool. Crumble cookies into the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Process until mixture resembles wet (Floridian) sand. Transfer crumbs to pie dish, press in and up sides. Freeze for 20 minutes.

Whip cream until small peaks form.

Cut 4 limes in half and juice into a fine-mesh sieve set over a glass measuring cup (you should have about ½ cup juice – err on the side of more). Pour lime juice into another medium bowl and whisk in condensed milk, tequila, and remaining ¼ tsp. salt until smooth.

Fold half of whipped cream into lime juice mixture, gently folding under and over while turning the bowl. Add remaining whipped cream and continue to fold until streaks disappear.

Remove crust from freezer and pour in filling. Freeze pie at least 8 hours, or preferably overnight. Use a microplane to zest an entire lime over the top before serving.