Working up an appetite

Monday was a rainy day here. (I know, what the? It is never supposed to rain after May in these parts!) The guys were feeling cooped up, and we hadn’t been to the beach in a couple weeks – normally we try to get out and see our favorite tide pools at least a few times a month, but the tides have not been on our side. They were against us again today (Low tide at 5:58 am? No thanks!) … so instead of tide-pooling, I decided to take the guys on a hike to the beach.

Yes, Lucas is only fifteen months old. But he has been walking for five of those fifteen months, and he regularly walks up and down long stretches of playground, yard, and beach – so I decided he was ready to try hiking on his own two feet. And anyway the hike to Cowell Ranch Beach isn’t really a hike – it’s a just-over-one-mile round trip on a beautiful, mostly flat, fire-type-road.

Today we totally lucked out – no, not because it was a perfect sunny day, not too warm, not too cool, barely breezy (it was Jacob’s favorite weather – “fresh”). No. We lucked out because … the field to south of the path was being “tractored” (Jacob again). The very friendly tractor-driver slowed and smiled and waved each time he looped past us. The guys loved – LOVED – this part of their hike. Because really, who cares about expansive blue skies and bursting swells when there are tractors around? Not us!

They did stop ogling the tractor long enough to admire a couple little baby cottontails, a particularly large lizard, and some aggressively low-flying seagulls. And of course, The Whale Gate by Bill Sorich warranted lengthy discussion.

There was lots of running, and joyful spinning (Lucas’s favorite game these days is called “spin! spin!” and usually does not end until everyone staggers into furniture, or bushes as the case may be). And there were some death-defying feats of balance on the stairs – oh right, the stairs.

We got to the stairs and I suddenly realized that we were totally alone on the trail and I was solo-parenting. When you are playing man-to-man (Kyle) treacherous beach stairs can be taken in stride. When you are playing zone (yep, Kyle again) treacherous beach stairs mean urgently raised voices and a maelstrom of panic. Jacob was too busy counting rusty nails in the collapsing ropes to heed my pleas to stay closer to me, and Lucas meanwhile was satisfying his curiosity about gravity by kicking rocks over the ledge marked “danger – sand slide area”. So that was really awesome.

And then there were these two guys down on the otherwise totally isolated beach. They were just drinking and fishing, which again, when you are co-parenting is no big deal … but when you are flying solo, it suddenly seems that one of them has a sinister glint in his eye. Is that a fishing net or a baby snatching net? Were they being friendly, or creepy? And who drinks at ten-thirty in the morning on a Tuesday anyway? (Yeah, so don’t feel like you have to answer that).

It was a morning that made us all grin ear to ear, and those are the best mornings.

I was grinning so much that I lost my mind for a moment, and instead of sandwiches at the park we stopped for lunch in Half Moon Bay. Here is the short version: no highchair, not one, in the restaurant; screechy hungry-kid voices; judgy old ladies in pantsuits; kids drinks in styrofoam – REAL STYROFOAM! – cups; Jacob unhappy with the color of the single crayon I found in my purse; Lucas determined to anoint every surface of our naugahyde booth with holy-water (aka, the nasty ‘creamed Italian’ dressing that she forgot to put on the side of my brown-edged iceberg lettuce).

The long version is too traumatic to share.

The moral is picnic. Just – really, always picnic.

It did get better again: the guys fell instantly asleep in their carseats and I got a wonderful drive-through cappuccino and then listened to NPR while they slept. So we all returned home late in the afternoon – happy, and triumphant … and hungry.

Gruyere-Arugula Tartines and Preserved Lemon Toasts ;)
I’m not sure who to give source credit to here. Call it what you will, recipes for tartines, toasts, rarebits, and whatnots are everywhere. Not surprisingly I like this one. Then there is this one, piled high with caramelized onions, and this one features my current favorite, radish greens. Of course, Luisa nailed it way back when with this, which I love (she posted it on my birthday two years ago and I remember). So, there is nothing particularly unusual going on here. But I think these two combinations have a lot going for them, taste wise. And they are a crowd pleaser – they can pretty easily be deconstructed, if that’s what your eaters require. I used nice slices of ciabatta but you could go smaller with baguette rounds and then- imagine the preserved lemon slivers resting on little poached quail eggs, with a couple sprigs of micro arugula tucked underneath with the avocado. Now that would be an appetizer to remember :) Any way you do it, toasts or tartines are a great option when you are coming home from a long day adventuring – they come together in as long as it takes to heat your broiler, and they are very conducive to using up odds and ends when you haven’t had time to plan a ‘real’ meal.

6 slices ciabatta bread
3 thin slices butter

3-4 loose packed cups baby arugula sauteed until wilted
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
Spoonful of grainy mustard
Spoonful of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt

1 small avocado, gently mashed in a bowl (not too smashed! chunky :) )
3 eggs, poached (you can poach them while you broil the toasts)
1/2 of a preserved lemon, rinsed well and sliced thin

To finish: fresh ground black pepper and flaky salt

Heat your broiler and arrange the six slices of bread in a large cast iron skillet.

Mix the wilted arugula, cheese, mustard and creme fraiche and pile it on three of the toasts. Put the thin slices of butter on the other three. Broil for about three minutes, until the cheese is melted and brown and the ’empty’ toasts are buttery and browned at the edges.

On each ’empty’ toast, put a layer of avocado. Top with a poached egg and some slices of lemon. Give it a grind of fresh pepper.

Top the cheesy toasts with a little sprinkle of flaky salt. (The lemony ones won’t need it, as preserved lemons are quite salty!)

(Just FYI: Lucas ate plain bread, avocado, and egg, but not all together. Jacob tasted the preserved lemons and decided that while he loves lemons, he does not love “lemon pickles” – so he skipped that part but ate an extra poached egg alongside his toasts).

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13 thoughts on “Working up an appetite

  1. I love that the moral of this adorable story is to picnic. I am a picnic fanatic and never have anyone to picnic with unless I can talk Andy into it which is about once a year….I guess once a kiddo is in the picture he/she will have to learn to LOVE picnics. They really are the best. And this little snack/lunch that you whipped up sounds yummy…I could see it being a great little breakfast, lunch or appetizer depending on the toppings. Wishing I had one now!

    • Baby Nelson Halferty will no doubt love picnicking … almost as much as he or she loves breakfast. ! When you have kids though it’s not so much a fun thing as a necessary one … though I guess in theory it should be fun, too ;)

  2. You and the boys seem to have the most wonderful times together. What a crew! I see why they are so happy (most of the time).

  3. I love that I was wondering about the two people on the beach before you mentioned it! I love poached eggs and never make them. I wonder why?!

    • Maybe because they are sort of time consuming? Scrambling you can cook them all at once, even frying is easy to do multiples. I have been poaching a lot more eggs lately – mostly because J decided they are his favorite, and always prefers them over other preparations. I have started using two pans when doing a bunch, and then in each pan I use an egg mold for one, which allows me to poach another alongside and do two in each pan at the same time. This has made it much more tolerable :)

      Those guys were clearly avid fishermen. But I couldn’t shake the feeling they were up to no good :)

  4. Ha! Laughing so hard here. Especially because in two weeks, that will be me- every day- for nine weeks. Working in a school, I’m off for the summer and this year I’m keeping the kids home with me. I have a notebook now filled with ideas of places to go, just me and the boys. In my mind, it all sounds so lovely. Flying solo though, the questions that run through your head (ha! “a baby catching net?”), the injuries when there is no first aid kit in sight…(rusty nails)… However, I know in the end it will be great. And I have to say, so with you on that nice quiet ride home…coffee and NPR…looks like it was a lovely trip.

    • “In my mind, it all sounds so lovely.” Doesn’t it always? :) There are some days when I plan activities with the single goal of the ride home. My three year old doesn’t normally nap anymore, so when I can induce him to sleep – all is well with the world. I hope you have a summer of beautiful days and relaxing car-time for mom ;)

      • Oh, I totally remember banking on that late afternoon car nap. Now I give them iPods with audiobooks to induce peaceful rides home. Your observations about solo parenting are right on. It’s amazing how different the world can look when you are flying solo. I can remember on open house night at my son’s school when he was 5 and my daughter was 2 and my husband was traveling. Elementary school open house sounds like such a nice event until you get overwhelmed by the crowds and manage to lose site of both kids on the playground. Ugh. I’ve never attempted another open house alone.

  5. Mmm, a poached egg definitely makes these dinner! I am looking forward to summertime adventures now–with picnics in tow. Thank you for the timely reminder.

    • Your toasty timeline inspired our “dunch” :) Eating outside with kids is much, much better than eating out with kids. Always. We used to go summer-picnicking on various islands up around your neck of the woods when I was growing up … Whidbey in particular. Fun :)

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