I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to summer. The suffix, not the weather (oops, there I go again). You know the suffix, if you have young kids, or if ever you were one. It wears a few aliases — Break, Vacation, Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah!! — but pick any one and append it to summer and you have yourself ten unschooled, unscheduled, unbroken weeks. I.e. Heaven.
We take it pretty easy around here, planning little, dreaming big. August marks my tenth year at this mama gig, and my first-ever experience with day camp of any kind. One kid, one week, nine-to-three. I feel so obligated, already.
But even empty calendars (especially empty calendars?) have hopes and dreams pencilled in. And although I'm all for free-range ambitions, I've decided I'm going to crack down this year, manage expectations like I mean business. The childish ones Certain People bring to summer's table. The unrealistic, seriously?, plain ol' silly sort. Expectations that leave you shaking your head and smirking out loud and muttering 'surely you know better' under your breath. Mine, I mean.
See, one of my Big Ideas about summer is that we'll Get Out, early and often. To the park or the creek, the river or the hills, to hike and explore and Be In Nature. I spin Grand Plans in my head all the time, about catching crayfish and studying limestone and identifying leaves and bark and seeds. Valderi-Valdera optional. Sort of. I am fiercely fond of my own childhood summers, which I recall as almost entirely en plein air. I left the house in the morning and didn't return until dusk, filthy and sun-blind and brimming with adventure. I want that my kids can share that experience. I try hard to Make It Happen. Sometimes, too hard.
I suppose it all boils down to agendas. I often have one (see above). So do they (see below). And often as not, they look nothing alike. Case in point: our excursions this spring.
We've had several park outings already this spring, not one of them playing out the way I expected. A month or so back, we hit the road for Highbanks, one of my favorites for all kinds of reasons. Wide open spaces, long wooded trails, and best of all, to my mind, real running water.
I had my sights set on the river, that day. It brings me pleasure and peace and great heaps of warm fuzzies, like a ribbon of ocean, a postcard from home. But the kids, they only had eyes for the playground. It's right at the entrance, and it enthralled them for an hour. And then, there was this whole huge field of dandelions. Got wholly distracted by those for some time. Too pooped, after that, for the half-mile river hike.
Not long after, we hit the little pocket park. Still wishing for water, I suggested the creek, which no one but no one wanted to see. Swings won the day, with monkey bars a close second, plus some running-scrambling-climbing thrown in for good measure. And I thought, maybe next time.
And sure enough, next time, we did see the creek. Only on a morning I didn't plan on the park at all. Last Monday, I'd planned on playing catch-up in the office, with the littles playing nicely, quietly, together. The way they do often. When I'm not planning on it. But after an hour of repeated 're-direction', I admitted the boy needed to move, fast and forever. Or at least for an hour or two without boundaries. So we ditched everything, walked to the park, and proved once again flying's more fun than filing.
And that's just the thing: Their agenda's good, also. It works. Rocks, even. Soars, not infrequently. That day at Highbanks? Henry climbed a new ladder, higher than he'd ever climbed before. Courage, bravery, pride, he had it all going. And oh my, those dandelions. Chains, crowns, imaginary prides of raging lions, we did it all, and didn't make a dent. The river, it'll be there next time. The sea of gold pom-poms is already long gone.
And the pocket park? Turned out to be a turning point in our swinging career. Zoë set a PR for sitting on the Big Swing without falling. And Henry, have mercy, finally got pumping. The idea of it, anyway, the coordination of movements, the in-and-out of the feet, the back-and-forth of the body. Mastery will take time, and plenty of practice. We took steps in the right direction again last week. It might take months. We have all summer.
And so as we get our summer underway, I'm reminding myself to get over myself. My reality is just that: mine. And sometimes I'd best check it right at the door. Because my Great Outdoors is not their Great Outdoors. They may well have their own Big Ideas. They can throw capitals around easy as I can, with completely different end results. Fine, fun, magnificent results. The sort with buy-in and blossom-smelling and big smiles bumping right up against dinner.
Oh, that. The other reality of summer around here. We tend to lose track of time completely, playing right up until stomachs and spirits are growling. These are the days I depend on eggs, which I'd nominate for the role of harried cook's best friend. Lightning fast, endlessly versatile, eggs are my go-to last-minute meal. And while I like them every which way, I'm especially fond of this fast and easy green-flecked omelette.
If you're used to the usual pancake-house standby, thick and fluffy and stuffed to the gills, know right now that this is not that. It is, in my opinion, endlessly better. First off, two eggs have eight inches all to themselves, which means they spread thin, flatter than a pancake. A knob of melted butter licks every last edge, adding outrageous richness to this mild-mannered protein. Then there's the matter of those spanking fresh herbs, the ones over-running gardens and markets at the moment. I love chives and mint here, either or both. A little tarragon's nice, also, as is a bit of marjoram. Five minutes on the heat and you have delicious, bright and light and filling and grand.
Eat it as is, or fill it with bits. Omelettes and leftovers go hand in hand. Last week, we tucked in our last shreds of ham, and some weary arugula on its way out. On the evening below, I dabbed on some chèvre, and scattered some mushrooms sautéed alongside. Henry and Zoë like them perfectly plain, no herbs, no fillings, just a warm tortilla underneath. Egg roll-ups, they call them, their own Big Idea. Works for me. Maybe for you, too.
Dinner in Ten (a.k.a. Omelettes aux Fines Herbes)
Inspired by Richard Olney, Simple French Food
I've written this for one omelette, as it's a perfect one-person meal. I'll often pull one together for lunch. It scales up beautifully — just double or triple quantities accordingly.
The herbs are flexible, both in type and number. Use just one, or a mix, depending on taste and availability. Chives are a natural with eggs, and abundant right now. Mint might seem unlikely, but I love it with eggs, particularly with a smear of goat cheese or feta.
I know non-stick skillets have a long rap sheet, but I keep one on hand for omelettes and eggs. A silicone spatula is brilliant here, also.
2 Tbsp. fresh, soft, early summer herbs, chopped (chives, mint, tarragon)
2 tsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp butter, for pan
Crack eggs into a small bowl. Stir briskly with a fork, to break yolks and incorporate whites. Add water, salt, pepper and herbs, and mix with fork to combine.
Heat butter in an 8" skillet over medium heat, until foam subsides. Pour beaten egg mixture into skillet, and let sit, undisturbed, 1-2 minutes, until edges are set. With a silicone spatula (or spoon or whatever), gently nudge any deep puddles of uncooked egg over to the edge, then lift up the edge and let the runny egg under. Much like sweeping dirt under the rug. (You can try the old scrambled egg trick of tilting the pan to get the runny eggs under, but they're spread so thin here, I find this tactic often fails.) Cook another few minutes — usually about 4-5 total for an empty omelette, 5-6 total for one that's filled — until omelette is nearly set. Roll both edges toward center (it won't stay; it doesn't matter), slide onto a plate, and eat.