Spring into Summer

Bowl o'Sunshine

Scented geranium, aka bowl o’ sunshine.

The summer visitors have arrived. They show up all of a sudden, in an array of styles and colors that practically scream, “summer is here!” One day the landscape comprises a crowd dressed in varying hues of green and the next — well, see for yourself.

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Columbine

Peony

Peony

false indigo

False indigo

5-clematis

Clematis

My “Little Miss Kim” lilac shows up in a burst of grapey color and then immediately fades to white, leaving behind a trail of sweet perfume that fills the yard for days.

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Little Miss Kim

Here in eastern Massachusetts, the transformation from late spring to early summer is a visually joyous one. In the woods, the air feels both lighter and fresher — a soft caress has replaced the chilly slap of April. I may still need a light jacket for my morning walk, but the knitted cap and gloves remain in the closet.

Rhododendron in the woods

Rhododendron in the woods

New ferns

New ferns

Yet underneath all the outward cheer, early summer leaves me feeling a little empty. As the weather warms up an old sadness resurfaces as its mid-June anniversary approaches. And as a young, working mother, the close of the school year, with its many festivities and fond farewells, was always tinged with melancholy. One more year of their childhood torn from the calendar.

My days of year-end band concerts, sewing on name tags, and packing trunks for summer camp are long over, but for me, June will always outrank January as an important marker of passing time.

Summer breeze

Summer breeze

The great thing about getting ‘older,’ though, is that I no longer have to concern myself with summer’s superficial branding. While I do pay attention to advice about protecting my skin, I can turn the page when I see headlines like, “4 Weeks to a Bikini Body,” because, really, who cares?

Instead, I’ll look beyond the sunny façade and shake things up. That warmer air and lack of weather-related obstacles frees us all to tackle something different, something hard.

Never finished Middlemarch? Maybe this is the summer to do it. Climb a mountain, learn another language, or try a new form of writing. Test the limits of your brain and your body.

Or—as my husband and I plan to do after decades of full-time work—give yourself a sabbatical.  Taking a road trip, living someplace new, and launching a project are all on our agenda.

So yeah, the summer visitors are here, let the season begin.

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This post also appears today on Women’s Voices for Change

Rain on Stone

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needles

Last night’s rain swept everything clean.  This morning, Karina and I headed to the woods. As we entered the trail we were both startled by a wild turkey that took off in a rush of feathers a few steps ahead of us.

As we walked further into the woods, my racing heart quieted. The sound of the wind running through the trees enveloped us, broken only by a single robin belting out her sunny tune.

girl in the woods

We stopped to admire how the rain had stained the stone, and then we stood there and listened for a long, long time.

water on stone

Emily_1

SOME PEOPLE KEEP THE SABBATH GOING TO CHURCH

By Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

 

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I, just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.

 

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –

I’m going, all along.

 

May Is Clean Air Month

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May is Clean Air Month, and when Women’s Voices for Change asked me to profile Dominique Browning, co-founder and Senior Director of Moms Clean Air Force, I was more than happy to do so.

MomsShirt

I’ve also been busy covering Showtime’s new series on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously.” You can watch episode one online here, and read my posts about it here.

As Dominique told me,

Climate change is an overwhelming, unhappy subject, but it’s really important to understand that we can beat this—there are answers.

So, in honor of Clean Air Month, please check out, “Dominique Browning: Making a Difference in the Air We Breathe.” And then, do something important for all of us and support limits on carbon pollution.  

Thank you!

Spring Changes

fiddleheads

Late spring/early summer is a glorious time to be out in the woods. Bird song and the tap, tap, tapping of local woodpeckers is so loud, so distinctive, that you’d swear someone had planted speakers in the trees and cranked the volume up as high as it would go. The air feels softer, it smells cleaner, and the colors of the trees and plants reflect that rain-drenched freshness.

My mother died in early summer. It was many years ago, when I was still a teenager. Every spring, as the air begins to warm, that deep feeling of loss resurfaces, and I just want to stay quiet. This year, I’m focusing on the beauty around me.

reflection

into the blue

intothesun

Mill Brook

worn couple

May is Clean Air Month. I’ll have more about that next week.

Marriage, Dynamic

Until last week, Paul and I had never worked with a professional photographer. Our wedding was a low-key affair that resulted in a few snapshots contained in an album.  And there’s a rather stiff photo that was taken at a local department store when our boys were young.  I suggested, and he agreed, that we document where we are today — after more than 30 years of marriage.

The older I get, the less I like to be photographed.  Lately, when someone snaps my picture, the resulting image often seems to catch my worst angle – at least in my eyes. Yet I know that I am perfectly presentable, I just have to put myself in the hands of the right photographer.

close up

I knew that my friend Cheryl Sparks was that photographer. She is not only talented, she knows how to put people at ease. I knew she could get us both to relax. Cheryl put a lot of thought into our session. She said that she wanted to capture the dynamic between the two of us, and she shared a photo shoot of another couple as an example of what she had in mind.

So we had fun. We were silly.

It was quite windy, but I released all worries of crazy-looking hair into the breeze. We both loved the results—more of which can be viewed on Cheryl’s blog.

Oh, and speaking of photography, you can now follow me on Instagram.

 

 

Committing to Spring

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in between

Neither of us likes to be the one to put the winter equipment away. Shovels, winter boots, and even snow shoes remain at the ready for weeks after the first day of spring. The ice cleats were left curled up and forgotten on the car floor for so long that I stopped seeing them.

It’s not laziness, it’s superstition based on hard experience. If we put away winter’s tools too hastily, it will return — and with a vengeance. Anyone who has witnessed a snowstorm in April knows exactly what I mean.

English daisies

Having literally just killed a mosquito while typing that last sentence a few days ago, I plunged a stake in the ground and committed to spring. It seemed like the right thing to do. The spring peepers had been loudly announcing the new season for a couple of weeks, the air had softened, and our pillowcases — recently dried outside on the clothesline — filled the bedroom with the smell of fresh, sun-soaked air.

Without hesitation I dispatched my winter boots to the closet, and moved the snow shoes and shovels into the garage. I left the ice cleats in the car as an insurance policy.

Last Saturday confirmed the wisdom of my commitment. It was the kind of spring day that sets a high bar for the rest of the season: warm sun, cool air, the bluest of skies. On Monday, Paul and I posed for a photographer by the Boston waterfront, no jackets required.

daffs

And then, this morning,

Rhodi in ice

April 16_2014

April 16, 2014.

“We’ll have to bundle up today,” Paul said as he looked out the window.

“Do you think we’ll need the ice cleats?” I joked.

“I took them out of the car yesterday,” he replied.

At least we know who to blame.

Through Words and Cake, a Writer Lives On

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cake

My friend Jane, who blogs at Food & Fiction, is one of my most helpful kitchen advisors. Although we share meals several times a year in real life, our time together at the stove has always been virtual. Many of Jane’s recipes have become my go-to source when I want to put something delicious, healthy, and not-too-complicated on the table.

So it makes sense that Jane shared this New York Times article about Laurie Colwin on her Facebook feed, because it suggests that Laurie’s non-fussy recipes and conversational style were a precursor to food bloggers like herself.

Like Jane, Laurie’s friendly, matter-of-fact voice is also in my ear from time to time when I’m working in the kitchen. Her recipe for a simple chocolate cake (pictured above) is my hands-down favorite.

I wrote about Laurie and her chocolate cake a few years ago on my blog at Open Salon. My literary tastes have changed over time, and her novels may no longer hold my interest the way they did when I read them 20 years ago under extreme circumstances, but I’ve never lost my taste for that cake. The recipe is included in my original post, reprinted below.

Through Words and Cake, a Writer Lives On

 October 23, 2010

“You don’t feed me enough,” I joked to my husband last night as my stomach loudly and persistently announced itself. Apparently, the dinner of homemade soup and bread I’d made wasn’t enough. We needed dessert.

“Karen Edwards’s Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake” from, More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin is my go-to recipe when I want something quick and chocolatey.

According to Colwin,

“It is hard to encapsulate the virtuosities of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel – the result of all that cocoa. It is not so horribly bad for you, because you use buttermilk, which is relatively low in fat, and cocoa powder is defatted anyway. Furthermore, it keeps like a dream and tastes even better after a few days.”

I became a Laurie Colwin fan almost 20 years ago while undergoing chemotherapy. My hair was falling out and I was nauseous and exhausted. For the first time ever, it was difficult to find solace in reading — I couldn’t focus.

Then my friend Julia gave me one of Colwin’s books. Her books held my attention. I cared deeply about her characters, and her tales about family life, which I, too, was engaged in, were happy ones. I needed upbeat stories — sadness and angst were for real life.

When I reported all of this to Julia, she responded, “Unfortunately, Laurie’s life wasn’t so happy. She died suddenly at a young age.” Not only that, she had left a young daughter behind.

All these years later, my story is the happy one. My children, who were aged eight and ten when I was diagnosed, are now adults living on their own.  My husband and I are both active and healthy, and we still share a special spark.

So now when I bite into that buttermilk cocoa cake, I silently raise a glass to Laurie Colwin. Her life wasn’t nearly long enough, but I am grateful for the gifts she left behind.

Here is the recipe as it appears in More Home Cooking.

Karen Edwards’s Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and butter and flour a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.

2. Mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. To these ingredients add 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix.

4. Turn the batter into the pan, bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean, and let it cool for 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan.

 

Winter Nap

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Winter Nap

Last weekend we came out of hibernation long enough to drive down to New York City. Our efforts were rewarded by some actual, real-live spring weather. The sun was warm, and there was no snow or ice.

Spring!Bike

As I soaked my sore feet after a day of tramping around on the dry sidewalks, I realized this was the first time in months I’d worn a pair of real shoes. 

We ate pie for breakfast two mornings in a row in an old building in Brooklyn, where the walls were lined with tin.

Patina

Across the bridge, in Manhattan, I sat outside on a bench drinking a fancy tea latte, admiring the symmetry and color of a building across the street, while a woman paced back and forth during what turned into a very long phone call.

Guerin Bronze

A few blocks away, we peered into a cemetery hidden away behind stone walls and a locked gate.

Spanish Cemetary

 

Cemetary1

I was reminded of this cemetery a few days later, when my friend Heather Robinson wrote a post about the results of municipal elections in France, where the Front National—an extreme right party, founded by known anti-Semitic and Holocaust denier, Jean-Marie LePen—is gaining ground.

That what happens in France matters to us all was brought home today, when I saw this post by another friend, Lori Alper. Lori, who lives one town away from me, writes about anti-Semitic incidents involving some of the youngest students at her son’s elementary school.

While hibernation is a fine strategy for staying warm during an endlessly frigid winter, it is not a good way to live. We may wish that prejudice and hate are hidden and locked away like the dead in that cemetery, but in truth they are more like tenacious weeds growing under those dry, New York City sidewalks. They claw their way into the light through the tiniest of cracks.

 

“Full of Winter”

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“Full of Winter.” My friend Heather used that sentence in her post today about her lunch in a village that was quiet, empty, yet “Full of Winter.”

We are full of winter here, too. Full up, filled up, fed up.

yogi

Our walks have been white and cold — frigid, in fact. Too frosty to expose already numb fingers to the icy air and snap a photo.

And yet, on a snowy day like today, when the dog has been walked and I have nowhere to go, I have the luxury to sit quietly on my indoor perch and watch the flakes slip from the sky.

I am warm, safe, grateful: “Full of Winter,” Full of Peace. 

A Recipe for Love from the Men in My Life

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Shakshuka photo

Shakshuka

It has taken me half my life to associate food with love. For many years, especially when I was a young, single, working woman, food was fuel consumed with a large dash of guilt, and I closely monitored my intake.

But recently, I’ve realized that morsels of edible love have been coming my way for a long time—most of them prepared by the men in my life.

It started with my dad, who would cut my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into four precise pieces. “Triangles or squares?” he would ask.

My relationship with my father was a rocky one and I often found him difficult to be around. But whenever I envision those tender triangles of grape jelly and creamy peanut butter layered between two slices of Pepperidge Farm white bread, the negative feelings fade away, and I feel cossetted and adored.

Once I became the mother of two young boys, the “food as love” concept was delivered more forcefully through a traditional Mother’s Day breakfast in bed.  One year, “fortune” muffins were on the menu. A soggy slip of paper baked inside one of them announced in a penciled scrawl that I was “The Best Mother in the World.”

These days, that message of love, folded into a heaping cup of caring, is delivered with more subtlety via elaborate meals cooked by those same boys, now fully launched adults. Shakshuka—a spicy mélange of vegetables, feta cheese, and eggs—and crusty homemade pizza are among their specialties.

They absorbed this technique from my husband, who has also delivered a steady stream of edible love notes throughout our long marriage. There have been more pots of chicken soup to cure a cold than I can count, and for much of our time together — especially after the boys arrived — he has taken on what I once viewed as the daily drudgery of putting a meal on the table.

At first, cooking was a novelty. A rich minestrone soup or homemade brownies were a way to impress boyfriends, and, I naively thought, get them to take me seriously. But once I’d hooked my man via quiche and a curried mushroom soup, the novelty wore off when we became ensconced in family life. It was no longer fun to deal with food through the nausea of pregnancy and later through the film of fatigue and time pressure that came with combining work and kids.

But lately, there’s been a shift. I no longer get defensive if I don’t have an answer when asked, “What’s for dinner?” (What kind of wife/mother was I that I didn’t have a week of menus at the ready?) Now that we both work from home and it’s usually just the two of us, I look forward to the discussion — and even manage to plan a few meals in advance.

Homemade pizza and shakshuka are on regular rotation. They are my favorite meals, because when my husband and I are kneading dough, or chopping herbs and feta, it’s as though our sons are here too. I’m surrounded by my men, cossetted and adored all over again.

The Recipes (Shakshuka and New York Pizza)

The first time I ate shakshuka was in my older son’s Brooklyn apartment. He moved around his compact kitchen with ease, chopping and tossing ingredients into the pan like a pro. Watching him do all the work was incredibly relaxing. It was the best breakfast I’d had in a long time. Later, he sent me the recipe, which came from the New York Times.

Younger son is a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, where all baking takes place over a gas flame inside a blue box. Oven temperature is gauged by eye. Pizza is not readily available there, and he often makes it when other Peace Corps volunteers arrive at his door. Recently, he sent us this recipe for New York Style pizza. The dough is best, he says, when it’s left to rise in the refrigerator for three days.

The Pizza King, photo courtesy of Kitty O'Riordan

The Pizza King, photo courtesy of Kitty O’Riordan

This post is part of a series on Food and Love over at Daily Plate of Crazy.

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