I went walking, Thursday night. It was 8:46 p.m.
There were old discarded lawn chairs on the sidewalk, which I thought odd, given that trash day was days away, yet. It took multiple chair sightings, plus several cordoned-off grass patches, before I realized folks were staking out spots for the parade. The Fourth of July parade, this coming Wednesday. Six days from last Thursday. The Fourth is a fairly big deal, around here. We'll probably go. We probably won't stay. 94º. You understand.
The trees overhead were deafening. Right around the solstice, here, each year, the cicadas return, our high summer alarm. A cicada sounds like a flourescent light on the fritz, during those final, whiny, vvvzzzzzzzzzzzz days. Like that, only louder. Much, much louder. Because while I'm never sure whether there are two or two thousand, invisible as they are in the branches and leaves, there are definitely multiples, all singing the same song. I mention this, because I'd never heard cicadas, pre-Ohio, and maybe you've never heard them, either.
You non-cicada states should know you share a country with citizens whose entire summer has this soundtrack. That for some of us, a walk in the great June outdoors sounds for all the world like a Wal-Mart whose every last overhead needs replacing. (Weird.)
I know that it was 8:46 p.m., because I caught the time as I was checking the temperature. The temperature was 98º.
Cooler than earlier. Still, a bit toasty.
It's been hot here, this week. It promises to be hot, next week. I just checked the ten day forecast. The first nine begin with "9". The lows, for every last one of the next ten days, are expected to be higher than Seattle's highs.
(Dear Seattle: I know you're beyond ready for summer. Please know, I'm not bragging. I'm whining. I'll take rain on my parade over swelter, any day. And anyway, sillies, Seattle's summer begins July 5.)
I mention this because I phoned my mom, while walking. She asked after the heat, and I answered. She was surprised, as I'd not thought to mention it myself. I was surprised, because I realized I've become accustomed. Am becoming accustomed. Am at least not panic-stricken. There was a time, last year, when I was in full-fledged summer panic. It was just a passing phase, so I didn't mention it. Only lasted from January through, oh gosh, maybe June? Literally, waking up in the middle of the night, frozen. Paralyzed at the thought of the upcoming heat. The suffocating humidity. The claustrophobia of August. The insufferable alter-ego I become.
(Did I mention Thursday's humidity hit 92%? After dark? I am not anti-summer. I am anti-awful.)
Thing is, once last summer hit, it was alright. More than alright. Pretty okay, actually. We'd learned enough, changed enough, to survive. To cope. To be competent. To, often enough, thrive. To be pleasant people, even in July. To be able to go walking under ninety-eight degree skies. In the event, it was just fine.
Sufficiently fine that, last Thursday, I didn't think to volunteer the heat. Had to be asked. We've come a long way.
I was looking over outtakes of our past week, realizing how very much they look like the week prior's. More comic books, more flowers, more making stuff. More reading programs, more drawing sessions, more beetles and pests. More popsicles, more baking, more beans and butterflies. Encore, encore, to look at it.
And yet, this week was entirely unto itself, in the living of it. Looks are funny. Looks can fool.
Because this time, said comics were written with friends, which adds an entirely new element of funny. And the reading program included words like Prize! and Finish! The flowers were darker, fuller, further along. The beans, big enough to climb inside. The stuff made involved less flour and water (thank heavens), and more bulbs, wires, and circuitry (have mercy). This week's drawings were robots, portraits and puppies. And ice cream doodles, on a long-wished-for, finally-found kitchen chalk board.
I've yet to identify this week's blaze orange beetles. I've identified and raged against this week's garden pests. Bunnies. Dear, sweet, tiny, twee, cotton-tailed bunnies. Blasted, tomato-inhaling, zucchini-annihilating, sneaky stealthy bunnies. Ate those first two tomatoes before dawn, the next day. The first fourteen tiny summer squash, also. One bite out of each. Left the rest to rot. Make that thieving, inconsiderate, wasteful sneaky stealthy bunnies. Memo to my furry friends: I hear you are lovely in mustard and cream.
This week's baking took a detour toward cinnamon rolls. This week, we made popsicles, but in triplicate, because, well, hello? 98º. This week's butterfly looked just like last week's butterfly. Black Tiger Swallowtail 1 and Black Tiger Swallowtail 2. But redundant and metamorphosis are mutually exclusive. Wonder and awe never get old.
And of course, that parade prep, beyond our backyard. And those ubiquitous cicadas, which leave great moults, which make great collectibles to be shared over lunch. And that old, existential, ultimately misplaced summer dread. And these now, very real, sky-high outside temps. Which cause fierce thunderstorms. Which leave half our neighbors without power. (We were so lucky. Are so grateful.)
Most of life unfolds outside the frame. So much of what matters never earns verbs or nouns. Where we point our lens, what we wrap words around, they are scraps and slivers, limited, selective. Fragments, shards. I was thinking about this, this past week.
Next to that milk bottle of blooms, way up top, was a Lego robot. Is a Lego robot. As there is, on our table, almost always a Lego something-or-other. And a Pink Pearl. And its accompanying crumbs. And toast crumbs, from breakfast. Yogurt smudges, also. And the counters behind, littered with the day's dishes. Maybe bread rising. A coffee pot, unrinsed. Likely, half a lemon, careening toward mummy. And we haven't even addressed the underneath, polka-dotted pink with dribbled smoothie. See what I mean? Sneaky, bunny rabbit words. Splattered's more accurate, but I feel endlessly better stepping over spills Rorschach'd as polka dots.
Much of it, most of it, sits beyond the borders. Doesn't mean it's not in my kitchen.
Of course it is.
Same as yours.
(Well, maybe you don't invite cicada casings to lunch. But, you know, the sticky bits.)
To all appearances, that bowl might look a re-run. To look at it, you might reasonably think, Lemon Curd. To your point, it pretty much strikes the same pose. To your tongue, it dances another jig altogether.
Allow me to introduce Lime Curd.
This particular curd was made a few months back, for a friend's birthday lunch. I had bought some strawberries to jolly up the table, despite the fact that it was February. Certain exceptions apply when fêting a February 29th baby. After all, Leap Year doesn't come along every year. And winter strawberries don't come with flavor, just because you will it.
They needed help. Lime curd was called in.
I have spoken here before of my strawberry-lime love, of the way these two fruits complement one another. If lime juice is all that, I reasoned, lime emboldened by egg and butter would flatter even winter's worst berries. Score one for reason. Score ten for lime curd. Or wherever your score card caps out.
We made our go-to lemon curd, the one I call foolproof because in fifty+ batches it's never failed, simply swapping out lemons for little green limes. Ace. The color was only ever so slightly different, a bit more chartreuse, more off-yellow than green. But the flavor, the flavor was unto itself. Entirely different. This week against last. Lemon curd, for its part, tastes like it looks: soft, vivid, suave, (sorry) lemon-y. Sharp, yes, but in a yellow way, which may make no sense to you but makes all kinds to me.
Lime curd surprises. Lime curd causes pause. Lime curd raises eyebrows, and mouth corners, and berries. Lime has that edge, that razor-rimmed sweet, a puckery, puckish, arch kind of tart. Not unlike, come to think of it, a flourescent's final buzz. Lime is lemon curd's mischievious twin. Our plates, summers, selves, need mischievious twins.
It did the trick, dressing up those sad berries, but like any truly useful foodstuff, didn't stop there. Turns out lime curd is swell on overnight waffles, settling into the squares like a birthright. (Maple Syrup who?) Whip it into buttercream, and sandwich between sugar cookies. Slip it between a citrus-scented layer cake, littered, if you will, with blueberries. Sneak it into summer trifle, alongside the custard, or better still, as a sly custard substitute. Spoon it onto pavlovas with raspberries and chantilly. I eat it straight-up. I've two kids who do, too. Really, a spoon and a mouth and you're set.
And yet, lime curd begs the berry. There's something sublime, between the two. All berries. Any berries. Blue, black, straw, marion, tay. Maybe not goose. Any berry but goose. We made little berry tarts yesterday, the frilly French kind, with pâte sucre and fluted tins and a glossy jam topcoat. We layered the berries on a pastry cream pouf, and it was nice enough, mild, softly sweet. But I couldn't help wishing the cream was curd, an eye-squinching wink to wake up that ripe fruit.
Our strawberries are gone, but I hear you Seattle folk still have some. Score one for late-breaking summers. For there is little lovelier (and little simpler) than a platter of rubies and a bowl of lime curd. If that was strawberries under a cloud, this is them, dripping rhinestones, smart, dazzling, a nudge sassy. And if you, like me, see strawberries in the rearview mirror, rest assured: there's a berry parade yet to come. And a sidekick, waiting in the wings.
Foolproof Lime Curd
adapted from our favorite, foolproof lemon curd
Yields: 2 cups
As I mentioned in the lemon original, the technique is what sets this curd apart: all ingredients are blitzed by stick blender before cooking, which shields the mixture against curdling, the ordinary bane of all curds. I use organic limes for curd, owing to the heavy use of peel. I've yet to have enough leftover lime curd to stockpile, but if it's anything like lemon curd, it will freeze admirably. Please note, you'll need a fine-mesh strainer (or regular strainer, plus cheesecloth). Pull out your microplane and stick blender if you've got them. Fine holes of a box grater and/or a standard blender make fine substitutes.
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from 4-6 plump limes)
1/4 cup freshly grated lime zest (from 4-5 limes), from organic limes, if possible
pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons salted butter, softened, cut into pieces
Wash and dry limes. Zest limes on a microplane rasp, measure out 1/4 cup of the zest, and set aside.
Juice limes, and measure 1/2 cup. If you have a stick blender, add lime juice, eggs, egg yolks, and sugar directly to a medium, heavy pot, and blitz 30 seconds or so, until mixture is smooth and no clumps of egg remain. (If using a standing blender, blitz juice, sugar and eggs on high for 30 seconds, then pour into pan.) After blending, add lime zest and salt to mixture, then place pan on medium heat. Heat mixture for 8-12 minutes, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens noticeably and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, then whisk in butter, one piece at a time. Set a fine-mesh sieve (or cheesecloth-lined strainer) over a large, heat-proof bowl, and pour in hot curd. Strain curd (to remove zest), nudging as needed with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Use a rubber spatula to scrape free the nice slick of curd on the underside of the strainer. Eat warm, immediately, or chilled, with all manner of summer berries. Keeps beautifully, refrigerated, up to 5 days.