Our new kitchen faces east, and so now the day’s first light glides across our breakfast table, reminding us of our earth and its turning, turning. Morning is broken, says Jacob. If I touch the sunbeams, do I get a wish? On Monday though the morning light was murky, the sky lead-dark, the stones in the yard all gray-shiny wet. It took me a minute, it being late June and this being Northern California, to understand what was happening. Lucas, running in from the garage with his bright yellow boots, finally made me put it all together.
It was raining.
Buzzing with the novelty, we headed outside.
Mud. I try not to think about it, try to enjoy the moment, try to be present. I forbid myself running inside for rags to wipe the white bench, white window trim, white posts of the porch. Each time the boys grab them with their muddy, muddy hands, I take a deep breath. The breaths come out sounding like sighs. I grit my teeth, clasp my hands, smile. I urge them to explore, out in the grass perhaps. Away from the posts.
“The world is making mud for us!” Jacob crows. “We don’t even have to make it ourselves, Mommy! It is just – it is just making for us, all by itself! It’s everywhere!”
They run through the raindrops, then kneel down to look for worms. They race each other, to determine if their boots are faster than their Crocs. They kick balls, and then Lucas frowns. “No puddles, Mommy.” He points up at the sky. “Rain! No puddles.” I’m pretty sure the drizzle we are experiencing would be categorized as fog in, say, Seattle. But we’ve called it rain, and now it isn’t delivering. “I get hose, puddles, okay? That’s good idea.”
“Let’s just be thankful for the rain we already have, okay? Maybe we can do the hose later.”
“We should also be thankful for the mud! Because usually, we have to make mud! And today, earth is just making it for us!”
The smell of the air after it rains fills me up with something, something I don’t have words for, something joyful and alive. Until a couple years ago, I never considered how along with that smell came mud.
My children give me that same rain-washed feeling, times infinity.
I’m trying to grow into someone who appreciates the mud.
My stepmom brings my nieces over. The six of us – two grown, four little – eat plums and popcorn, watch movies and Wild Kratts, and eventually head back out to the mud flats of our yard. Sonia carries rocks from the borders to the patio, while Jacob smears wet dirt over the stones lining the flower beds. Alma watches, and Lucas waits for his opportunity to grab Jacob’s shovel and run. They take turns riding cars down the hill. They find empty seed packets and pretend to plant them. They bounce off me, off their Bubbe, off each other. Their nails are edged with black half moons, their socks grass stained. They push each other off the couch, and cry when it is time for the girls to go.
“I don’t want Sonia to move away,” Jacob says again at bedtime. I swallow the lump in my throat.
“L.A. is not too far. And no matter what, she is still your cousin.”
“It’s an easy drive. We’re so lucky that they’ll still be close.”
Lori brings over emergency loaner curtains, at 930 pm on a weeknight, so that we can get dressed in our bedroom and not over-share with our new neighbors. Missy brings a brilliant book, and carrot muffins wrapped in a charming lettuce-printed towel. Also, homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam. Joanne brings wine, and elegant potted succulents, and the firm reassurance that no, she cannot smell the overpowering laundry detergent of the former owners. My house feels warmer, and so does my heart.
Four mornings after arriving at our house, one of the succulents blooms. Four minutes after blooming, the poor thing is uprooted and in my hands, the long stem of the blossom crunched between jam-sticky fingers. “Mommy! Flower!”
I tuck the plant back into its pot. I can’t tell if it is bothered by the incident. Succulents have a steadiness, subsisting as they can on all that they hold in themselves. I put the sweet, tiny blossoms into a bud vase. They sit, tropical pink and yellow against the gray day.
Kyle is standing in the living room, coffee in hand, looking out at the dew-damp yard. He’s still in his t-shirt and shorts, his skin kissed golden in the morning light. I love his sweat-spiked hair and his familiar stance, the happy ease he exudes after his run.
“There’s another mole hill,” he says, sipping. “Actually, there are three.”
Later, I will take our new rake and move the mole hills around, spreading them through the grass so nothing is damaged. When I am done, I will try to remember to have a moment of appreciation for the mole. He is
ruining our lawn aerating the soil, protecting our plants from gophers and grubs.
Also, it’s entirely thanks to him that there’s so much dang dirt around. Without it, we’d be in sorry shape for mud making.
“A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” — Albert Einstein
Recently, I’ve had occasion to deliver dinner to a friend in a rough stretch. When I pressed her for requests and she mentioned salmon, I cheered – if ever there was an easier and tastier salmon recipe, I don’t know it. (Though pan-seared horseradish salmon comes close.) Proof: her salmon-loving husband sent an email that said, I quote, “I can’t tell you how wonderful [the salmon] was, or maybe I can. It was the best I’ve had.”
In the spirit of deepest gratitude, here is the recipe.
Waters calls for brushing the salmon with plain oil; I find that adding a dash of soy and honey makes this dish extra memorable, a barely-there kiss of flavor under the herb butter that adds an extra, but not obtrusive, layer.
Be sure to remove the pin bones (thin white rib-like bones that extend from gills to midsection) from your salmon; Waters recommends needle nosed pliers, but I rub my fingers gently over the filet to locate them and usually have no problem pulling them out by hand.
A note on the herb butter: a whole recipe is one stick of butter, but that is more than you need. But should you decide to double what is written below, it is a treat to spread on dinner bread or soda bread or thinly over a crisp cracker bread to be topped with a slice of fig or a dollop of apricot jam … Swirl roasted new potatoes through the melted butter on your plate and you’ve got my favorite accompaniment to this dish. Dill is so well-paired with both salmon and potatoes that it almost begs to be used here, but other herbs can be very nice too – chives or parsley, or tarragon if everyone at your house likes it.
For the herb butter:
You can use salted or unsalted butter here: just remember which you’re using when you start adding salt. Your herbs should be very fresh, and chopped at the last minute. I am generous on my herbs, often using slightly more than called for when I will be serving the butter right away. Like Waters I like this to be nice and green, with just enough butter to hold it all together.
4 tablespoons butter, softened
~ 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (dill is my favorite here, but also chives, parsley, etc)
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
Optional: small clove of garlic, minced (Waters includes this, but I usually don’t)
A pinch of cayenne pepper, if desired
Mix everything together, gently, in a small bowl. Mix well. Taste and adjust for salt and lemon as needed. Serve immediately, or wrap and chill. (It freezes well if you won’t be using it within a day.)
Variations: chopped shallots can be a delicious addition. For more lemony flavor, add some finely grated lemon zest. Tarragon and chervil with chives and parsley is the “classic” French fines herbes to be served with fish.
For the salmon:
1 to 1 1/2 pounds wild salmon fillet* cut into 4- to 6-ounce servings (~ 4 servings)
Finely minced garlic (optional)
Note: unlike chicken or beef, you should refrigerate your salmon up to the moment you cook it. Preheat the oven to 425 F. While it is heating, whisk together about a tablespoon of olive oil with a drizzle of soy sauce and a drizzle of honey. Remove your herb butter from the refrigerator to soften (or, remove regular butter to soften and make herb butter while salmon cooks).
Oil a rimmed baking sheet. Season the salmon with just a pinch of salt and some fresh-ground black pepper.
Place the salmon, skin side down, on your oiled baking sheet. Brush with the olive oil-honey-soy mixture. Bake until the flesh is just set, 7 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.
Spoon a dollop of soft herb butter onto each piece. Watch it get all melty and gloriously green against the bright pink-red of the salmon. Not to get all weird or anything, but you can say a quiet thank you to this strong, brave creature for being your dinner tonight.
You can pass any remaining herb butter at the table, or save it to indulge in as the opportunity arises. It should keep for a day or two in the fridge, or wrap it carefully and freeze for future use. (Recommended: spread over a hot crepe, which is then filled with sauteed mushrooms. Because heck yeah, morning has broken!)
* There’s lots of good information out there about which fish are “best choices” for your health and the environment. We choose not to buy farmed salmon because of the environmental issues it poses (and the ‘ick’ factor of fish being fed pellets of dye, antibiotics and fish meal –) but once or twice a month when we see it at the market we splurge on wild salmon from Washington and Alaska.