Hello! I hope you all had as relaxing and rejuvenating a week as we did. I spent my mornings taking long walks through the mountains with Kate or reading under the trees … in the afternoons we all lazed in the cool green Tuolumne river, while trout flashed through the shadows and big kids leapt from granite boulders into the clear water. Kyle and Dan ran a week-long beer-tasting contest (winner undeclared – an East vs West coast tournament format has been proposed for next year). They endeared themselves to their wives by shuttling the kids to and from kiddie camp, and stayed in camp to read their vacation books while Kate and I walked (Dan read one of my very favorites, the book my mom gave to each of us in her last summer and that he hadn’t been able to brave until now – I am glad to say he loved it as much as I do).
Jacob and Sonia definitely made their mark on the mountains – Sonia wore her sparkly wings and performed a solo dance routine in a talent show (she called it “The Fairy, The Dance, and The Hundred Acre Woods”) and Jacob engineered a truly epic sand pit that became known in Kiddie Camp as The Tuolumne Ocean. All four of our little ones survived on various incarnations of oatmeal, ice cream, and fruit. They were in heaven. (Sonia also scared everyone half to death by getting lost fifteen minutes after we arrived … Kate and I found her huddled under a tree up the hill and over a bridge, scared but most of all irritated that “Daddy is taking so long to come back after I ran away from him!”)
Being up in the Sierras felt like a homecoming. Having been on the east coast and/or pregnant for the last three summers, this was the first time I have taken my kids to experience the mystical-feeling mountains that surround the Yosemite valley. As we greeted each new day with its stream of sunlight and its bright morning air, I would think of John Muir’s directive: Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.
I am pretty sure I spent hours watching the dogwoods above our cabin morph through their dazzling array of greens as the sun moved across the sky each day. We were outside, the entire week, in that wonderful clear air. Our lungs were full of the mountains, and our eyes and our hearts were too- and all of us, but especially the kids, were covered – COVERED – in dirt by week’s end. Still, it felt clean, and pure, and restorative. I was sad to wash it away.
And of course, washing it away meant we were home. As I may have mentioned, that meant laundry … laundry that I am still working on, and that Kyle has been patiently folding for about 24 hours.
We’ll get it done eventually. The camping gear will get re-organized in the garage, my empty fridge will get restocked with vegetables, the mail will get sorted and I will stop feeling disoriented when I wake to Kyle’s alarm instead of the sun.
I don’t think that dirt will ever come out from under the guys’ nails. But I’m not worried about it.
I took a break from all this homecoming business to check email and catch up on my favorite blogs. I was happy to have so many nice notes from friends, and to read so many thoughtful posts from this past week – Alana’s call to do the work of civic responsibility, Jess’s musings on summer (and haddock), Nicole’s thoughts about curating her life … Like Nicole, I keep a trim list of blogs to read regularly. I have to really love them. Those three are three of the best.
I took another break to wander through our yard, around the patio and up into the back where the big garden is. It has grown wild and free this summer, not tended as closely as it might be yet still producing at an
alarming inspiring rate. I found a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, a dozen artichokes, and herbs flowering abundantly all around. Kyle and the boys harvested all that, plus the runty misshapen carrots (they just never grow straight for us!). They picked hydrangeas and dahlias for me to arrange around the house, and they cut back the radishes, which bolted and were threatening to take over the entire yard.
I was hopeful that here too we would find nature’s peace, but shrieking children seem louder when there are neighbors nearby, and while I love rosemary and thyme and lemon verbena they feel rather domestic after a week spent among the thimbleberries and old growth pines.
We came home to zillion-degree weather. Driven out of the house by the heat (and perhaps by our longing for the mountains we had left behind), we ate our first dinner home on the Redwood Trail. Sitting at a picnic table in the shade with my three wonderful guys, gazing at peek-a-boo views of Half Moon Bay, I was almost happy to be back. It has been a slow transition home :)
:: Lavender Buckwheat Crisps
I was feeling far too lazy and hot to cook on our return, but my sweet tooth drove me into the kitchen and despite the heat I found myself scavenging for baking ingredients. I decided to make one of my favorite cookies to eat straight-out-of-the-freezer. This recipe began life as one of my (many!) attempts to reproduce our beloved Simply Nic’s cookies from Princeton … I have yet to get it exactly right, but we have had some delicious failures along the way. Buckwheat was a recent addition, when I had given up on replicating Nic’s lavender shortbread bar with this recipe and was instead experimenting with more of a butter-crisp cookie (Bordeaux anyone?). I was surprised at how well the buckwheat works here – it provides the tiniest bit of savory heft behind the snappy crispness of the sugar and butter, and it balances the soft floral aroma from the lavender and honey. For me, this just might be the perfect summer cookie … delicious and light straight out of the freezer, and crisp enough to withstand a good ice cream dunking.
A couple notes on the lavender and the sugar: lavender is flowering here now, and I am putting it on/in everything (melon, honey, ice cream, even fish!). Culinary lavenders have the advantage that they taste very close to how they smell, so you have some sense of what flavor they will add. But as far as I know all true lavenders are edible, so you can certainly give your backyard variety a go and see if you like the results. For sugar – I don’t call for three different ones to be difficult. It is about texture. I normally use half a cup of India Tree caster sugar here, but I was out … I did have some leftover powdered sugar from making mascarpone cream frosting though, so I used that instead and honestly, you couldn’t tell much difference. If you cannot get your hands on either caster or powdered sugar, try running half a cup of your regular sugar through the food processor for a minute or two and you should get close to the same texture.
1/2 cup caster sugar (or powdered sugar)
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
2 tablespoons granulated (“regular”) sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Flowers from 5-6 stems lavender (3-4 loose tablespoons)
8 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
2 teaspoons good-quality honey (wildflower, clover or lavender varieties work well – I avoid my usual-favorite “summer honeys” that often have peppery or licorice notes)
Scant 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup plus 1-2 teaspoons all-purpose flour (you can use whole wheat pastry here, but you will sacrifice a bit of texture)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon flaky salt
Pulse the lavender, sugars and salt together in the food processor for 1-2 minutes, until all the lavender flowers are completely broken down and well mixed into the sugar. Add the butter and the honey, and pulse together until well blended. Add the buckwheat flour and the 1/2 cup of all purpose flour, and pulse for ten or fifteen seconds. If the dough is way too sticky to work with, add the other teaspoon or two of flour, as needed.
Roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment, until it is flat and very thin (about 1/8 inch if you can get it there). Refrigerate in the parchment, on a cookie sheet, for one hour.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Cut cookies out of chilled dough with small cutters, then re-roll scraps and cut those into rectangles using a pizza cutter or knife. Place one inch apart on cookie sheets. Chill the cookie sheets for thirty minutes, while you pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Mix the sugar and salt, and sprinkle a tiny pinch over each cookie before baking.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size of cookies (for the teeny tiny circles that Jacob likes to make, we only bake them for about 5 minutes – most people don’t cut cookies out with their super-tiniest biscuit cutter though!). Let them cool a minute or two on the sheets, then transfer to cooling racks. They should be very slightly soft in the center – they will crisp up more as they cool.
I keep these in the freezer, and they would last for weeks but are usually gone in a few days … they will call to you from their little bag in the freezer, and when you are thinking about dunking something in your tea or in your ice cream, or when you just need a nice refreshing pick-me-up, you will find that they are the perfect thing.
They also make a nice breakfast for one. Or so I’ve heard :)