There always seems to be a bit of rush when the first stalks of rhubarb hit the market, and this year we were gifted a big bunch from my sister Zoe's garden up the road and ended up freezing it as we couldn't get to it soon enough (kids, man). So today I had a blissful day off from work to do a little planting in the backyard, much-needed errands around town, and baked this humble skillet cake using up that vibrant harbinger of spring. Zoe's about to go into labor at any moment, so I'm going to deliver a few slices for them this evening, trying to create even more superstitions around food and labor out of thin air (eat this rhubarb cake and it'll for sure do the trick! So far we've tried this with lemon bars, McDonald's french fries and brownies and nothing has yet been THE ONE. But never say never).
Looks like we're going for quality, not quantity when it comes to ye ol' blog this summer. Of course I know you all understand: to say this has been an unusual season is certainly an understatement. And ironically, while our summer plans have largely been focused around our backyard, it still feels like the season has whizzed right on by somehow.
In year's past, I've made a Summer Bucket List, kind of mapping out what I wanted to do, accomplish or see during these fleeting warm months in Seattle. Usually there are a few things to learn or do more of (bake more bread, crochet) but this year is looking different. This year I'm focusing on getting better at doing ... nothing.
I've been in the slow process of cleaning out my home office this week, and yesterday I stumbled upon some notebooks containing previous year's Summer Bucket Lists (if you may recall, I used to write sort of elaborate lists of things I wanted to learn, see or accomplish during the summer season). Scrawled throughout these pages were lines about baking sourdough bread, starting a garden for cut flowers or taking a road trip and discovering new towns in the region (or beyond). This year I don't have such a list. The days feel more like a race to get our work done, figure out how to feed ourselves, take care of the plants in the backyard, be a good friend, be a good sister, be a good mom and a good partner. Walk to the park. Point out airplanes, trucks, buses, vans, birds and flowers with Oliver. Drink a cocktail and watch The Handmaid's Tale with Sam at night. Buy wedding presents and shower presents. Show up.
You often hear how women begin to nest towards the end of pregnancy. This looks different for different people -- some staying up late at night finishing painting projects, others buying new furniture, stocking the freezer or spending time on the nursery. Next week I'll be entering the third trimester and I've been thinking a lot about the idea of nesting and of spending time at home. In truth, nesting isn't something that's new to me: I come from a family of nesters. My dad opened a furniture store the year I was born in Northern California and during my childhood it slowly grew to be a larger chain. He cared about the fixtures in our house, and would sit with me on our front stoop pointing out examples of good and bad taste -- mostly in cars that would drive by but I seem to recall this with passerbyers and their attire, too. I realize this probably sounds a bit pretentious or maybe even downright snooty, but we grew up pretty humbly in those days; it was more a matter of strong opinion than a reflection of, say, having more than anyone else on the block. Those opinions, of course, were contagious and today I care very much about the way our house is situated and how we spend our time at home (although I don't sit out on our stoop and talk to Sam about who I feel has good and bad taste on the block). My mom also cared a great deal about our home life: she always had fresh flowers in the kitchen or on the dining room table and insisted we all sit and eat dinner together each night. Even today, if you have a hard day or things feel a little off, she'll suggest fresh flowers and I've come to realize she's right: they really can fix many of life's very minor problems. In addition to bouquets, my mom was always an enthusiastic consumer of seasonal wreathes and colorful holiday decorations (and still is). She loves a good throw pillow and clean-burning taper candles. My people care about their surroundings.
For many years, I've always made a summer to-do list. I usually set to work on it right at the beginning of June when the days feel long and ripe with possibility. The list often involves things like learning to bake sourdough bread or making homemade ricotta, doing an epic hike I'd read about in a local magazine, training for a marathon, or reading specific novels. It is always a pretty aspirational list, and I generally don't make much of a dent in it -- resulting in the guilty feeling come late August that I'd wasted too many lazy afternoons when I could've been baking sourdough or making ricotta or doing memorable, epic hikes. But this summer is going to be a bit different: there will be no list. We wait so long in Seattle for long stretches of sunny days, and now that it stays late until 9:30 (or later?), I want to see more of our friends and find stretches of time to do not much of anything except catch up, tan our legs and eat farmers market berries. That's my list.
There are many reasons to make cake for breakfast. Especially if that cake is made from 100% whole-grains and uses ripe bananas, fragrant coconut and toasty walnuts with just a touch of natural sugar. The main reason, today, is that it's time for a new album. Have a seat. Let me explain. We had a small dinner party in our backyard last week to celebrate a friend's new business idea. She needed some photos for her website, so she offered to cook a summery spread if we'd host it and I'd snap a few shots. It was one of those 'let's plan it 6 weeks ahead to jive our Google calendar' affairs, but at the end of the night -- after too much wine and a rollicking game of Farkle -- we were so happy to have had the company, the music, the Indian-spiced roast chicken and rosé. But most of all, the company, in what has felt like a summer that's had too much work and not enough company.
Yesterday I looked up and realized we're into the last half of July. Already. And I had one of those inevitable panics where I feel like we haven't been hiking enough, we haven't done any camping or road-tripping or picnicking. Sam and I used to devote Sunday mornings to visiting one of our favorite bakeries and reading the paper -- and then moseying into Ballard to shop at the farmers market. But now that I bake all day on Sundays for Marge, that tradition has slipped by the wayside. And I feel the same thing happening with the season this year. While I honestly wouldn't want to be anywhere other than Seattle, our summer can feel pretty short (it really doesn't get going until the beginning of July). And on those gray, dark February days, I want to make sure I've gotten in some good hiking, camping and picnicking. This whole grain skillet crisp is a good place to start: while we didn't take it out picnicking, I did take it out into the backyard and had a very generous slice right out of the skillet. Slowly. At 9:30 p.m. when it was still light out. So really, when you consider those moments, July could be worse.
We left for vacation on the day after I went grocery shopping in a wool sweater. June was definitively not summer here. According to everyone I talk to, it never is. And truthfully we were both just trucking along throughout the whole month, we had little time to complain or wish for something more. We had planned a mini camping trip all the way into ... our backyard, but had to cancel due to chilly rain. But the second we returned to Seattle, you could sense something changed. People in the airport were tee-shirted, Brandon drove us home with the windows slightly cracked, and the next morning big, bright sun shone through the curtains in our bedroom. Summer in Seattle has arrived--and we have fruit pies, galettes, a booming garden, iced tea, and salads for dinner to show for it.
Summer. Barbecues, road trips, flip-flops, rope swings, a new swimsuit, homemade popsicles or rides with the windows down and feet out the window. Reading outside. Doing just about everything outside. Gardening. Sprinklers. The list could go on. Lately I’ve been thinking about the time when summer actually felt like an eternity. Remember that? The days right before you or your friends had a car and you came up with impossibly creative ways to pass the time--perhaps feeling bored and tortured, not realizing how you’d look back on those listless, empty afternoons with nostalgia and longing. During those summer days, the above list would look quite different: making chocolate chip cookie dough and eating it straight out of the bowl. On the roof. In our underwear. Or walking downtown barefoot with my best friend Kristin to buy fried rice from the one and only decent Chinese restaurant in our small town. We'd wear cut-offs and put on lots of fruity lip gloss and hope to be noticed. We’d spend hours making mix tapes and sneak bottles of Zima and clove cigarettes into the garage for a smashing afternoon of pure daydreaming. The Cure. The Flaming Lips. Sublime. Tori Amos. Kristin and I would sneak out at night and traipse around the park with boys much too old for us. Those were the days. How little we knew and how much we thought we knew. But such is adolescence. I don't really miss that. The one thing I do miss is the cadence of the days, the way they literally folded into one another into a beautiful, long swath of months we called summer.
We had a bit of a heat wave in the Bay Area this past weekend. Saturday, in particular. There's nothing like coming off of a long flight from China and having your typically foggy city greet you with blazes. I mean really, there was no easing into summer. But it's no problem. I've gotten my cotton skirts out of storage and plan on wearing them all summer long. That and flip-flops and high ponytails. There will be iced coffee in the mornings and lots of leg-dangling in my mom's pool. What is a problem, however, is even thinking about turning on the oven to bake during the summer. But I've found a solution. Its name is slump. Do you know slumps? If not, you should. I'll introduce you.