Oh, Seattle, I didn't think you had it in you. After nine months away from the only spot I've ever called home, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had a hunch there would be good times with good friends. Maybe a few good bites to boot. And if I'd been more nice than naughty, a whole lot of drizzle. And boy, did you ever deliver. But to surprise me still, after all these years? How very clever.
I must say, I was awfully pleased with the way you fulfilled pretty much my every hope and wish. To see friends old and new, catch up, compare notes, ogle newborns and marvel over toddler growth curves. To tumble back into non-stop shop talk with a dear neighbor, deeply missed. To celebrate bonds that go back a quarter century, no small feat at 37. And a minor miracle to witness, the way we pick up where we left off, last month, last year, last time our deeply varied lives crisscrossed. (If you haven't tried it? I highly recommend crisscrossing on the 24th floor. It adds a certain something.)
And even if I'm still a little miffed over your treacherous monsoon a few weeks back, I'm oh so grateful for all the sweet grandmother-granddaughter time we squeezed in. Three generations, three girls, three days, chock-a-block with baby dolls and play baking and shoe shopping and more. Great good times the boys might possibly have found, well, dreadful. But Zoë? See smile, above.
And although we EST two never quite got onto your rhythms, Seattle, rising before dawn and crashing before Letterman, we wrung all we could from each day. And when we couldn't keep our eyes open one moment more, we said our thanks for friends gracious enough to see us only at the margins, and put us up in a yellow princess bed besides. That polite discretion (or was it eager collusion?) when I inhaled one of Besalu's holy grail ginger biscuits, then maybe didn't stop to breathe before tucking into a devastating croissant? And that Charlie the Wonder Beagle, whom Zoë fell for hook, line and sinker? Extra credit, big-time.
All that delighted me. But you, Seattle, you surprised me. We go back quite a ways, you and I, a lifetime less a shy year. So I felt a little daft, to be honest, when I kept stumbling up against you like I barely knew you at all. I can't really comment on the whole absence = fonder heart equation (mine was pretty keen on you, already), but I do suppose it dusts off the eyes a bit. I'm not sure how else to explain why I spent all weekend wishing I'd opted in on that Enterprise rental insurance, after all. I was rubber-necking something awful.
Has anyone complimented you lately on your impeccable air, all freshly scrubbed and smelling of sheets hung dry under a June sky? Or the silvery, spilled mercury look your streets so often wear, that liquid slip that reflects every turn signal and tail light in bright shiny triplicate? Escaped my attention, somehow, my first 36 years. Much as I missed the way I-5 runs like a crooked gray zipper up a crushed velvet dress, napped on both sides with the plush of a thousand evergreens. Not every freeway dresses so smartly, you know. Also? I think I owe you an apology for appending "gangly and gawky and awkward" to your pines and firs for so long. They really are sort of special.
Ingenious, too, the way you disarmed my longstanding gripe over your endless graceless suburbs, your lack of groovy old homes. You could have pointed out you're a young city (I know, I know), that you have nothing against those with a weakness for curved arches and cove moldings (present!). And you did run me by a few Art Deco fancies and swish Arts and Crafts streets, a fine reminder you do have pockets of wonderful (roger that). But, you coy city, you snuck under my skin instead. There I was grousing and driving some low-slung, neon-lit state route, early on, when you tickled my peripheral vision with that dock way up there, this heron right here. And you kept at it, all weekend, these peek-a-boo views that left this here girl gobsmacked. You staged every other intersection, I swear, with a frosty-topped mountain or ferry-capped Sound or some other dab of full-throttle majesty. Or all three. Point taken. It's about what's outside the window, not inside.
And while I can't say my little blue Nissan agreed, I sure enjoyed the way your roads are always rising or falling or twisting or turning or so very often, all of the above. Your madcap topography was sweet relief to my Midwest-weary eyes. (Though when it comes to mass transit? You're hosed. Sorry.)
Everyone apologized for your drippy skies, this past weekend, but I was thrilled. My trip wouldn't really have been
complete without damp shoes and blurry vision and fresh-caught burning
hot fish and chips. And even if I consumed enough cholesterol to last
me through 2011, I wouldn't change a thing. Though by the time I
arrived home again (I have two now, you know, but you don't strike me
as the jealous type) I did crave something bright and green and heaped
high with vegetables.
So for my first dinner back, I whipped up a warm winter salad I'd first made a few weeks back, and promptly fell head over heels for. You start with a tumble of caramelized sweet potato and nutty black beans and one entire bright bunch of cilantro, all jumbled onto a bed of greens. You could stop right here and sigh happily. But then, then, you toss the whole mess with a lime-soused, gently-peppered dressing. And because there's really no point in stopping while you're ahead, you top it all off with a shower of pumpkin seeds for crunch and salty feta for swoon. It's a riot of colors and textures and so completely saturated in bold spunky flavor, I'd happily eat it all month. It's also fast and healthy and fiber-rich and full of vitamins and vegetarian (vegan, hold the cheese), though please don't let that stop you. And while I've only ever eaten it here in Ohio, I'm fairly sure it would taste equally fine on the far, crumpled edge of the continent, also and always home.
Warm Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad
inspired by Bittman
Mark Bittman featured something similar in his Minimalist column a few months back, and it was so plainly a brilliant idea I tore it out immediately. And promptly lost it. So I made it up from memory and the crisper drawer the first time, and again the second, and can assure you it's flexible. It is wonderful with arugula and ricotta salata, and very fine with spinach and feta, and I'm sure could be spiced up with jalapeno (or down with nothing) and still come out sublime.
Also? You should know it rocks cold, the next day, with a hot fried egg draped over the top.
2 large-ish sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 1/2 cans of black beans (serve the balance to plain-bean leaning kiddos)
2 limes, 1 zested, both juiced
6 Tbs. olive oil, divided
4 oz. salty fresh cheese (feta, chevre, ricotta salata)
few handfuls greens (spinach, arugula)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
a whisper of heat, to taste (1/2 tsp. aleppo, a dribble of sweet chili paste, cayenne, chipotle, none of the above, as you please)
1 tsp. sugar
Preheat oven to 450°. Place rack on bottom level.
Toss cubed sweet potatoes with 2 Tbs. olive oil and 1 tsp. salt. Roast at 450°, about 20 minutes, or until fragrant and caramelizing on bottoms. Toss gently with a flat metal spatula, turning most over. Return to oven to roast another 10-15 minutes, or until gorgeous brown and tender.
Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans, and place in a medium bowl. Chop cilantro, and add to beans. Crumble feta, and set aside. Place greens on serving dish. Make dressing by combining zest of one lime, juice of two limes, 4 Tbs. oil, your pinch of heat (see above), sugar, and a dash of salt in a jar. Shake madly.
When potatoes are done, add them to the beans and cilantro. Pour over dressing (start with 2/3 -- you may not need all, depending on potato size), and toss gently with hands to coat. Place sweet-potato bean mixture over greens, top with feta and pumpkin seeds, and inhale.