In late 2012, I taught a Canning 101 class on Pickling (we made pickled ginger carrots). In attendance was a woman, S, with whom I’ve become friends, not least because she totally grooved on the Type-A way that I rearranged the julienned ginger so they were more evenly distributed throughout the carrot sticks.
S is the one who introduced me to Blue Duck Tavern and also to the highbrow Canadian mustard outfit, Kozlik’s. We email regularly and often run into each other at Whole Foods and this past week, S emailed me ask if I could come over and taste some of her jams and chutneys and catch up. Yesterday worked swimmingly for us both, and I enjoyed a couple hours in her beautiful home. She sent me home with an incredible goody bag of stuff she recently schlepped back from Ontario- a Canadian cheddar and a bottle of local Riesling, a jar of Kozlik’s horseradish mustard, tomato jam, pickled strawberry jam, peach chutney and zucchini salsa. I know! Right?!
The boys ate about half the jar of salsa with their picnic dinner, I immediately tasted the mustard as I am an enormous fan of horseradish (this has some serious punch!) and I opened the peach chutney to serve with the meal I made for T and me. Zucchini-feta fritters, seared chicken slathered with Penzey’s barbecue rub and cooked in bacon drippings in my trusty Lodge, and Israeli couscous with lemon, parsley and skillet drippings. One bite of chicken with chutney and couscous made me awfully glad I had more of everything. Sublime!
Israeli couscous with lemon, parsley and skillet drippings
First, after being forced to exercise, I realized that a crappy dinner the night before (cold pizza after Back to School night #2) and a minimal, on-the-run breakfast that morning just prior to said exercise, did not lay a good foundation for feeling strong and energetic during my work out. My trainer, in such a gentle and simple way, said, “You know, Em, I need you to take care of yourself while you’re busy taking care of others.” A dimmed light brightened in my harried mind, and I left the gym, picked up a protein-heavy shake and committed to eating a marvelous, good, substantial lunch.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I love when trusted others remind me of elemental truths. For pete’s sakes, I hadn’t even brushed my teeth before leaving the house yesterday.
Frantically slurping my shake, and feeling better with every gulp, I headed back to school as my friend, who also happens to be the school librarian, had very kindly invited me to attend an author presentation with the kids*. Kathi Appelt, a lilting, lovely Texan who’s written a huge array of highly-regarded children’s books, was taking the kids through her writing process. I sat by Jack, who crossed his legs as women often do -knee atop knee- which I always love to see because he is so cute and dear and his slender little legs nestle right into each other such that they look like one. He kept my arm draped over his shoulder for the whole hour which was also very dear, and I dare say I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.
Not least because I was listening to and learning from such an accomplished author. She took the children through a fairly brief but terrific discussion about what revision really means. To view anew, to see with fresh eyes. And how doing so can and often should take time. I suspect Jack about fell out when Kathi showed us her 24th revision for Watermelon Day and then said, “Well, another book took 30 revisions!” (That’s kind of Jack’s biggest nightmare right now.)
Writing is a discipline that takes time, effort over time and the willingness to cut one’s own work. Revising is a life lesson really, whether its form takes shape on the page or in one’s relationship with self and others.
(Kathi also loves swamps. A devoted Louisianan, I, too, adore swamps and all of their mystical, dark, muddy, life-sustaining beauty.)
Afterwards, I came home, cleaned myself up and made that substantial lunch to which I’d committed. It was great- an enormous roast turkey, chevre, kalamata olive hummus, tomato, lettuce, whole grain bread tower + the last piece of plum tart.
my spot at the crab feast
Last night, T had a work party that we wanted to attend. Not your generic staid work party, no. This was an outdoor crab feast with live music, barbecue and endless platters of freshly boiled crabs. I must have eaten a dozen, and my hands still smell today if anyone needs any proof. It’s been a long time, too long, since I went at a mess of crabs like that. I’d forgotten how they nearly burn your fingers and lips with both steam and Old Bay (it’d be Tony Chacheres at home) and how delightful that is. It’s great fun to pound a wooden mallet down on an upside-down crab body whose “key” you’ve pried open.
If you look closely in that picture above, you can see the rather phallic-looking “keys” on the crustaceans’ underbellies.
As if that weren’t enough, this cookie & ice cream food truck then drove up. People, let me just say this: If you encounter the Captain Cookie food truck whilst in or around DC, run, don’t walk, to it and get yourself a big old ice cream sandwich. I chose a chocolate chip cookie for the top, vanilla ice cream for the middle and a nutella cookie for the bottom. Are you kidding? It was insanely good. Huge! Spectacular cookies! Sublime ice cream! They even have milk, should you simply want cookies, and they have vegan options for those of you out there.
I would love another right now!
*One of Kathi’s books, in the Bubba and Beau sequence, talks about making gumbo and apparently, my boys were the only ones familiar with roux. This was the sole reason for my invitation which I thought was totally fabulous.
I’d cleared my schedule for today in case I was still jurying. Luckily, I was released yesterday afternoon, and it has been absolutely lovely having some time for quiet contemplation and creation on this beautiful Wednesday. I walked Percy, leisurely on a new route; I raked and watered, tidying what I easily could. I took some photographs, and not quickies. No, the ones that are constructed and thoughtful and take a bit of effort over time. I picked some fresh jalapeños, blackened them in a stove-top flame and diced them finely for the peppery plum jam in which I wanted to use my bushel of pluots.
chopped pluots- aren’t they stunning?
The light is perfect today. I feel lucky to have no distractions right now, for that means I can notice and treasure all that gleams and glows around me. You can see it in those just-cut pluots, light shining like diamonds in the glistening flesh. You can see it in the incandescence of the leaves attempting to obstruct the sun’s rays; their underbellies radiate an ethereal green light that seems gently aflame. You can see it when it catches on dust motes floating softly through the air, their impact an ephemeral sparkle that you’re certain was there, but it disappeared so quickly that you wonder.
pluots, a peach, diced fire-roasted jalapeño and sugar –> pepper punch plum jam
The light that comes to us, that we see and take in, that promotes growth and warmth, is an enormous gift. But there is another sort of light, equally important and to be treasured.
Before my boys began attending a Quaker school, I was not familiar with the concept of the light within. I mean, I knew of soul and spiritual centers and such, but I’d never heard our inner selves expressed in terms of light. I love this concept, and I love the way it guides the teaching and interactions with my children, and all children, at their school. The teachers look for the light in each child, knowing it will be unique and that its presentation might be challenging or simple, tough to find or near the surface. They treat each child’s light with such respect, seeking to both honor and make it familiar to the child as they gently guide its shape and expression.
This concept is very much in line with the inarticulable philosophy I had, before my kids were born, about how I wanted to appreciate and raise them. I wanted to celebrate the individuals they were but concurrently help them become their best selves. Watching this practice in action -as I see teachers unearth and celebrate that within each child- and learning how to speak of a child’s self as his light within has given me a much greater facility for and appreciation of this Quaker tenet. It inspires and humbles me regularly, it gives me hope when things seem dim, it makes me a better parent.
I feel bathed in light today, that from without and from others’ withins. And I am grateful.
Yesterday afternoon was one of those that wore like an overly tight shoe strap. One of my children was the strap, and by bedtime, I was a raw, ragged blister. He was funked out about everything, and though I felt I handled him terrifically-even likening his behavior to a piece of poop which he thought was hysterically awesome, by the way- I felt utterly tattered by the time I shut his door for the third (but not the last, as time would show) time.
In the midst of his negotiations, ploys, pleas, questions, complaints, demands, whining, obstinacy and insistence that he was not tired and could not sleep, I found it extremely difficult to see any light inside of him, much less want to. I wanted to snuff that little guy out. I wanted him to be quiet and leave my alone and to stop pushing, pushing, pushing. Why do kids keep at it so strenuously when the feedback isn’t good? “Enough!” I wanted to yell. But I didn’t (though of course I have before, so don’t think I’m that zen).
I looked at my little guy who was so desperately tired but trying not to be. I tried harder to see a flicker of his light, and I did. I hugged him tight, told him I loved him and firmly said it was time for bed. Because, you know, we have to acknowledge and honor our own lights too.
For no good reason, I really don’t want Scotland to break up with the U.K. The thought of it makes me feel sad, the sort I might feel over the dissolution of a great couple who just couldn’t make things work.