Well, that was good fun.
I'm still getting the hang of this long-distance family thing, having grown up with my entire gene pool pretty much within spitting distance. There's an all-or-nothing quality to being so far-flung. It's rather light on the spontaneous hey, let's do lunch. But it's pretty rich on the hey, let's hang, big-time! Two weeks is some seriously awesome big time.
It's funny business, figuring out what to do with that sudden extravagance. I suspect there's a sweet spot between sightseeing and lolly-gagging, or at least I like to imagine there is. I'm not sure we struck the perfect balance, exactly, but I'm positive we got in a whole lot of great.
There was travel, kids in tow, two days here, three days there, criss-crossing the state from Kent to Kentucky. We set eyes on the lush Cuyahoga river valley and saw everywhere tiny two-fingered corn poking through. We left footprints on the Erie Canal Towpath and nose prints on museum glass. We collected rocks and kicked up dust. We saw a mummy. And a Sargent and a Miró, a Picasso and a Calder, a gorgeous viola done up as a galleon and a ten-foot-tall robot built of old televisions. (Cincinnati Art Museum, I think I love you).
(Oh, and hey, you Kentucky folk? Man, you keep a mean
secret! If word ever got out about your endless fences and black
tobacco barns and twenty-nine never-before-seen shades of green?
Well. I-75 would never be the same.)
We spent forty-eight hours surrounded by pegs, plus gamboling lambs and hysterical turkeys and a three-week-old chestnut-brown kid named Vivian. Not to mention exquisite craftsmanship around every bend, the sort that catches your breath and slows your step and sets your mind all abuzz over everyday artistry. Someday, I'll get over the fact my camera battery died eight hours in. And I packed no charger. And no one had a clue how to convert oxen-power to Nikon-juice. In the meantime, you'll just have to trust me on this: if life ever lands you within 500 miles of Lexington, detour yourself right on over to Shaker Village. Splendid.
We wore flip-flops and trench coats, shirt-sleeves and umbrellas. We waded into the Olentangy and drenched boots in deep puddles. We cursed the cold wind near Cleveland and the complete lack of it down South. The weather was all over the map, but so were we, and adventure, I find, makes mere storm clouds seem trivial. (Humidity's another matter, but let's not go there.)
We didn't see it all, but we covered some ground.
And through it all, serendipity. We caught the rise and fall of the first peonies. We made time for knitting lessons galore. We lucked out, found ourselves in a hotel holding Mother's Day Brunch, on just the right day, in just the right company. We lucked out again, when a friend mentioned 'Springfield', which happened to be held on the trip's final days. They were both lovely, unexpected little surprises. Though if I had to choose (and I think I speak for both of us, here), I'd pick orphaned buttons and discarded dishes over all-you-can-eat shrimp, any day.
We may plan future visits around this event.
And between all that gallivanting, a whole lot of nothing. We spent plenty a dull morning wiping jam and sweeping crumbs, reading tiny Golden Books and building K'nex gizmos. Not to mention many an ordinary afternoon, playdates and school pick-ups and pushing swings at the park. Not headliner material, exactly. But it sure smacked of privilege, under the circumstances.
Because in the end, that was the main thing, soaking up Mamo, this way and that. There is something tremendous about whole days together, opportunities and moments that just wouldn't come otherwise. Pointing out to Henry the how of erosion. Pointing out to me the fine points of old pillowcases. Getting one's very own stockinette mustache (!!). Racing each other on Mario Kart. She beat me, three for four. If I had to choose (and I think I'm speaking just for myself, here), we two on the Wii might have been the trip's highlight.
The asparagus, though, was a close runner-up. The first local specimens arrived while my mom was here, and we roasted it into finger-licking submission. Caramelized at the edges, crazy sweet everywhere else, roast asparagus is so simple it's not even a recipe. Though if you've never tried it, it is a revelation. Instructions below, for the uninitiated (lucky ducks!).
Also below, lemon rosemary risotto, because I can't make it past asparagus season without a round. Twinkling with lemon, fragrant with rosemary, this is to boiled rice what silk velvet is to burlap. I know, I know, risotto's got Baggage. But seriously, people, it doesn't get any easier. Steak terrifies me, and I've made hamburgers all of once, knees shaking, nerves shot. But risotto? It's just stirring, and only every now and then, at that. Zoë'd do a fine job, if I'd let her pull her chair up to the stove.
It's exquisitely rich, a small mound is plenty, which is just how I like it, ample room for green spears. Together, I think, they're practically perfect, the last indulgence of winter, the first abundance of spring. We didn't manage risotto last week. It wasn't too tricky, only redundant, what with the crêpes we'd queued up for dinner. But next year, mom, same date, same time? I'm penciling it in now... "Springfield + Risotto with Mamo in May".
Lemon Rosemary Risotto
adapted from Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites
I don't subscribe to the Must Stir Constantly school of risotto cookery. I'm fairly certain, in fact, a mother of twelve first invented risotto, realizing cheap rice plus haphazard stirring yielded one heckuva feast. Just give a good stir after each addition of broth, and you can busy yourself with other tasks (may I suggest roasting asparagus?) in between.
Really, my only caveat is not to make the whole thing in advance (re-heated risotto doubles as glue; I speak from experience). You can, however, get it halfway along, fifteen minutes in, then set it aside and finish it off before supper. (And leftover risotto does make gang-buster fried cakes, bound with egg and cheese and covered in panko. But that's another story...)
2 shallots or 1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 Tablespoons butter, divided
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary, needles stripped and finely minced (approx. 2 Tablespoons)
1 1/3 cups arborio rice
approx. 1 quart stock (vegetable or chicken), or hot water
1 large organic lemon, zested and juiced
1 egg yolk
1 cup freshly grated parmigiana reggiano, plus more to top
4 Tablespoons heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste
In a small saucepan or in the microwave, heat stock or water. Keep simmering on side burner (or set aside).
In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk, cream, grated parmesan, lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of fresh pepper. Stir briskly with fork to combine.
For risotto, heat 2 Tablespoons butter, olive oil, diced shallot/onion, and rosemary in a wide saucepan, over medium heat, around five minutes, until onion is soft and translucent. Add rice to butter/onion mixture, stirring to coat, and continue to cook 3-5 minutes, until steady sizzle changes to an occasional crackle.
Turn heat to low-medium. Add a ladleful of hot stock to the rice, and stir slowly, until stock is absorbed (1-2 minutes). Add another ladleful of stock, stir to combine, and move on to tidying up. Check back in a few minutes, give a stir, and when stock is absorbed, add another ladleful.
Repeat, for twenty minutes or so, stirring after each addition, then returning to play dough snakes or multiplication tables. Each addition will take a little longer to absorb, though usually no more than 4-5 minutes. After twenty minutes, start to sample your risotto. You're after a creamy, dreamy rice, with a faint bite at the center (al dente), but certainly no crunch. At twenty minutes, it won't be quite there; at thirty minutes, you'll be setting the table.
When the texture is right, add the cream/lemon mixture, and stir well to combine. Finally, beat in the remaining two Tablespoons of butter, stirring well with a wooden spoon (this changes everything; don't skip it). Taste for seasoning, adjust salt and pepper if needed, and dig in.
Move rack to bottom of oven, and preheat to 450°. For each pound of medium-thick asparagus: wash, snap ends, and lay out on a rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan). Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and shake pan well and/or rustle with fingers to coat spears evenly with oil and salt. Slide tray onto bottom rack, and leave undisturbed, 10 minutes. Open oven door, standing back to let steam escape, then give the pan a good shake. Return to oven for another 2-8 minutes, depending on size of spears. You're after some nicely browned bits and a lovely tender bite.
Jerry Traunfeld once demonstrated done-ness to me this way: pick up a spear, and hold it by the thick end, and if it bends ever so gently, it's perfect. Pencil-straight? Give it another few minutes. Hopelessly droopy? Pull it a little sooner, next time! Devour.