Monday, May 30, 2011

Where I Grew Up

I'm writing this from home. I'm not talking about where most of my stuff is or where I sleep most nights, but "home home"--how I'll always refer to southwestern Virginia. My flight back to Seattle tomorrow was canceled, so I have an unplanned day with Mom and Dad. The extra time is wonderful and gives me a chance to write about some of the things I've been mulling over while I'm still here.

May has been unseasonably cool this year.

I'm grateful to have been raised in a place cushioned with so much love, and it gets bonus points for being so beautiful. My extended family is large, and most of them are local. I grew up with 12 aunts and 12 uncles, dozens of first cousins, and a handful of second cousins (once removed). Beyond blood relatives, we had a great community in our church, and a few family friends that grew into just plain family.

Where I grew up, our neighbors still send me homemade honey and sourdough bread. The King Kong pinball machine is gone, but their house is always cozy, always shows The Christmas Story and National Lampoon, and always has a backdoor open for a visit. Last summer, I was a bridesmaid for a longtime friend and made an updo appointment with a woman named Beulah. Mistake #1. I didn't plan any wiggle room to undo an updo that was a hybrid old-timey football helmet/challah. Mistake #2. Locked out of our house and with my parents away, I ran to Teddi for triage; she calmed me down, gave me three rounds of shampoo, and eventually laughed with me, then she curled and pinned my hair into something that resembled neither pastry nor protective headwear. They're the kind of people who always have your spare house key, always take care of your cat when you're on vacation, and often leave a loaf of bread or a box of Peeps on our porch or in our mailbox.
Bobby pins: 84
Cans of hairspray: 1.5
Where I grew up, my aunts still tell me I'm "awfully pretty" even if I've gone six months without a proper haircut. There are usually babies to snuggle, and if they're big enough, they get "wooled," or tickled. Heddie brings the best care packages when I'm sick, NaNa babies me the most, and Sissy combines graceful selflessness with a wickedly sharp sense of humor. I've been gifted recipes older than FM radio technology, well-worn iron skillets, cherished jewelry, the most beautiful coffee cups and a matching bowl, a love for gravy, and the heaviest quilt my grandmother pieced together from scraps of Easter dresses and Christmas suits she sewed for her kids.

Where I grew up, we imagined circus acts performed solely on hay bales, and spent our summers crafting adventures in places with kid-given names like Pine Tree Palace and Kudzu Kingdom. We borrowed the biggest stainless steel bowl from our grandmother's kitchen and made stew from things we found growing around the river. We learned that poke berries stain almost as badly as walnut hulls. Our Thanksgivings are homemade apple butter in a shockingly authentic copper pot, with an equally authentic stirring stick, and a silver dollar in the bottom of the batch to keep the apple butter from sticking. Besides soups, turkey sandwiches, and finger foods, they're a school bell, and they're shooting the 12-gauge and the .357 Magnum at milk jugs and pieces of guttering.

Where I grew up, we take the energy saved by dropping Gs and spend it on rolling vowels around on our tongues, like coating a cookie in sugar before baking. We sit a spell, mention when it’s coming a storm, and bless their hearts. We like our windows down and our music up. We float the river with inner tubes and a Styrofoam cooler of Dr. Enuf.

Where I grew up, Mom will spend the day in the kitchen making our favorite foods and  Dad will clean up the messes. They’ll take me shopping and out to eat. We’ll spend a lot of time at our cabin on the farm, a home away from home with the best shower in the world. (Two shower heads! It’s so intense!) Even the kitchen sink is inviting; we now have a pair of “lizard gloves” to evacuate uninvited guests. 
"I heard there were burgers here tonight...?"
We get our pick of what to do and where to go, even though it doesn’t really matter--just the company does. She’ll do our laundry before we leave and he’ll take care of all my luggage, even though we leave for the airport at 4am. I’ll have a suitcase full of clean clothes, and a lunch of watermelon, baby carrots, and chocolate cake (extra icing!) for the plane. 
The farm, as seen from here:
My US Airways flight was canceled, but this flight was much better anyway
Where I grew up, on rare occasions, I sneak in a few minutes in the kitchen and make something new for us; sometimes they're a hit. At Christmas, it was apple pie with ginger. This weekend, it was homemade pizza crusts. Teddi & Ronnie came over, and we ate on the upper deck of the cabin, watched a sunset, and then Dad and I bonded from the seat of his powered parachute. The pizza was good, but home is better.
Tomato sauce, baby portobellos, fresh tomatoes, and goat cheese
Giada De Laurentiis

1 (3/4 oz) package yeast
3/4 c. warm water (baby bath temperature)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating a bowl.

Combine the warm water and yeast in a small bowl and set aside. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until the yeast dissolves. 

Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the yeast/water mixture and olive oil until a ball forms. (You may have to add more flour to get the ball to form.) Transfer the ball to a lightly floured surface and knead dough until smooth, about 1 minute, adding flour by the tablespoons if it's very sticky.

Transfer to prepared bowl; turn dough in bowl to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough. (Do ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead up to this point. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.) Roll out dough, starting in the center of dough, working outward toward edges but not rolling over them. (I usually partially roll it out on the floured surface, then transfer it to the pan, let it rest for a few minutes, and finish shaping it on the pan.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Study of Saturdays

Princess Kate would gladly dunk these in champagne.
Saturday, April 9: A lot of our Saturdays proceed similarly. Coffee is first on the list. I parked myself on the couch with a stack of cookbooks and sticky notes and planned the week's meals. There's something relaxing and comforting about this--probably because it combines my great loves: books, office supplies, planning, and food. Sometimes we listen to music while we read, and I love cooking something as a mini celebration of the weekend. On this Saturday, I made scones for the first time. Using a basic buttermilk recipe, I made half the batch with dried cranberries and then thinned down the mixture and made the rest with fresh blackberries. Josh worked on building a bed while I baked that morning. We spent the afternoon watching the Masters Tournament. I mostly listened because I was finishing this:

Can you spot what sometimes happens when you buy puzzles at a thrift store?

I started working on a sewing project, but it didn't go very well, so I called Mom and got a cross-country diagnosis. (What would I do without Skype?) I went to the gym that evening, which is rare for me on a Saturday. I usually prefer classes like Zumba and TRX, but put me on an elliptical in front of Bravo, and I will stride away until Andy has told me what's what. When I got home, Josh had finished and assembled the bed; it is beautiful and the wood smells wonderful.

April 16: I spent all day in San Francisco with two of my favorite girls of all time. Svetlana, Andrew, and new baby Anderson live a short flight away from Seattle, and Laura, Matt, and Caelan flew from DC to spend spring break with us. I delivered baby presents I finally figured out how to make, thanks to Mom's help and some calming tea.

I've created a monster!

After a leisurely breakfast, Svetlana, Anderson, and I met the Bodeks down at the Ferry Building to stroll around and gawk at fools who were standing in a 50-yard line for chicken. I mean, almond croissants, of course, but chicken? We got an outdoor table at a Thai restaurant, and I was crazed and happy by all the sunshine. By the time the check came, we'd had one incident of the phrase, "What is this--the tourist portion?" and one incident of a toddler stomach virus. I've never said, "Check please," with more conviction. Later that evening, just the three of us girls reunited for dinner at a Yugoslavian burger joint sporting the tiniest booths I've ever sat in and complimentary stroopwafles. We rounded out the night with girl talk in the hot tub. No matter what Svetlana and Laura and I end up doing, it's always what I hadn't even realized I needed. Well...except stomach virus damage control.

 This wasn't taken on Saturday, but we were tired on Saturday and it was dark.

Surrounded by green! No pinching!
April 23: In an act of grace, Seattle gave us sunny skies and the high 60s. We still had coffee, but I skipped the cookbooks and packed a lunch instead. Josh and I drove out to Leavenworth, Washington's very own faux Bavarian village. The wet winter caused two roads to close because of a landslide and snow. Once we turned off the paved road, we didn't see anyone, and the snowy (and thus empty) campground and trailheads had an eerie apocalyptic feel. We hiked up toward Mt. Stewart, through some snow (Oh, hello core muscles. It's been a while.) until the snow obfuscated the trail/my legs wouldn't go anymore. We treated ourselves to dinner out back in Seattle, and had some apps and 'zerts. (Anyone have a good recipe for curried corn fritters?) Perfect ending to the day: CUPCAKE HAPPY HOUR. Awkward moment in the middle of perfect ending to the day: angering the girl in line behind us by taking the last salted caramel cupcakes. 

April 30: What happens when you make mashed potatoes, blueberry boy bait, and banana bread in three days? You work it off on Saturday. We biked to the zoo, which was surprisingly really nice. The river otters weren't out, but there were lemurs and--oh look! a hippo!--a peacock on the loose. Unexpectedly, the things that were most remarkable about our time at the zoo involved watching an altercation between some seagulls and a bald eagle--none of which were in captivity--and judging prepubescent children crammed into strollers. We biked to the university and did a little bouldering on a practice rock and concrete wall down by Lake Washington, and then hit some tennis, biked back to our house, bought a lawnmower, and gave it a spin. 

After eleven miles on a bike, some rock climbing, some tennis, and a little yard work, the rest of the evening fell into place--a long shower, leftovers, and a movie. The hardest work I did after dark was reading subtitles.

Up next: May 7 in Seattle with my favorite brother!