And just like that, here we are, again.
The honeysuckle's in bloom, and littering the lawn, relieved by my littles of their single drop of sweet. 'Make ice cream' made this week's To Do list. Slippers, so new just a few months ago, have come back home, loved, worn, a little smaller.
We're trying out new hair do's to beat the heat. Re-considering tank tops. Sporting bare feet. Long pants and sleeves have been all but forgotten. The thermometer passed ninety at least thrice, this week. Socks? What socks? Check back in September.
Sprinklers have been run through. Swim suits broken in. Sidewalk chalk de-classified from the garage archives. Lemons and simple syrup are sitting at the ready, awaiting the right combo of kids, time and thirst.
The morning Rise and shine! has been all but abandoned, replaced by Just try and, you know, sparkle a little. Perhaps because I've become a staunch doormat, regarding bedtime. It appears that I'm hopeless around late light and cool nights. Ten is the new eight. Breakfast, bananas on the go.
The tomatoes are in, the cucumbers, also, and an indeterminate number of miniscule basil starts. They are the size of a baby's teardrop, tinier even, and I can't imagine they'll yield a thing. Still, it's Ohio. Sub-tropical, to my temperate self. We may be talking big batch pesto, come August.
The annual spring school bean has been planted, all over again, and for the first time. I'm not sure why I was so surprised, seeing Zoë's name on the stick. I guess because it was in her own 3-year-old handwriting. As was her "Hi" on the end-of-year teacher biscuits. Didn't see that one coming, somehow. Feel free to take your foot off the accelerator, Madame Time.
There are flowers galore, outside and in. The peonies have bludgeoned us with their one-two punch, that knock-down scent, those drag-out looks. The sunflower is adding inches each day. We're barreling toward garden 2.0, May's blooms behind, July's lush dead ahead.
Entire days have been spent in the yard, sweeping, watering, digging, watering, pruning, watering, planting, watering. My nails have not been clean in seven days. Weeds go AWOL, overnight. It is a losing battle. I'm fighting it, anyway. And loving pretty much every minute.
Primary colors have returned to our life. The year's first local strawberries. Picnic blankets on the grass. The fall-out of a five-minute shower and an unsupervised preschooler. An unsupervised preschooler with impeccable party-throwing skills.
Millenium Park in Chicago. Jackson Pollock in Chicago. Alexander Calder in Chicago. Everything in Chicago. The weather may have been mid-sixties and overcast (perfect), but the city seemed irrepressibly colorful, anyway. Even the boats on flannel-like Lake Michigan couldn't hide their jolly. (Nor could we, after pulling off a whirlwind Memorial Day road trip to the Windy City. Columbus is nothing if not accessible.)
Thrift stores have been culled of great fifty-cent classics. Library reading programs are being anticipated. The cupboards have been stocked with fresh clay and new paint pots, extra perler beads and endless big ideas. Many of them won't be implemented, maybe most. (That's okay. Others, as yet unimagined, will.) But, at the moment, knot-tying tops the list, along with projects from this book and that one. And, if we're lucky, this one, and that one.
Also, two words: Driftwood Fish. Oh my.
Zoë's been footloose a full week, already. The boys are down to counting on one hand.
Must be summer.
We are so ready.
I had planned to bring you a favorite stir-fry, a jumble of tender chicken, cashews, and bright asparagus. We ate it last week. We eat it often. I crave it, much of the rest of the time.
But even though it is quick and dead-simple, it involves some twelve or sixteen ingredients. And between these late nights, and these weeds, and that party, I just can't be bothered pulling it together here. And, I figured, maybe neither could you. So as I stared down into my sink the other night, asparagus on the left, bok choy on the right, I suddenly swung my vote over the divide. Because baby bok and shiitakes require just five ingredients, and then only if you count salt, sugar and oil. (Barring staples, you need all of two.) Also, because it makes my knees weak.
There's an alchemy to this dish that I don't understand, though I don't let that stop me, and I suggest you don't, either. I stir-fry veg often, sometimes mixed, sometimes solo, and nearly always, there are aromatics or sauces involved. Some minced ginger, some slivered garlic, a splash of sesame oil, an oyster bath. All of the above. At least something.
There is none of that, here, only heat, salt, sugar, magic, plus the deeply complementary pairing of veg. The shiitakes bring an exquisite meatiness, savory and toothsome and faintly smoky. The bok choy—the small variety, baby or Shanghai, depending on your vendor—goes bright, crisp and sweet in its brief dance with heat. They're quickly cooked separately, in stages, in the same pan, the mushrooms seared, the bok just steamed, then brought back together to mingle and meld.
Meanwhile, discreet pinches of salt and (yes) sugar are added, and suddenly seem all the seasoning a person might ever need. I forget how a flick of sugar brings sparkle, not sweetness, can make the greens taste more green. I'm reminded of the power of plain salt, well deployed, the way it plumps up and rounds out an edible.
Add a caramelized edge from a small spoon of oil, and a slender thread of char from screaming high heat (wok hay, if you will; skillet breath, if you won't), and you've a straightforward side of beguiling grace. Not bad for a dish that takes all of ten minutes, from a list of ingredients that fit on one hand.
Dry Stir-Fried Baby Bok + Shiitakes
adapted from Saveur
Serves four as a side, or one hungry Molly
Dried shiitakes (buy whole, if you can) are available at well-stocked groceries, as well as any Asian market. I've also used fresh, here, and they are differently, equally delicious. Just skip Step 1. Please note: allow 20-30 minutes soaking time, if using dried shiitakes.
Baby bok choy is available at many farmer's markets, well-stocked groceries, and any Asian grocery, where it is dependably inexpensive and impeccably fresh, year-round. I also spied it last week at, of all places, Costco. I prefer to wash bok choy by soaking it, as it tends to be gritty. For the same reason, although whole heads are beautiful in magazines, I always halve mine, to ensure the bases are clean. The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of water to steam the bok. I find the residual, post-soaking water in the leaves to be sufficient. If any additional liquid is needed, add a small splash of the mushroom soaking water.
Finally, unlike most stir-fries, I find this one can be doubled. The following recipe is for one batch. I must make two, if I intend to share.
6 large dried shiitake mushrooms OR 6 fresh shiitakes
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 pound baby bok choy (Shanghai bok choy), under 6"
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Prepare Dried Shiitakes: Place shiitakes in medium, wide bowl. Boil 1 cup water, then pour over dried mushrooms. Stir, then place plate on top, to keep mushrooms submerged. Let soak 20-30 minutes, until plump. Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon, squeeze to remove liquid, and remove stems. Slice shiitakes 1/4" thick.
Prepare Bok Choy: Soak bok choy in a large bowl of cold water, 5-10 minutes, swirling several times to remove dirt and grit. Slice 1/4" from base, then slice lengthwise, in half, rinsing any that still need additional grit removed.
Stir-fry: Heat a large wok or heavy skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add oil and swirl, around bottom and sides. Add squeezed mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic and browning on cut surfaces, about 2 minutes. Remove mushrooms to a plate, and set aside. Do not rinse wok.
Return wok to high heat, until it smokes. Add rinsed, halved bok choy, with water still clinging to leaves. Cook, without stirring, until water evaporates, about 1 minute.
Add sugar and salt, and toss vigorously, until bok choy is bright green, and dark bits are beginning to wilt, about 1 minute more. (In the unlikely event that anything begins to brown or burn, add a small splash of mushroom soaking water, stock, or plain water.)
Return mushrooms to wok, toss to combine, and cook briefly to meld flavors, about 30 seconds. Taste for seasoning—despite the lack of aromatics, the flavor should be deeply savory—and add more sugar/salt to taste, if needed. Toss and cook briefly, then remove to a platter. Serve hot or at room temperature.