Our white asters are a-buzz, at the moment, alive with ebony bees on gossamer wings. As is our butterfly bush, and our hostas, and our purple asters, and, I think, golden asters. Don't quote me on that last one. The aster ID, I mean. The bee bit is totally legit.
Our yard is like one of those optical illusions, where first you see one and only one thing, only, moments later, to see something else entirely. You walk outside, see a garden in decline, leaves curling, petals crisping, earth re-emerging.
You see only stasis. Silence. Static. Still.
Twenty seconds. Maybe thirty. Weirdest thing. There is motion, movement, everywhere.
Bees. Hundreds. Madly buzzing.
They are milking fall's flowers for all they're worth, somehow staying airborne, despite their loads. They work each flower over, quickly, completely, their glossy apostrophes circumnavigating each bloom. This feat alone would, I think, have Newton's knickers in a twist. Their mass is clearly all out of whack with their delicate landing pads. How can a handful of fairy-size petals possibly support these strapping buff bees? I think the answer lies in their wings, though for all my staring, they seem to be at rest. But enough about me. It doesn't phase them. Nor does their golden cellulite.
But it is only fall, and they are only determined, and single-minded, and motivated, and endlessly focused. Dizzyingly busy as, well, themselves.
I'm fairly certain that, could one read their bee brains, the radiotransmitter would spit out something like this: "...en, pollen, pollen, pollen, pollen, pollen, pollen, MORE POLLEN!!, pollen, pollen, pollen, QUICK!! MORE POLLEN!! pollen, pollen, pol..."
I feel very much of the same mind. Well, with a little Search and Replace. Excise the pollen, insert the following "... sweep, build shelves, clean pantry, caulk bathroom, repeat sweep, make pants, weed, archive tanks and T's, install switchplates, file, excavate desk, can the caulk wait?, file, patch walls, run errands, clean garage, repeat sweep, nope caulk can't wait, it's fall don't forget to get outside already!, file, clean basement, repeat sw..." One long run-on sentence, this mind of mine.
So maybe I lack the bee's exquisite focus. I could arm-wrestle them into the ground on intent.
I tend toward to-do lists that could pass for novels, but never more so than in fall. Life goes on hold every year in May, and doesn't really resume until school starts up. And so I accumulate projects and tasks, to-do's and want-to's and must-do's, all summer. Out of sight, out of mind, May through August. But once bells ring? The undone's in my crosshairs. I head into September raring to go, my list a mile long, my ambitions unplumbed.
I forget that September is spoken for, with meetings and new rhythms and first colds. And more meetings. And second colds. And endless urgents, come and gone. That when there's tea to be steeped, and vanilla beans scraped, and miso soup stirred (our holy healing trinity), the list is abandoned to corners and dust. That sometimes, clean clothes and packed lunchboxes and one's full attention during homework hour, are, right there, a week's work. That free time is fickle, and highly elusive, and more often than not, a sometimes-treat. That my chicken-counting habit and penchant for best-laid plans are ever and always subject to change.
That Life isn't what's on the list, but the margins and headers and non-photo-blue lines. That I would do well to review my John Lennon. That anyway, it's all discretionary.
This is, I suppose, where it would be PC to go all zen, praise being present. There is certainly something to this, to things working out, getting done in due time. Because just as Life supplants plans, surprise windows arise, erasing the prefix right out of impossible.
Sunday afternoons magically open up (hello, office desk, so happy to see you!). Siblings hit upon a shared game (four white loads, I'm looking at you!). A perfect fall afternoon opens wide, and kids drift outside, and finally, eventually, you see opportunity, staring you down and smacking you silly. Gloves, trugs, boots, weeds, gogogo, quickquickquick! The moments, the opportunities, they're still there. Just in disguise, dressed in shades and trench coats.
Which is why, in the end, I'm a bee on these matters, sticking with my lists, standing by my plans, buzzing about whenever I'm able. I am not zen; will never be serene; favor, by nature, doing over being. I am not proud, but I am aware, and I think that counts for something. Back-pocket projects help me spot James Bond moments when Things can get Done, my holy grail. You could call it hubris. I prefer goal-oriented.
All of which is to say, I've got plans for you, October. Discretionary plans, but plans.
One of which is to try to eke out a fifth (or is it sixth?) batch of this salsa. Maybe a seventh. Ideally, a twelfth.
This salsa hails from Diana Kennedy, by way of Saveur's recent The Mexico Issue. I don't know whether the name, "Bricklayer's Salsa", refers to it's cobbled demeanor or hearty effect. Nor do I much care. What matters to me is that it makes a semi-regular appearance on our dinner table, from here on out. At heart, it's a basic salsa verde, tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, white onion, and lime. This alone makes for a pretty fine slurry, tart and herbal, sweet with onion, bright with lime.
But basic is only the backbone. Because into this puddle, you then slice equal parts avocado and queso fresco. Think on this a moment. Avocado. Queso Fresco. Salsa Verde. Yes.
The avocado is creamy, and just-soft, and brings its peculiar silken squish. The queso fresco is differently creamy, with a bit of bite—better, squeak—and that salty swagger that verges but doesn't quite tread on brash. I've long known this fruit and cheese get along swimmingly, even known how much they adore tart company. But set afloat in salsa verde? Be still, my corn tortilla.
Everything works, here. Just, everything. Suave avocado, the crunch of sweet onion. Briny queso, lip-twisting tomatillo. Cilantro aplenty, keeping the beat. A good squirt of lime, to seal the deal.
With a stack of warm corn tortillas, or a pile of crisp chips, a full meal in my book, and one of the finer. And exactly the way to right a week, whatsoever the winds may bring.
Bricklayer Salsa (with Corn Tortillas)*
adapted from Diana Kennedy, via Saveur, Number 149
A few adaptations: I upped the cilantro a nudge, and added the juice of one lime, which I love. Also, I ommitted the serranos, as I'm a chili wimp, and found ample flavor in all that remained. The chili quantities below are per Kennedy's original; add heat to suit. I love the queso, here, but leave it out, and presto, vegan. The avocado alone is pretty sublime.
Finally, a technique note: Kennedy calls for slicing the avocado and queso fresco into 12 long, 1" wide strips. I did this the first time, but in subsequent batches, diced them 1/2"-1", which I preferred for ease of scoop and mingle.
8 oz. tomatillos (6-8, depending on size), husks removed, rinsed of stick
1/2 cup cilantro roughly chopped, 2 tbsp. reserved for garnish
1/4 cup minced white onion, 2 tbsp. reserved for garnish
2 serrano chilis (optional), stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2-3/4 tsp. kosher salt
juice of 1 plump lime
4 oz. queso fresco, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into 1" cubes
Place peeled tomatillos in a small saucepan of water, and bring both to a boil. Simmer briskly until tomatillos are soft, about 5 minutes. Drain, and set aside to cool, 30 minutes.
Place cooked tomatillos, cilantro and onion (saving aside the reserved garnish), chilis (if using), garlic, salt, and lime juice in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Blitz until combined but still slightly chunky, 20-30 pulses. Scrape salsa into a wide, shallow serving dish, then scatter with avocado, queso fresco, and reserved cilantro and onion. Serve with warm corn tortillas, or crisp tortilla chips, or roasted sweet potato and black bean burritos, or eggs, or...
Homemade corn tortillas a treat we indulge in for the making as much as the eating. (For tacos, I actually prefer store bought, as the homemade tend to be awfully small). They're great fun for even the youngest child, involving the simplest of recipes and techniques. Warm and fresh, they're magnificent for dipping. We picked up our first press at the Goodwill for $2, and were gifted the second. Available here, but if you're a thrifter, try your local shop first, as they often have several for a song.
As to recipes, we make ours per the back of the Quaker Masa package, pretty much exactly. My only modification, and it is a momentous one, comes via the lovely Kelsey at Happy Yolks: use parchment paper, above and below your dough. Every class, every recipe, ever instruction booklet I've seen has always called for plastic, a hassle at best. Parchment is ten thousand times better, and that is a conservative estimate. Kelsey also has lovely, detailed instructions for pressing tortillas without a press, a fine alternative.