Because a problem, as I told my children the other morning, as they melted down over the merits of standard versus mini-chocolate chips in their pancakes, is something of consequence. A problem has weight, import, gravity, impact. That is not what I have.
What I have is a pile of frames. And a pile of prints. And a series of walls in various shades of blank. Seems simple enough, doesn't it?
And it would be, should be, were I the sort of person who could pop out to Target and buy three botanicals plus some posters and—*bang* *bang*—call it done. Who could pull off a room between breakfast and dinner, the way I pull off laundry, quick 'n dirty, done!, next? Part of me rather wishes I were that person. Part of me downright longs for it.
I am not.
Or were I like practiced movers, who completely settle, art and all, within a month of getting keys. I deeply admire these people. I aspire to be these people.
I am not these people. Not yet, anyway.
Or, better yet, were I a person who enjoys the blank slate. Rejoices in the expansiveness. Welcomes the peace.
Oy. I'm not that, either.
What I am is a person with a large and motley assortment of prints and pictures, bits and bobs, ephemera and artifacts, of no value except to me. Things I like, whose lines bring me cheer. Whose colors make me smile. Whose memories give me pause. Which, since we moved, have been living in basement exile.
We moved on Valentine's Day. Of 2009.
I am also an art history major. Daughter of an exquisite, on-a-budget aesthete. Granddaughter of a woman whose home still gives me goosebumps, comprised though it was of thrifted furniture and shag carpet.
I eat with my eyes, not just lunch, but life. My surroundings matter, and their "just-moved-in" look irks me. (As does the endless clutter, but that's a separate conversation...) But apparently not as much as getting it wrong.
Because it seems I've a little trouble committing. Never mind that we're celebrating our seventeenth anniversary this June. Small potatoes. Should the maps go here or should they go there? Is the Keep Calm, Carry On better upstairs or down? Would the old shoe forms look fetching hung up on the wall? Or just strange? (And how does one affix old shoe forms to a wall, anyway?) And although I know exactly where I'd like this print here, it doesn't seem to fit that frame there...
Oh, that. There's also the Old Frame Situation. I've thrifted a few over the years, admiring their small bones, beveled edges, faded charm. I inherited several others from my grandparents, old beat plaster lovelies, gilded and chipped; ebonied ovals fitted with curved glass and stern black-and-white ancestors; big ugly wood ones I re-painted when Henry was four.
Henry turns seven next Wednesday.
Turns out old frames take new work to make them go. Like, how does a person remove those old, rusty diagonal nails? And how, then, exactly do you keep the fresh contents in? And what if the glass is gone, or the backing crumbles, or all manner of trivial, inconsequential roadblocks? [Answers: A) Pliers. And in re-assembly, this tool rocks. B) Find an independent neighborhood frame store, and move in. They'll cut new glass and mattes from scrap for a few dollars, per. C) Use cardboard, stupid. Oops. I mean, Silly.]
Anyhoo, I resolved last month to do something about it, figuring what worked for cookies might also work for pictures. I think my exact wording might have run something like, "Hang pictures by January. Or they get the heave-ho." Because while it might not be a problem, it's a high holy mess. And an aggravation. And a lost opportunity. I'm ready to free up that corner of the basement for better things. So I'm giving it my all, doing absolutely nothing else until I finish.
Well, nothing save joining in drawing sessions with Henry. And replenishing the chili stores, and making more granola. And popping up paper cities from Play All Day. And attending tea parties with Zoë and her 37 closest friends. (And uncovering the sweet silk carrot Mamo hid: we found it!) And planning birthday parties. And minding deadlines. And organizing a chess night. And sweeping. Dusting. Mopping. Anything but.
Yes, that wild rumble's the sound of my feet dragging. At least I can bang out a salad, lickety-split.
The salad of which I speak is less recipe than formula, one I come back to, time and again. The basic equation boils down to this: greens + tart fruit + toasty nuts + salty cheese. The slightly-less basic version goes: vary everything. That's where the fun begins.
The greens might be arugula, or garden mesculun, or romaine. The fruit, juicy pears, crisp apples, strawberries. The cheese, blue, feta, ricotta salata, queso fresco, miso. (Right, so miso's not cheese, but it's got the same suave umami, which is part of what gives this salad spine.) The nuts, toasted walnuts, candied pecans, macadamias, bacon. (Okay, so bacon's not technically a nut. But a local pizza joint serves a knock-out harvest salad with slivered figs [fruit], pumpkin seeds [nuts], and crumbled bacon for, well, the same thing bacon's always for. Unabashed yum. I thought you ought to know it has a place at this table). Right now, in mid-winter, my go-to position is sweet citrus, spinach, salted almonds and fresh cheese.
The details differ, based on the season, but the end result is always earthy, soft, crisp, creamy and rich, sweet and salty, tart and light, fresh and bright. Not a bad ROI for formula food.
I'm also fond of the fact that it's quick 'n dirty as a salad gets. I just word-counted the instructions, and if I'd left out the "adjust seasoning" bit, it would qualify as a habit entry. That's fast. (I didn't, though. That last minute tweak is often what takes a salad from ho-hum to more, please. Also, I've never been good with thirty words or less.) And if we're being honest here—and if we're looking at rusty nails and old, unfinished business, we're being nothing if not honest—I often don't even dirty a jar for the dressing. For company, sure, I'll grab a jam jar and shake, to get that lovely, creamy emulsification. But for me? For lunch? I sprinkle salt, vinegar, olive oil on directly, and mix it all with my hands, *toss* *toss*, done.
I think I framed three pictures, last week. At this rate, it might be March before I'm through. Things might be a bit spare around here, until then. But with all the salads you could spin off of this one, here? You won't go hungry.
A Winter Salad of Spinach, Satsumas, Almonds + Feta
Yield: 4 servings
I buy almost all my nuts raw and whole, toasting and chopping them as needed, because their flavor is so very much better. There are a few exceptions: marcona almonds, which are typically oil-roasted and salted, and these flaked almonds, which I buy by the large bag, at Costco. I bought them on a whim once, and regretted it immediately, thinking they would have the stale flavor of most pre-toasted nuts. But they're lovely, crunchy and crisp and perfectly salted, something I toss into salads all the time. Except when I run out, as I did last week. See variations below.
I go back and forth on the radishes, here. Nice with, nice without.
8 cups baby spinach
3 satsumas or clementines, peeled and segmented
generous 1/2 cup toasted, salted almond slices (such as these), or chopped marcona almonds, or butter-fried almonds* (see below)
generous 1/2 cup feta, ricotta salata, or queso fresco, crumbled
4-6 radishes, sliced thin as you can manage (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons mild vinegar (sherry, cider, white wine)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
In a large bowl, place all salad ingredients. Sprinkle lesser amounts of salt, then vinegar, then olive oil over all. Toss well, with clean hands, until leaves are glossy. Taste for seasoning, add additional vinegar/oil/salt as desired, and toss again. Eat.
*Butter-Fried Almonds: Plain almonds are nice here, but amped-up almonds are better. When I'm out of those nibbly little toasted almond slices and marconas, both of which are toasted, roasted and salted, I make up a quick batch of butter-fried almonds, as follows: Roughly chop 1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds. In a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Tip in chopped almonds, and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt over all. Cook almonds in butter, stirring regularly, around 5 minutes, until almonds are golden. Let cool 15 minutes, to crisp up. Almonds can be fried hours or even days ahead. Though you may munch them all before they reach the salad bowl.