My brother Ben has been staying with us the last few weeks. He is clean and tidy, pitches in with dishes, and watered our garden for us while we were away – so you can see he is a fine houseguest. He is also a beloved playmate for my little guys; they have been in heaven spending time with him most afternoons, digging vast irrigation canals through the yard and engineering elaborate train track systems around the family room.
While the design and construction projects have been taking place, I have had something quite unexpected:
moments to myself. Sometimes even whole hours to myself. Within a day or two I had actually caught up on all those chores I always feel like I can’t catch up on (it really is amazing what an hour buys you!) and I found myself watching the guys out the windows, a bit at loose ends. I always think that I want time to myself, but when I am presented with it I’m never quite sure what to do.
I started by arranging the piles of hydrangeas that Lucas kept bringing inside (Jacob likes to cut them, Lucas likes to carry them – this will work well if they ever actually open the gardening business they dream of. Less easy will be the decision of who ‘drives’ the leaf blower).
Then I fiddled around in the kitchen – drawer organizing, fridge cleaning, pantry-shelf-wiping. As is often the case, the rhythm of little chores helped my mind wander. Sorting through aging produce I remembered that I had wanted to make another batch of those Mollie Katzen sweet pickled onions … and also some of Robin’s (vegan!) Blueberry Lemon muffins and Emmy’s beet chips (seriously, so easy – paper thin beets, salt, olive oil, 350 F oven … twenty minutes later, holy crisp!). I turned on music (have you guys heard Bruce’s latest? In one of those weird impossible feelings, it reminds me of my mom – she would have loved it).
A jar of sunflower oil reminded me of how I had wanted to try oil-cleansing my face (which I first heard about from AnUnrefinedVegan – I am one week in and a total convert – thank you Annie!). Futzing through the freezer that same afternoon I found a forgotten bag of graham flour – on a total whim and with time to spare, I made a vegan riff on the raisin bread recipe from the package. While the dough was rising, I watched hummingbirds out the window and my mind wandered over issues of food supply, food production, and health. What does it really mean to “eat more plants”? How I might build even more plant-based meals into my family’s regular rotation?
And here, you see, is where the real value of my time was found: when there are no kids under foot, my busy mind dissolves into the task at hand, and real thinking starts to happen.
As aging peaches and CSA strawberries were turned into a summer-fruit freezer jam kissed with basil (inspired by this day with Ann and Eleanor) I thought about Frank Ocean and Channel Orange and the thrill it gives me to hear these songs that are “dignified, quasi-political, cerebral without being disdainful, fleetingly hopeful” – but best of all, so sumptuous to listen to.
Bruised blackberries (my boys love to ‘help’ put away groceries) and at-their-edge plums became blackberry-plum jam in tiny jars, for Kyle to take to his admin and for us to take to neighbors. (I also ate one whole jar – but they really are so small!). While the fragrant fruits cooked down and filled my kitchen with the thick air of preservation, I leaned on the counter, leafed through pages, and thought about the books I have been reading (bread, veggies, beans and Home).
On another, hotter afternoon, I peeled a Charentais melon, laced it with lime and lavender (no really!) – and then just sat and ate it. I snacked and lazed about and while I was staring at nothing I remembered how Tara made me think about how our kids grow, and how families fit together …. and how Tea made me think about picnics, and loss, and friends, and the passage of time through and around us …
Being up in the mountains last week slowed everything down. It forced us all to unplug and step back, and to take such big breaths. I don’t want to lose that feeling – I don’t want to lose that sense of reflection. It is easy to feel busy – even in our quiet little life we are often rushing from one thing to another.
But if there was a season made for slowing down, it is summer … the earth grants us a little more time each day to do what we need to, and what we want to. Here is what I know: rather than fill that time up with more and more busyness, we should try to sit back into summer’s long shadows and just feel time passing. When we are lucky enough to have those hours as our own, we should use them slowly. We should take picnics – to our porches, beaches, playgrounds – to the benches outside our office buildings if we must. We should watch the birds. We should sit outside as the sky darkens, staring into the twilight until we remember things we haven’t thought of in ages – and we should drift through our memories slowly, slowly. Lingering over them. As though we have all the time in the world.
One last thing that I did with some of my time was to make stuffed squash blossoms. If you find yourself with a handful of blossoms this summer but no ricotta for stuffing and no real desire for a beer-batter to mar their delicacy, then this might be the recipe for you. We served them alongside fried eggs, toast, and some of those dry pan tomatoes … and if that doesn’t taste like summer to you … then your mouth might be broken.
Thanks to Ben for a few hours of my own this week. Now … when you all have time to yourselves, what do you like to do with it?
Arugula and Raisin Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Squash blossoms are delicate and soft, and hint of the flavors of the squash they will become. Farmer’s markets and CSAs are rife with them right now, and backyards too. Traditionally in Italy, they are stuffed with ricotta, battered and fried … Nothing wrong with that! But I didn’t have any ricotta and wasn’t feeling like something deep fried. Here is what we came up with. Note also that there was some leftover stuffing – cooked up with a few eggs the next morning, it made for quite a nice little scramble.
Squash blossoms (we used 8)
1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
5-6 tablespoons shredded cheese (we used a random assortment of cheese ends: aged sharp cheddar, Manchego, parmesan)
3-4 big handfuls baby arugula
2-3 tablespoons raisins
Salt & pepper
Grapeseed or other neutral oil for cooking
In your largest cast iron pan, cook the onion down over medium heat. Once it is softened a bit, raise the heat to high and char the edges (I realize this is controversial – if you don’t believe in ‘browning’ your onions then skip it – but really, it adds to the flavor!).
Mix the charred (or just wilted) onion in a large bowl with the cheese. Once it is well mixed (the cheese should melt a bit) add the arugula and raisins, and mix everything gently together. Season with salt and pepper – taste and adjust.
Gently open each squash blossom. Carefully break off the inside bit (that I think eventually becomes the squash? Anyone know about this?). Fill each blossom until it is full and rounded but not bursting. Close gently and twist the top end just slightly, to help hold the blossom shut.
Once all blossoms are stuffed, heat a little bit of oil over medium-high (you can use the same cast iron pan that you cooked the onions in, that’s perfect actually). Once you have a good heat on the pan, put the blossoms in, in batches if need be to allow them room to brown. Watch them like a hawk – brown carefully on all sides, but don’t burn them! It should only take a minute or two to cook each batch.
Carefully remove to plates, and serve as appetizers or part of the main.