Nothing to see here, folks. If I were being honest, or at least empathetic, I should at least mention as much at the outset. We're knee-deep in the domestic around here, haircuts and sink snaking and tucking tissues into every coat pocket I can lay my hands on. If it's any indication, the highlight of my week was washing the last of summer's flies off our windows. I had help, hired help (and worth every quarter). But still, exciting as dirt. So long hubbub, hello humdrum.
It's pretty exquisite.
Because in a year like this year, when change has been the only constant and novelty our closest neighbor, the ordinary feels awfully good. A little exotic, even. I finished going through all the drawers, boxing up summer and airing out winter. I cleaned closets that smacked of eight years' neglect, though their contents are only eight months' out of moving cartons. (Better make that two constants, if you include my abiding inner slob.) I made headway in the garage and order in the art cupboard and successful repairs to a deadbeat IKEA dresser. Last year, I would have called it all drudgery. This year, almost normal.
It wasn't all housework. If anything, chores played second fiddle to the thrum and blur of kids suddenly in the swing. Monday I'm tracking down paper plates for one school's fall fest, Saturday I'm keeping up with two bouncing brothers at another. We've been working hard to re-claim this common commotion for nearly nine months now, so I wasn't exactly caught unawares. But the all-at-once of birthday parties and parent meetings and play dates longed for and arrived blindsided me a little anyway. And left me more than a little giddy. We'll manage the vortex later. Right now, it's just nice to have a seat at the swirl.
Or maybe third fiddle, if it's dust we're talking. I dissed crumby rugs for days, because the sun just wouldn't quit. We walked at the feeblest excuse, to return two library books, to romp at the playground, to gawk. The trees are pretty gawk-worthy right now. Once, on the way back, I fielded one of those random car-window questions from a lost driver, looking for home. I gave them directions, good ones, accurate ones. From our usual park. I felt so from-around-here.
Everyday accomplishments snuck in. I made ten minutes to rip a sweet dreams CD for my sweet babe. Finally, I have the means to muffle four little boy feet stampeding tiptoeing across the percussion instrument oak floor right outside Zoë's door. And a swell means at that, plump with Mingulay's aching harmonies and the best lullaby ever set to banjo. Absolutely trivial. Deeply satisfying.
I began a novel. Poetry is the only fiction I've read all year, and I really have no complaints. Poems are perfectly scaled to the reading time snippets I find here and there. Like People, but so much better. And Robert Frost's beautiful ghastly tale of the boy who lost his hand, then his life, to distraction has more plot and pathos than many books I've read. Still, it feels significant to make it to page 8.
I volunteered for the first time in I don't know how long. I ran 167 kids through the paces of pop bottle terrariums, and chaperoned a field trip. The number of students was higher than the number on the thermometer. It was cold and windy and awesome. We waded well into the Olentangy to net water pennies and mayfly nymphs and other tiny indicators of the river's health. I think the kids learned a lot; I know I did. Like "if it's three, let it be" (poison ivy) and those fiery flaming leaves are the trees' true colors (photosynthesis, you chameleon!) and to always, always pack cookies on fall field trips in Ohio. They may be the only thing standing between my child and hypothermia.
And at week's end, Zoë and I hit the market, the way we have most weeks here this year, the way I have most weeks for years now. We piled our Radio Flyer high with slender leeks and pounds of greens and summer's last gasps, peppers and eggplants and tiny zucchini waving goodbye to all that. Then we went back for more. Not a lot more, just a few stragglers too awkward or large for the first pass, like a glowing wreath of bittersweet. And that enormous cauliflower, below there.
I really should've put a dime down next to it, for scale. Or Zoë. It was bigger than her head. It was bigger than my head. It weighed in at over four and a half pounds; Henry wasn't a whole lot bigger when he was born. It was downright regal, this cauliflower, and two bucks, to boot.
But even extraordinary cauliflowers meet the same old fate in my hands, which is to say chunked up and chucked in a blazing hot oven. I've roasted cauliflower this way, with the temperature cranked high and the racks tucked low, in three houses now, through four or five ovens. Roasting improves almost any vegetable, concentrating its sugars and elevating its texture to a crisp-tender two-step. But cauliflower transforms more than most. Maybe because it's more brusque to begin with. Maybe because it's mostly known as a raunchy raw scoop for bad veg tray dip. Probably all that matters is the fine mellow outcome, nutty sweet and salty edged and better than the best french fry. Every once in a while, ordinary tastes anything but dull.
Roasted cauliflower is old news, but it remains very, very good news. I first ran into it years ago, in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors. I prefer mine roasted to a fine burnished brown, as I love the play of tender interior and crunchy exterior. For a less intense roast, reduce the oven temperature and/or cooking time. For reasons I can't begin to explain, roasted cauliflower is almost better cold, the next day, straight from the fridge.
1 head of cauliflower
Preheat oven to 450º. Adjust oven racks to bottom two positions.
Chop cauliflower into roughly even florets. I aim generally for 1", though there are always plenty of tiny shards and wide thin slices. Turn them all out onto a half sheet (jelly roll) pan. Drizzle generously with olive oil (2 Tbs. per pound is a nice start), and sprinkle generously with salt (1 tsp. per pound). Toss cauliflower to coat (with your fingers, on the baking sheet, is efficient and effective). Place on bottom oven rack.
Roast 20 minutes, or until bottoms of florets are browning well. Shake and toss to flip florets, reverse trays (if using more than one), and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Check for browning and tenderness, and return to oven if more of either is needed. Remove when cauliflower is generously caramelized and fork-tender at the thickest bit. Eat hot, warm or cold, fingers optional.