Plenty More

kitchen wall

For years Jeff and I remarked, not unhappily, that we were in a rut. We had the work/kid/life thing figured out, with occasional grumbling from me about being bored and occasional grumbling from Jeff about his long commute. Life had a humdrum predictable pattern, though we were lucky to take a few spectacular trips along the way, whose effects lingered for several months afterwards. On the walls of our kitchen hang photographs, often askew, of food scenes from Turkey. One of these days the Spain photos will make it up there too.

I remembered Jeff’s sister, some years ago, calling their dad and stepmother one evening in Michigan. No one answered the phone. My sister-in-law was shocked. “Where could they be?” she worried. “They are always home.”

Jeff and I were becoming similarly predictable.

Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project

I didn’t realize at the time that the acquisition of our dog 2 1/2 years ago signaled the beginning of the end of the rut, or that the transformation of our lives would pick up speed like a snowball heading downhill.

In early October, the girls and I accompanied Jeff to the Adams River in the interior of British Columbia to witness the “Salute to the Sockeye,” the festival that celebrates the salmon run that is dominant there every four years. We’d been there four years earlier and had seen an impressive array of red, misshapen spawning salmon, along with the carcasses of salmon once their procreation was complete.

Adams 2010

To be honest, we female members of the family didn’t want to make the trip. I was about to start a new job and was concerned about not having a break between my old job, the contract project I was currently working on and my new gig, which would start the day after we returned from fish gazing.  The girls had a “been there, done that” attitude about this salmon phenomenon, something most people in the world never get to see and which is near and dear to their father’s, (a former salmon fisherman) heart.

But Jeff put the importance of this foray into compelling perspective. “This is the last time we’ll all be together to make this trip,” he reminded me. “Four years from now, Daughter #1 will be away at college.”

Can it be possible I’ve been writing this blog for four years? I mentioned our 2010 Adams River trip in a post I wrote about my fleeting obsession with fish oil and the constant role salmon has played in my married life.

Naturally we compared our 2010 trip with what we experienced in 2014. I packed many of the same clothes, (though their fit was admittedly more snug) and we visited all the same haunts. Though, coincidentally, we made both trips the same weekend in early October, in 2010 the river was swollen and red with fish. This year, it was too early in the season. We could tell that the fish were on their way, but had to content ourselves with viewing the leaders of the pack.

Adams 2014

In 2010, D #1 had just started middle school and our evenings were dominated by math homework.

teenager posts math

We’d mentioned to her math teacher that we were making the Adams River trip. “I grew up around there,” he told us nostalgically. “My grandfather had land overlooking the river.” It didn’t stop him from piling on the homework.

This year, things were different, yet the same. This time it was Daughter #2 who was plagued by homework, working each evening to interpret the themes of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. 

On the second day of the trip we hiked up a steep path to enjoy a view of a broad expanse of the river. There were people at the top of the hill and I was somewhat surprised that when Jeff and I reached them, they greeted us in more than just a cursory fashion. There was D #1′s 6th grade math teacher and his girlfriend, her 8th grade math teacher. I chuckled to myself as we made small talk, wondering what D#1′s reaction would be when she reached the top of the hill and saw them.

“I’ve been wanting to make this trip ever since you told me about it four years ago,” said the 6th grade teacher. He gestured toward the land we were headed towards, overlooking the river. “That was my grandfather’s land.”

I couldn’t resist pointing out that our 2010 experience had been marred by the sheer volume and difficulty of the weekend math homework he’d assigned, but he didn’t take the bait. And I’m happy to report that D#1, who has grown up a lot in these past four years, was practically poised when she encountered these two banes of her middle school experience.

We returned home, I started my new job and the dishwasher broke, just as the refrigerator had broken when I’d started my previous job the year before.

How do appliances know the most inconvenient times to break?

How do appliances know the most inconvenient times to break?

We dealt with it, a little more collaboratively than we had handled the refrigerator fiasco, I’m happy to report.

Some days I managed to work all day and easily get dinner on the table, including this surprisingly easy, satisfying healthy one bowl meal. Other days were catch-as-catch can. I brought out the Crockpot and the pressure cooker and bought a new fancy rice cooker that is the same size as our dog.

rice cooker

 

 

Harbinger of change.

The construction in our neighborhood continued, double-time. Three houses that were there when I left for work one morning were gone by the time I returned home in the evening.

One bittersweet weekend, my next-door neighbor Steve and I looked at the muddy pit, where our neighbor Bill’s house and the neighborhood tree house used to be. Tim down the street, just a few years older than us, had died, Steve told me. A few days ago, the large birch tree on Steve’s property was taken down, in preparation for Steve’s departure and eventual construction of a new, ugly, expensive multi-unit building. My neighborhood is changing and for now, we will be one single-family house surrounded by condos.

Bill's house

My friend Peggy wrote a beautiful elegy for our changing neighborhood and my street. Paseo, our favorite neighborhood Cuban sandwich shop abruptly closed down and it dominated the media and conversation for days. “Let the healing begin,” says the Seattle Times, which has just published this recipe, so Paseo devotees can try and recreate the magic at home.

One particularly fraught day, when work ran long and dinner didn’t get made, the mail didn’t arrive until 9:30 at night (postal service cuts). And there was the copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty More, which I had pre-ordered months before. Though I don’t have nearly as much time to revel in cooking as I have for the past 15 years, I took that book to bed with me and read it cover to cover. Yotam Ottolenghi talks about the way his cooking style and philosophy have changed in the years since he published Plenty.

The possibilities are endless.

The possibilities are endless.

We’re in the midst of some more changes now, which are causing a shake-up in our perspective and the fear and excitement that come with uncertainty. Jeff and I are gaining a greater appreciation for the lives we’ve lived individually, within this life we’ve built together. We are no longer in a rut, or at least not the same rut.

I’m revisiting my philosophy about change. For years, I could rely on the Foreign Service to create change for me, every two or so years, with a new assignment, a new country to live in, a new job, a new house, new friends. Jeff, who grew up as a vagabond and was a vagabond when I met him, sometimes marvels that we’ve lived in the same house for nearly 20 years and held the same jobs for nearly 15.

“You can never step in the same river twice,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who believed that change is central to the universe. I used that line once, in a speech  I wrote for then-Vice President Al Gore, who was traveling to the Nile River. I was young then and I’m not sure I fully understood its meaning, but I thought it added a certain panache to the speech.

Rivers are always flowing. People and circumstances are always changing.

Four years from now, even if I can still fit into the same clothes and one or both of our daughters is still overburdened with homework, the Adams River won’t be the same river and the four of us will have changed too.

Tonight, at least, the possibilities are endless. Will I try out the Paseo recipe? Or will I make Yotam Ottolenghi’s Iranian Vegetable Stew with Dried Lime? Eggplant Kuku and Crushed Puy Lentils with Tahini and Cumin are calling my name.

Even if I don’t get to them soon, it’s nice to know that whatever’s going on in life, there’s plenty more to look forward to.

 

 

 

Act Your Age

between friends french fries

I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about this blog and all the things I have wanted to write. I send myself emails with ideas, usually figured out when I am running. I have become, like the self-proclaimed “serial memoirist,” Beverly Donofrio, a miner of material. But then I get busy with work and carpools or become overwhelmed by fatigue.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about cooking, and the meals I wish I had time to make.

And the books I wish I had time to read.

I think you get where I am going with this. This installment of Slice of Mid-Life has been a long time coming.

The material I’m mining these days is all about shifting into a new life stage. Daughter #1 is in high school. Dances and football games and associated accoutrements have entered the mix.

Daughter #2, a sophisticated seventh-grader, is as tall as me and we wear the same shoe size. Their dramas are different now, their minds are often like sieves. Our interactions are fleeting, though we spend a lot of time together in the car, driving to and from their many activities. That’s where I learn what’s going on.

The experts say kids this age feel more comfortable confiding in you when there’s no eye contact. Counterintuitive, but worth a try.

boots

During a back-to-school shopping trip with D#2, I spied a pair of black Steve Madden boots on sale that I encouraged her to buy. But D#2 is careful about money and wasn’t sure she should make the expenditure. “We can share them,” I told her. So we bought the boots.

“Our” boots, we called them.

D#2 wasn’t sure she would wear them much. Jeff wasn’t sure why a 52-year-old woman would want to wear the same boots as her 12-year-old daughter.

Touche!

Touche!

The boots made their debut on D#2′s feet during the first week of school and were an instant hit, especially with two of her friends who said they had the same pair, but in brown.

A few days later, I asked D#2 where our boots were. “You mean ‘my’ boots?” she corrected me, without any trace of irony.

I had been considering wearing them for a TV appearance, in which I had been billed as an “expert.” I decided that wearing the boots of a twelve year old might compromise my already weak credibility.

Schulz Lucy Doctor Is In

Yes, the days of raising children are long, but the years are short. We’ve become one of those proverbial families who rarely sit down together for dinner. So before our nest is permanently empty, Jeff and I need to start reclaiming our lives and rekindling our coupledom.

We tried to do so a few weekends ago, when D#2 was at away at a friend’s cabin and D#1 was at a cross country meet in Portland. It was a stormy, blustery Saturday and Jeff decided to go windsurfing. I set off for the grocery store to buy food for a party I was having the next day.

I was happily filling my grocery cart with beets, butternut squash, and chanterelles, which had just come into season and which I planned to serve in a cream sauce with pasta, salad and good wine, for that night’s dinner for two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the produce section I ran into a woman I work with, fifteen years younger than me, with two young daughters. She had the crazed look today’s parents do on weekends and told me about her day: two soccer games, two ballet classes, one Nutcracker rehearsal (already?), hair arranged into buns multiple times. She was hosting a multi-girl sleepover that night. I glanced into grocery cart. It contained nothing but popcorn. She told me she planned to organize crafts.

Did I feel a little bit smug and “been there, done that,” as I wheeled away with my chanterelles and beets, with all the time in the world to consider my purchases, my romantic evening with my husband and the next day’s grownup party?

Not a cheese stick in sight.

Not a cheese stick in sight.

I did, for five minutes.

That’s how long before I got the call from Jeff. While loading up his car after windsurfing, he had inadvertently locked his key in it. Could I come and get him?

Why did I suddenly feel like I was talking to one of my daughters?

I looked in my cart, which contained not quite everything I needed. I looked outside, where it was now pelting with rain.

Jeff was wearing a wetsuit, I reasoned. One of us would have to be inconvenienced; either him, waiting till I finished my shopping or me, abandoning my groceries and having to make a second trip to the store in the pouring rain.

Me or him, him or me?

wetsuit_ultra32_both_dt

Worn down by countless months of teen/tween-induced inconveniences, I decided that this time it wouldn’t be me. I wasn’t the one who had been forgetful. Why should I suffer the consequences of someone else’s lack of responsibility?

I worked my way down the rest of the aisles and loaded my items onto the check-out conveyer belt, regaling the cashier with the tale of my husband’s forgetfulness.

When it was time to pay, I reached for my wallet.

It wasn’t there.

What passes for vanity these days is me matching my purses to my outfits. Apparently during the last switch, I had neglected to transfer my wallet.

instant karma

So, groceries abandoned, off into the rain I went to rescue Jeff, go home and get my wallet and return to the grocery store to complete my purchase.

An hour later, we sat down to our meal. As the first bite of the first chanterelles graced our lips, we got the text from D#1: “We got home early from Portland. Please come and pick me up.”

A few weeks later, I heard that Italian cooking legend Marcella Hazan had died and that another cooking elder and idol of mine, Paula Wolfert, had Alzheimer’s. On the day I learned that my cousin, three weeks younger than me and the one who will be the first family member of my generation to leave us, had gone into hospice care, I spent the afternoon slowly and sadly cooking Marcella Hazan’s Pork Loin Braised in Milk from the Essentials of Italian Cooking.

The following weekend Jeff and I went to San Francisco for a friend’s wedding, our first trip away together since having kids, nearly 15 years ago.

I packed about an hour before we were scheduled to leave for the airport and fretted about my wedding outfit, which needed to be suitable for an outdoor wedding with limited seating at Stern Grove, in San Francisco’s Sunset District. The ground would be uneven, warned the bride-to-be, so wear comfortables shoes.

The October weather could be cold, warned my friend Nina. Bring a shawl.

Too old to pull off the hippie look, and too poor to own any chic, neo-hippie expensive fiber clothes, I could not come up with a flattering, yet grove-friendly wedding outfit.

“You’re 72-years-old,” said Jeff. “Who cares what you wear?”

Oh, my man, I love him so.

At the wedding, I spied Nina, the portrait of understated Eileen Fisher elegance.

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We chatted about the recent New Yorker profile of Eileen Fisher, which revealed that her life and the management of her company are not as effortless as her clothes suggest.

It was chilly. Nina lent me a black Pashmina shawl to wear on top of the shawl I was already wearing.

“I look like an old woman, who is either going to curse the couple or hand down the family recipe for spaghetti sauce,” I lamented.

old hag

“Plus, I no longer have a waist, I have a thorax!”

During a hike at Mount Tamalpais, the day before, I had taken a tumble. My bandaged knee completed my look.

knee

It was a beautiful, heartfelt wedding with the best wedding speeches I have ever heard. The couple had found each other after difficult first marriages and had lived together for thirteen years before tying the knot.

Jeff was right, as he often is. Who cared what I looked like?

Back at home, life marched on in all its hecticness. I wore the Steve Madden boots occasionally and received compliments every time.

Daughter #1 told me she had recently discovered the pleasures of potato leek soup. Could I make it?

Long before elegant women wore expensive fibered clothing, there was the little black dress and Julia Child. I pulled out my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and was pleased to discover that, as if anticipating my future needs, Julia offered a pressure cooker adaptation of her classic recipe.

An hour later it was on the table, classic and modern at the same time.

Yesterday, on my way home from my second of two round trips across town, I received a text from Daughter #2, who was at a friend’s prior to attending a party that evening. Any chance I could deliver the boots to her?

The funny thing is, I almost wore those boots, but was having one of those days where nothing I tried on seemed to look just right. Edgy wasn’t working, so I went for a more classic look instead and wore a pair of grown-up boots with a heel.

If I had been wearing “our” boots, would I have driven over to D#2′s friend’s house, taken them off, given them to her and driven home in my stocking feet?

I guess we’ll never know.

Recently I had the good luck to be interviewed about my book by Deborah Kalb, who interviews authors on her delightful blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb.

She got me thinking about how life and time march on. Here’s our interview.

Finally, a friend posted a TEDex talk by Gina Barreca. How is it possible that I had never heard of her?

Ostensibly it’s about the future of women in comedy, but really, it’s about so much more than that.

We are serial memoirists, we are story-tellers, we carry our lives in our purses and our cars. When the boot fits, we wear it.

What I Wore

There it was, featured in the Boden USA catalogue, the Riviera shirt dress.  Despite the fact that the model was five inches taller, twenty-five years younger and twenty-five pounds lighter than me, I was completely seduced by the suggestion that by donning that dress, I, too, could have a life inspired by the French Riviera, sipping Lillet cocktails in a sunflower-filled garden.

Still, I waited.

Whenever a new Boden catalogue comes out, I make note of the outfits that catch my fancy (as the British-based company would say) for future reference.  Future reference means clearance sale.  Boden has fantastic clearance sales and I am the happy owner of of three Boden dresses, one cardigan, a few shirts and several skirts — all colorful and striking — that I scored during clearance sales.

When the dress arrived, it became clear that on the shorter, squatter me, it was not quite as sleek, stylish and, well, French as it had looked on the model.  But embellished with a black patent leather belt and cute black sandals (someone once told me that accessories are what separate us from animals), I was able to pull together a look that would be eye-catching in Seattle, the fleece capital of the U.S.

I wore it for the first time on a gray, chilly summer morning for a work-related meeting.  As a writer who works from home, it’s rare that I have to dress up, and fifteen years removed from the daily tyranny of heels and pantyhose, I still get a shiver of excitement whenever I do. As many Boden dresses are, this one was extremely comfortable.  And as I waited for my morning latte, the barista said approvingly, “Hey, nice dress.”

We were going to a party later that evening, the kind of party suggested by the photo of the dress in the catalogue, sipping drinks on the deck of a house with a view of the sunset over Puget Sound.

I wanted to wear the dress to the party but feared it was too dressy.  Seattle party attire usually consists of fleece, cargo pants and Tevas, though lately I’ve seen a lot of high-end yoga wear.

Plus, there was the problem of the intervening seven hours between the end of my meeting and the party. Should I take the dress off and put it on again later?  Or should I revel in the “daytime to dusk” qualities of the dress and keep it on all day?

Have you ever read the Sunday New York Times Style Section feature What I Wore?

Here’s an excerpt from the May 17, 2012 profile of the painter Anh Duong:

May 9:  Still recovering from the Met Ball marathon, where I, in my beautiful Giambattista Valli dress the color of a cloud, climbed all night from the bottom of the Met stairs to the Top of the Standard hotel for the after-party.

But all I have left from the ball is a cold. I started with a new healthy smoothie recipe that I read on Goop. Rejuvenated, I slipped into my gray Stella McCartney exercise costume. I don’t know if I would have committed to my exercise regimen without her designing for Adidas. Whatever it takes.

Before heading uptown to see my shrink (I like to dress comfortably so I can relax on the couch and let my inner child free), I put on a beige Phillip Lim sleeveless wool dress with a black Uniqlo T-shirt and Christian Louboutin black biker boots. Added a DVF cashmere leopard-print scarf for my sick throat.

It’s very clear to me that the people profiled in What I Wore, all of whom change their outfits at least three times a day, don’t do their own laundry.

Were the New York Times to profile me in their What I Wore feature, it might go something like this:

July 30:  Donned a ripped T-shirt and black exercise pants from Target to walk the dog.  The worn patches in the hindquarters remind me of ominous gray storm clouds. 

Put on a striking blue and white Riviera shirt dress from Boden and went off to work.  Came home to find kids bickering and, feeling French, toyed with the idea of yelling “Ca suffit!”  The full skirt of the dress makes a statement when you flounce away in frustration. I drove to a neighborhood park and checked my email and discovered some good news I had been waiting for.

Still wearing the shirt dress, I took the kids and the dog to the doctor for check-ups and shots and then waited in the car while they bought donuts.  When we got home, as a post-shot treat, we curled up on the couch together and I  agreed to watch Pretty Little Liars, their favorite show, with them. Miraculously, though I repeatedly wrinkled my nose during the television program, the dress remained wrinkle-free.  

Did you know it’s easy to cook in the Riviera dress?  Feeling tres Nicoise, yet trying to avoid splattering oil, I whipped up a batch of socca to bring to a party and then loaded the dishwasher.

The lighthouse of Nice, on the Mediterranean c...

The lighthouse of Nice, on the Mediterranean coast (French Riviera). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 My husband and I strolled to the party, where we sipped drinks in the company of writers, while watching the sun set over Puget Sound.  I felt a few pangs of regret when I admitted that I’ve barely made time for any writing this summer because mostly all I’ve been doing is driving kids places and doing endless amounts of laundry and dishes.  Then I remembered that French women don’t have regrets.

“Hey, nice dress,” someone said.

Socca is the perfect snack to prepare for any occasion, but especially when you are feeling worn down from doing laundry and dishes and need a little of the French Riviera to bring romance back into your life.  I used Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from Plenty but have also used Dorie Greenspan’s socca recipe from Around My French Table and have faith that David Lebovitz’s socca recipe is as great as all of his recipes are.  Thanks to Dorie Greenspan, I now keep a jar of homemade creme fraiche in my refrigerator, right next to the preserved lemons.

Finally, my go-to summer cocktail this year has been a Lillet spritzer, which is Lillet on the rocks with sparkling water and a squeeze of fresh lime.

It reminds me of my younger days, when I subsisted on white wine spritzers and air-popped popcorn and a pretty dress could lead to all sorts of possibilities.