Nothing and Everything

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Six weeks since I last wrote here. Wow!

Absolutely nothing of note has happened in my life, and I suppose that's everything. I haven't been to a funeral or been bombed. I've had three meals every day (and sometimes more). I've been able to tuck my kids in almost every night. I've cleaned my desk many times (at night, it messes itself up), vacuumed the entryway stairs 20 times, walked down to the mailbox every day, fed the dog 2 cups of food twice a day, and done dizzying amounts of laundry. Anne Lamott says that if she had a year left to live, she'd return phone calls. So I've gotten back to friends and clients. I've ordered more #$*ing ink for the printer, done six weeks worth of meal planning, prep, and cooking, and am trying to lob dish duty off on Wyatt. On Friday mornings, I administer a spelling test to 20 first graders and on Monday nights I cook dinner for 12 family members. I've mediated conflict, written proposals, facilitated meetings, and tried to keep praying. And I've been able to keep running, which is a big miracle.

All of it, really. All of it is a big miracle. You probably guessed I was going to say that. 

Being on the trail is church for me lately, especially when I listen to podcasts like this. One of the stories was about a man who was on the plane that Captain Sully landed on the Hudson River. Listening to him talk about that moment is chilling. He said he realized death wasn't scary, but he was sad--sad about everything he'd miss out on. And he realized three things that changed his life: 1) Everything can change in a moment. Pour out all your love and affection on the people in your life NOW. His metaphor was a wine cellar--don't let those beautiful bottles sit around! If you've got the wine and you've got the company, open that bottle and drink it. 2) Life is too short to give any space to negative energy--grudges, resentment, the games of the ego. Being happy is a lot more fulfilling than being right. 3) The highest calling for him: be a good parent. He tells a story about going to his daughter's dance recital one month after the crash and absolutely bawling through the whole thing. He knew why--being there for that moment was the culmination, the pinnacle, of so much tenderness and beauty. And if you're not a parent, I think I'd translate to, "Dive into meaningful relationship. Promise things to people and make good on your promises. Be vulnerable and expect vulnerability."

I'm making myself tear up here. An hour ago I was in a bad mood because I have a cold, the vacuum belt broke, my wireless router is messed up, and I didn't want to pay the bills. But I'm having a good little coaching session for myself. We all need that sometimes.

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I have been so thankful lately for our weekly delivery from Dandelion Organics, and the upshot has been greens. And more greens! It works for me to sauté a bunch of green things up together, keep them in the fridge, and add them to everything. Yesterday, I added olive oil to a hot wok, then dumped in an obscene amount of spinach and kale. Then thinly sliced leeks and green peppers, crushed garlic, salt, pepper. I toasted some whole wheat break, fried an egg, and put the egg and the greens between the bread. Or you could use your green mixture with eggs, roasted potatoes, as a topping for tostadas, a filling for burritos. Endless.

Thank you for being here with me.

Strawberry Hazelnut Salad with Sesame Dressing

Strawberry hazelnut salad

Oh, how I love June strawberries. I've got my kids trained, too. Driving through town this week, Wyatt said, "Mom! Pull over! There's a strawberry stand!" We've just been eating them fresh--out of hand, over yogurt, in smoothies. They are so yielding and RED. The very definition of red.

I had lunch alone today. Yancey and the kids were running errands, which seems like all we do lately. Run errands, unpack, take yet more $%# to Goodwill, and sign paperwork. We are awash in paperwork over here. Turns out, if you sell and buy a house in the same month, the entire universe requires your signature. So we have disclosed and been disclosed to, locked in interest rates, and become best friends with our insurance brokers. I'm not complaining--all of this is a giant gift. But I'm ready for things to slow down.

And lunch alone at home is my favorite, as you probably know by now. I like it better than making mac and cheese for kids (surprise) and even like it better than going out. I've never lived alone (What?! Yes, it's true) so I have to fake it every once in awhile and please just myself.

In this case, it was bounty from Joe's Garden--pointy spinach leaves, big leaves of Italian parsley, sweet shelling peas, toasted hazelnuts, sheep's milk feta, sliced strawberries.  For the dressing (this serves one), mix 1 Tb. of honey, kosher salt, pepper, thinly sliced green onion, sprinkle of sesame seeds, and 1/2 Tb. of red wine vinegar. Whisk in 1 Tb. of sesame oil and 1 Tb. of olive oil, and add more of anything to taste. Happy Alone Time!

 My big girl

BLT Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

BLT salad

This is the first meal I made in our new (summer) home. Nothing revolutionary, but easy, delicious, and just right for when the temperature climbs to a blistering 70 degrees around here. To celebrate, we went for a dunk in Lake Whatcom, which happens to be right outside our door.

Some other tidbits about our move and our new life in Bellingham: 

  • There are deer everywhere up here.  At first, I was incredulous when my Mom suggested Wyatt pursue them with his slingshot.  Then, after noticing they had eaten all my pots down to nothing, I'm reconsidering.
  • Wyatt climbed up in the cherry tree while the moving van was idling in the driveway of our Seattle house. I told him he could have a few last minutes up there. He sobbed so loudly he could be heard down the whole block. It was heartbreaking, but I love that he feels things so deeply. 
  • The Bellingham Farmers Market is indeed amazing. Wyatt got a lavender lemon popsicle and I bought some kale. Of course.
  • Our rental (and the fixer we purchased down the hill!) are right on an interurban trail system. We are in heaven, going for lots of bike rides and spending an inordinate amount of time outside.
  • In spite of not being unpacked yet, in the last five days I have managed to make basil shortbread, a giant platter of carnitas, rhubarb crisp, and have people over for dinner twice. There's some pent-up cooking energy going on, for sure.

This morning, at the kitchen table, the kids chattering in the living room and Yancey still asleep, my parents' cat meowing at the front door, I feel complete. We have landed, and it is good.

BLT Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
Serves 4. I've given instructions to make one big bowl, but you could plate the salad up individually. 

For salad:
1 large head lettuce, washed and torn
1 bunch watercress, washed and stems (mostly) removed 
2 c. fresh bread cubes
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb. bacon, cooked until crispy and coarsely chopped
1 large avocado, cubed 
4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced into wedges 
handful of crumbled feta 

For dressing:
1 medium avocado
juice of one lemon
1/2 bunch cilantro, washed 
salt and pepper
one garlic clove
water to thin 

To make croutons, heat 2 Tb. of olive oil in a heavy skillet.  When oil is hot (but not smoking), add bread cubes, salt, and pepper. Saute until bread is crispy on all sides, but not hard (about 5 minutes). Set aside.

Arrange greens in a large salad bowl. Lightly toss with 1/2 of other ingredients--avocado, feta, bacon, eggs, and croutons. Arrange the rest of ingredients on top of the salad.

To make dressing, combine all ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Thin with water to desired consistency.

Drizzle dressing over salad.

Everyday Salads

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I bring or offer to bring salads wherever we go. If it were up to me, my minivan would have the following features:

  • A built-in car seat that converts as kids grow, can be removed later, and frees me from the guilt of buckling it in wrong.
  • A little composting bin for orange peels, apple cores, and compostable coffee cups.
  • Hell. While we're at it, a spigot for coffee.
  • A long mechanical arm that reaches back to pick Loretta's lip gloss off the floor when she drops it or takes away a toy that's being fought over.
  • And yes, a hollowed-out, covered, and secure slot for my favorite salad bowl so I can take it everywhere without worrying about spillage.

In the sixteen years we've lived in Seattle, I wish I had tallied up all the potlucks we've been to. I've spent many hours pulling over to check on a full pot of soup sloshing around or balancing a cake on my lap while Yancey takes corners. But I usually bring green salads because:

  • I almost always have the ingredients to make them.
  • They're easy to transport.
  • I am never, ever without ingredients to make salad dressing.
  • Salad isn't hummus (ubiquitous at every Puget Sound gathering).
  • My salads are better than anyone else's.

Did I really just say that? It's not true. Lots of my friends can make salads as good as mine, but they learned from me. There. How's that? My salads aren't fancy, but I've learned lots of tricks throughout the years that make them deliciously foolproof every time. Here is yet another bulleted list. I think it might be long. Don't let that scare you. I just have lots of opinions.

  • I'm a fan of the pre-washed cello bags of greens. They make lots of things easier. But they're expensive. If you're bringing unwashed greens home, wash them right away, lay them out on a length of paper towel, roll the towel up, and put the whole bundle in a ziploc bag. They'll stay fresh for well over a week and be ready for salad-making whenever you are.
  • My basic dressing is kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, one part white or red vinegar or lemon juice, and three parts extra virgin olive oil. So that, I might add some dijon or fresh herbs. Or maybe garlic or smoked paprika, depending on what kind of salad I'm making. If you want to make a creamy dressing, add a teaspoon of mayo (it doesn't take much) and you'll get a beautifully clingy dressing.
  • When my herbs are growing, they all go in (except sage). Right now, I am putting big, soft mint leaves in everything. I use them like I would a lettuce leaf. Same with celery leaves, beet tops.
  • Color! I work as hard to make my salads colorful as I do to make them tasty.
  • Toasted nuts are almost always in my salads--walnuts, almonds, pecans. If you're allergic to nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, or homemade croutons.
  • This one might be most important. I try to think of a forkful of salad and being able to get every ingredient in one bite. That means no giant, thick rounds of carrot or big wheels of cucumber. So I'll use a vegetable peeler to shave carrot into the salad or cut my cucumber into matchsticks. You want everything cut to manageable--not necessarily uniform--size. 
  • The bowl you pick is important, too. Try to use something shallow that just fits the ingredients so you can see everything and it looks abundant. A little pile of chopped vegetables in the bottom of a narrow bowl never made anyone feel like eating healthy.
  • Protein. Not always, but most the time there's something else in there--cheese, hard boiled egg, chickpeas. And if I'm really feeling ambitious or it's a main dish salad, maybe bacon, bits of crispy chorizo, or some roasted chicken or smoked salmon. 
  • Toss everything in your dressing right before serving, using your hands and mixing very gently. This will coat everything and ensure that you don't use too much dressing.

We're entering salad season, which I'm thrilled about. Let's get to it!

Everyday Salad
For the salad pictured, use about 6 cups of washed greens to line a shallow bowl. Whatever ingredients you add, keep a tiny bit separate so you can garnish the top. Add a handful of toasted walnuts, a couple handfuls of mint leaves, half a thinly sliced red pepper. With a vegetable peeler, shave one large, peeled carrot and some parmesan into the greens. Toss gently with your dressing (see above) and garnish with a few of your reserved ingredients. Happy Spring!