Travel's tough. No matter which way I paint it, at the end of the trip, there's that. This pains me a little bit, because I'm sort of a raging hidebound optimist. As in, you'd best keep an eye on me around almost-empty glasses. As in, I'm not at all beyond topping them off, just to bring them up to snuff, half-full, where they all belong. And really, what part of an eleven-day stint in Seattle could possibly be anything but shiny white glory?
Well, the small matter of packing and present-wrapping and trip-planning, all at once, Christmas Eve. And that madcap launch, pulling three sleeping children out of their beds and into a dark frigid downpour, before dawn, Christmas morning. Also the preposterous impossible, using up the last of six (!) nappies, somewhere over Wisconsin. With three hours yet to go (fingers and legs crossed). Losing my wallet. In a heavily trafficked public restroom, no less, just for good measure. Encore the preposterous. Cursing myself for waaaaay over-packing, then finding Max clean out of socks by day seven. And that Henry's run through all his pants the day following, and shirts and sweatshirts and you-name-it also.
Did I mention the jam-packed first half, each day a little too long, each get-together a whole lot too short? Or the wet-chattering second half, wherein one mama realizes why they preface those New Year's Day Swims with Polar Bear? Or the hours spent wordsmithing my memo to Delta? (Dear Mr. Anderson, CEO, Sir: Really, no changing table, anywhere? Not even the tiny 12" ledge some planes provide? Would you prefer I change her on the seats in first class, then, or your office chair, sir? Oh, and when you abandoned that longstanding Families Board First policy, were you actually trying to alienate your best customers, those Super Duper Fliers who now get sole dibs on early seating? Because I'm just not sure Mr. 3B felt his front row seat to three hot, squalling kids stuck ten minutes in the aisle was, you know, a privilege. But maybe I misread his smoking ears.) Pure utter exhaustion. Losing Baby. Schleppage.
Some grey bits, then. I guess traveling home and living there are not quite exactly the same. I'm learning. I'll pack more socks, next time.
Did I mention I picked up my wallet eight hours later, every last credit card intact, even the twenty just where I left it? Because that, right there, sums up the overwhelming most of it. Luck and joy and a big old boatload of happy. Because although we were flying Northwest in Detroit at 12:01 Christmas Day, it wasn't that Northwest flight. And despite the niggling grind of modern air travel, it's sort of a jaw-dropper to wake up in Columbus and share dinner with family in Seattle, same day. Sheesh. Small price, wet lap.
Time was short, but long enough to hang at old haunts. To get coffee and cake where we've gone since Max was weeks' old. To scoop up the best burgers and cupcakes this side of anywhere. To drink in old familiar sights that somehow, this past year, went all exotic on me. (I might have gulped, just a little.) Time enough to scramble and climb and run, jump and play. Which, if I've learned anything these past nine years, is the single non-negotiable item on any parent's itinerary. Above even nappies.
And did I mention all the fabulous jam we packed into those long, first, full days? Friends galore, from college and high school and long before and after. Lazy slow breakfasts and big lego mosh pits. Boys being boys and Mario Kart marathons. Coffee wedged in to time no one had. Card games and block building and baby doll tending. Nothing much, really. In the right company, everything. Two dinners out with three small children, with good food and great conversation and not even one meltdown. This, my friends, is more miraculous than flight and found wallets, combined.
Plus a nice quiet stretch tacked on at the end there, just us and some seals and the small brittle edge of the earth. Five days, together. Driftwood forts. That ocean.
People, that ocean.
A pale grey, then. Oh, gosh, unless I factor in gratitude. For every last stewardess who fetched milk for Zoë, often during their break, usually during turbulence. For borrowed washing machines. And automobiles. And whole entire homes. For free rides to the airport, at four in the morning. With fresh coffee, waiting. Seriously.
So maybe faded dove, or palest alabaster. Maybe off-white. I'd better stop there, commit it to writing while I still remember returning to sand-filled socks and one-in-the-morning good "nights". Because frankly, by next week, I'll have every last shade of grey bleached and whitewashed.
My memories may go all pristine, but never my meals. I know it's proper to be all pure and white in the kitchen, right now, what with New Year's and noble goals and heaps of Eat Healthy resolve. Sorry. Try elsewhere. I'm pretty grey with my food, pretty much all year round. I mean, true, what I lunge for when the calendar rolls over are things brothy or green or vivid with spice. And true, what I crave, what I cook, are sweet roots or creamy beans or knubbly grains or all three. But, also, butter by the knob, twangy aged cheese by the fistful, glorious oil by the sloshing quarter cup. I just don't do teaspoons. I'm not talking too much, no chili cheese fries or deep fried Mars bars, mind you. But enough. Enough to overshoot official upstanding Healthy. Enough to soften and brown and singe every edge with caramel's smack. Enough to startle spices wide awake and send their spunk burrowing deep down and beyond. Enough to round out rough edges and nudge flavors forward and make all that good stuff taste flippin' great. Enough to have you, or me anyway, absolutely longing for chickpeas. Nutty-sweet and ginger-bright and really rather sassy in their red fragrant coat, spooned up with the herbed creamy crunch of raita, I've been longing for these chickpeas for weeks, more than anything. Well, aside from a return ticket, anything.
2 cans chickpeas, plus liquid
1/4 cup olive oil, light vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 teaspoons corinader, ground
1/2 teaspoon cardamom, ground
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup water
black pepper, several grinds
1/2 cup chopped, canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
Raita (see recipe, below)* and Rice or Flatbread, to serve
Drain chickpeas, reserving liquid
Over medium-high heat, heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onions and fry 5-8 minutes, stirring now and again to prevent burning, until golden and browning at the edges.
Add garlic and ginger, reduce heat to medium, and fry another 2 minutes. Add dry spices (coriander, cardamom, pepper), mix, and fry until fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add tomatoes, stir well, and let simmer over medium until oil begins to separate from tomato mixture (6-8 minutes).
Add reserved chickpea liquid, lemon juice, salt, and water. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, until sauce is thickened and plump. Add chickpeas, stir well to combine, and continue cooking, covered, another 10 minutes. Test for salt and seasoning, adjust to taste, and serve.
*About that Raita: Sahni suggests raw onions and chili to garnish, but I'm not much for either. I much prefer a mild cucumber raita with this (and most any other Indian meal). I eat this by the great wobbly dollop, more hearty side than dainty garnish, so this makes copious quantities. Feel free to downsize accordingly. So simple: Combine 1 1/2 cups cucumber cut into 1/4" dice (I used 3 of those little cukes sold by the bagful) with 1 1/2 - 2 cups whole milk yogurt (or 2% Greek yogurt), 1 cup (1 small bunch) chopped cilantro (or 1/2 cup fresh mint), plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin (feshly toasted and ground is awesome, but optional), a pinch of sugar and 1/2- 1 tsp. salt, to taste. Stir well to combine. My raita is a bit of a racket -- no hot chilis, and more cukes and green herbs than any traditional version. But I like it very much this way. Feel free to amp up the heat with some chopped jalapenos.