I'm not sure when. Three weeks ago, they were still around, twinkling up the grass like so many unstrung Christmas lights. And then, at some point, they weren't. Days ago, anyway. Maybe two weeks. I can't pinpoint it. This is the thing about change in the ordinary. So many givens exit stage left, without warning. They just fade away, without fanfare, without hoopla. Just, out the back door, with finger-shushed lips. Never-mind-me on cat-padded feet. Errors of ommission in our everyday.
We dissected owl pellets, also on Monday. Unwrapped foil bundles, the size of small potatoes. Broke apart the contents, fur, feathers and bones. Gently poked and prodded, nudged and wrangled, until jaws and wishbones and femurs came free.
We expected three mice, found instead only one (me). Plus two birds (Henry) and one rat (Zoë). We talked about gizzards, and how it would be to be an owl. We marvelled over mouse and rat similarities and differences (skeleton, size). We discovered birds have two miniscule perfectly circular bones, the breadth of a lentil, the width of a hair. We discovered rodents have two giant (yellow) front teeth, that become downright enormous when pulled free of their jaw. Like fishhooks. Like upholstery needles. Like nothing I ever really want to see again.
If this all sounds a little detached, it is because the un-detached version would read instead something like this:
"What shall we look at first?
(Oh good grief, oh, ew really? Oh, EWWW [hold breath; repeat]. Aw jeepers EWWW seriously? Okay. [Deep breath; repeat] Eeoww oh wow, oh heck. [Swallow hard; breathe; breeeeaaathe; BREATHE.])
Yes, amazing! I completely agree."
And it was, and I did, and I'd do it again. (And that was my transcript only; they were a-okay.) Because when a little American girl, surrounded by Barbies and glitter and pink (and make no mistake, loving them all), asks day after day, "can we do owl pellets today?", well. The only viable answer is yes. Yes, because it is ballast against all that. Yes, because as Blair so aptly said, summer is for trying new things. Yes, because that longing to dig through bones and fur may extinguish itself without so much as a goodbye.
And if you come here for the food, apologies. What came before may not be the best lead-in to what follows. Thing is, food, family, family, food, it's all a piece. It all goes down at our kitchen table. (Our kitchen table that was duly wiped and scrubbed and bleached.) Maybe we'd best clean up the images, also.
(We also play with nice things, like flowers and fuzzy bears and bright colorful crayons.)
And if the link between fireflies and old owl dinners and new human ones seems tenuous, know that for me the connection is this: bugs, children, corn, they all tiptoe quietly by, moving right along with nary a headline. The lawn lights up nightly, the clamor's constant (can we? now??), the tomatoes and corn are everywhere, everywhere. We are in the thick.
And then we are not.
Last week, we brought dinner to a friend, who had just welcomed her fourth babe. Included was a salad, because I always include salads, because of all the glorious bounty we received when we had newborns, it is the vegetables I remember most. Vegetables are hard with a new babe in arms (I can only imagine they're harder still with four). And yet, I craved vegetables more than sleep.
It wasn't, isn't, an elegant salad. To be honest, I'd never have shared it with another, if I didn't so vividly remember that vegetable hunger. But it is, to my taste anyway, a very good one, one I make over and over, every year. It is, at its heart, just tomatoes and corn, roughly equal quantities of both. The tomatoes are chopped into bite-sized bits, the corn, cut raw, right off the cob. There is a simple vinaigrette, zipped up with minced shallot, which I don't like with lettuce but like very much with tomato. There is also feta, creamy and sharp, not as garnish but full-on ingredient. And fresh marjoram, or sweet oregano, or if you have neither, tiny leaves of fresh thyme.
It is these last two twists that make me smile, the reason I return, time and again. I tend, as I've mentioned, to turn Italian in summer, so good and vast are the tomato-basil-mozzarella variations. It is a good turn. I like it very much. I also like leaving it entirely in the dust. Because something wonderful happens when pitch-perfect tomatoes meet up with not-mozzarella and not-basil. Feta's a real character compared to mozarella, sassy, flip, salty as an old sailor. It was, in my opinion, made for corn, whose sweet crunch is littered all over the plate. And the marjoram/oregano/thyme (all are different, all are good) bring little bursts of herbal bling that delight in a language entirely un-Italian, entirely more-ish. It is like watching Miyazaki, after a steady diet of Disney. Or like taking a sibling out, all by their lonesome. A reminder of hidden talents, and rich possibilities, and loveliness, latent, there for the asking.
I don't remember making it to the computer often in those early days, but somehow, said friend managed to tap out a sweet thanks. Included were the words in the title of this post. The genius wasn't mine, but I'm happy to pass it on. Let's eat summer while we can.
Tomato + Corn Salad with Feta + Marjoram
Serves as many as you'd like
This salad is eminently scalable, like this one, one of the things I love about it. As written, I consider it lunch for one. Simply double, triple, etc. to serve a crowd.
I like marjoram and sweet oregano equally here; if your oregano is the spicy sort, go with the marjoram. None of either? Try fresh thyme, ordinary or lemon. Different, lovely. Needless to say, this is no salad for December. Pin this one under High Summer Happiness.
1 large-ish tomato
1 plump ear of corn
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 tablespoon lime juice or 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 packed teaspoons fresh marjoram or sweet oregano, roughly chopped if leaves are large
Mince shallot, and setle into the vinegar (or lime juice) to mellow, 10-15 minutes.
Stand an ear of corn in a medium shallow bowl, stem end down, and run knife from top to bottom, allowing kernels to spill into bowl, until ear is clean. Chop tomato into small-ish (1/2") pieces, and add to corn. Add olive oil, crumbled feta, oregano (or marjoram), and vinegared shallots, plus a few good pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper. Gently, with two clean hands, toss ingredients. You want to combine and keep intact. Pile onto a plate, with a few more feta crumbles and herbs, if desired, and adjust seasoning, as necessary. Eat summer immediately. Second helpings, when possible.