|Isabel's new home|
Boy, is it hot out here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hot and dry. Did I ever mention that our mulch caught fire last month on a day just like today? A day just like today except about 20 degrees cooler. A workman was reinforcing some concrete near the road and a warm piece of rebar he’d just sawed through fell into the fluffy, dry, redwood mulch. Whoosh! Instant fire covering about 20 square feet of the front yard. The workman came and banged on the door and I ran out barefoot and we extinguished the blaze, but it took 10 minutes or so of me spraying with a hose and him beating down flames with his shovel. We killed a lot of plants and broke some of the watering spigots. No point to this story, except: mulch? And: lucky.
California is ready for you, rain.
I’m really betwixt and between right now, hence the lack of much interesting cooking or any posting at all. Life should straighten out next week. For real.
Here’s what’s been happening in the kitchen and out:
I've served several batches of the easy, delicious bread-and-tomato soup from Viana La Place's Verdura. According to my margin notes, I've been making this since August 1999, a year before Owen was born. That's the definition of a keeper. The recipe is at the end of the post and you should try it before the sweet summer tomatoes disappear.
I baked yet another kouign-amann from Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune. I love this cake madly, despite the fact that it always comes out looking burnt.
|it's all about the French butter and orange flower water|
I think next week I have to write about my extensive and rewarding experiences with Hamilton's cantankerous cookbook. I've been putting this off.
One night for dinner I made the hearty riso al forno (Arborio rice, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, olives, capers, provolone) from a recipe posted by The Wednesday Chef and it was really good. Recommend.
|the kind of dish that is sometimes called "lusty"|
That's about it for food.
At the very end of August, we went up to Washington and installed Isabel in her dorm at Whitman. Mark and I spent a few days observing the other kids (Birkenstocks, more bros than I’d expected at a little liberal arts school), listening to uplifting faculty speeches, traipsing from Home Depot to Walmart to Macy’s to Walgreens, buying fans, towels, sheets, et cetera. All is good.
No. All is great. I'm not sad anymore. Not even a little. There’s a certain lightness you feel watching a very competent, composed child venture out into the world where she can grow in ways she no longer could in your care. I’ve been trying to explain it to people and this is the best I can do: Imagine you’ve spent 18 years teaching a kid to ride a bike, running alongside, encouraging, looking out for potholes, worrying she's going to fall and break her collarbone or get hit by a car. You've really given it your all and she's gotten better and better and needed less and less help and finally you let go and now she’s disappeared to ride around the block, pedaling like a pro.
How do you feel? You feel lost for a few minutes, but then you sit down on a bench. You look around. It's a beautiful day. You gradually notice there are birds singing and there's a pleasant breeze and maybe you should wander over to that cafe and have a celebratory affogato while you wait for her to return some months from now. (It's a really big block.) You have that affogato. It is delicious. Where should you go next? So many options. Hmmm. Strange. What is the word for this bizarre feeling? Is it freedom?
Suddenly you and your spouse start going out more, doing silly stuff you haven't done since you brought that first baby home from the hospital. You can't wait to hear what the girl has to tell you when she gets back from her ride and it dawns on you that you might have some new stories yourself.
I don't actually say all that to people. It's what I would like to convey without having to resort to a dumb bike metaphor.
Ok, speaking of silly stuff you might do with a spouse as your kids grow up, Mark and I went to a legal recreational marijuana shop while we were in Washington. Is that what you call them? Marijuana shops? We were curious to see what it's like to buy cannabis in a store. In case you didn't already know, this is what it's like to buy cannabis in a store: You pull up in front of a nondescript building just off the freeway near a McDonald’s. You walk in and read signs telling you to put away any cameras. At a pharmacy window you show someone an ID. They admit you to a bland-looking back room with glass display cases that contain, among other things, cool little pipes. Other than the wares, it resembles a room where you might buy a cell phone. There is a United States map into which customers stick pins to show where they're from, and the whole country is dotted with pins. You somehow manage to squeeze another pin into the dense blob of pins on the San Francisco Bay Area. A friendly clerk hands you a menu with lists of marijuana products (cookies, joints, candies) and asks surreal questions like: “Are you looking for something exhilarating? Or more relaxing? ”
I can’t remember what we said. We bought a caramel. Why not?
|surprisingly creamy and yummy|
Anyway. Legal, guys! It was 100% legal. As legal as a bottle of Snapple. As legal as a Starbucks scone. And yet. I went to lunch with some casual friends the other day. I’m very fond of these two friends and we meet every few months for lunch, but I don’t know them that well -- which is a nice category of friend, the people you don’t know that well and may never, but are always pleased to see. I told them of my field trip to the marijuana shop because it seemed like a moderately interesting story. Not one of those great, urgent stories you tell when you first get together with casual friends, but the fourth or fifth story you bring out, when there’s a lull in conversation. I thought there was a lot to discuss, but my friends basically fell silent. One of them politely asked if I had a prescription for the pot and I explained that recreational pot is legal in Washington. Then there was silence again. I felt mildly embarrassed and wished I hadn't said anything. It occurred to me that some people probably still think marijuana is wrong, even if it's legal. Like abortion or gay marriage, I guess. On some level, I must think that too, given that my kids have seen me drink, but I would never smoke a joint in front of them.
Then again, I'm completely ok with them reading this post. The mental image of Mom and Dad buying a pot caramel is probably enough to turn them off drugs forever.
Here's the soup recipe from Viana La Place. I feel like I've posted it before, but no. It's fantastic.
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
a few basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
kosher salt and pepper
pinch sugar, if needed
2 heaping cups crusty bread, cut into chunks or torn. (A stale baguette works great. Even if you have to break it with a hammer, it will come straight back to life in the soup.)
shredded sharp cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino)
1. Combine olive oil and onion in a soup pot and cook over low heat until onion is softened.
2. Add the tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes over medium-low heat.
3. Add 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the bread, stir, and turn off the heat. Taste. It might need a pinch of sugar. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve with cheese. Serves 4.