AND, that's a wrap.
As of last Wednesday, school's out. Finally. And while early June always feels too early for this switch, at least to my Seattle self accustomed to deepest-middle-June, here, it feels almost late. Many schools ended weeks ago. Shorts have been in play since early May. And the light, well. The bloody light conspires against any bedtime earlier than ten o'clock, come June. Not infrequently, eleven. And shut-eye at eleven is no way to prepare for a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call. A pleasant one, at least. On my part, anyway.
I am so glad we're here.
And so in the thick.
Between the flurry of zoo trips and parties and ceremonies and graduations and other end-of-year goodness, the final weeks of school are as productive as swimming upriver. With a millstone. In head-to-toe wool. And then, once it's over, we're knee-deep in re-entry, in everyone again re-learning what it is to be with everyone, all day long, altogether. And, with everyone's academic year output.
The papers, people. They are epic.
What comes home that last week is an avalanche of notebooks, backpacks, portfolios, art, pens, stones, sticks, gluesticks, certificates, stuff. An avalanche that landed on my dining room table. And got very, very comfortable. We finally worked through it all, Sunday. The lunchboxes, fortunately, early Saturday. Fuzzy, averted. My week's major accomplishment.
Needless to say, the laundry's got swagger. I want to talk summer and sprinklers and flowers and wishes and wants and not-really-needs, but for now, while I work through the wet swimsuits, let's use our time here to catch up on some business. Things that are keeping my heart and mind happy.
:: To my peeps, currently reading this and this at bedtime. And at breakfast. And at 1:27 p.m. Because half the joy of summer, methinks, is being able to plunk down on a whim, crack open another world, and dive right in.
:: I'm not sure I'd get over the passing of the peonies, were the zinnias not just kicking in.
:: Maleficent. Thumbs up? Down? Verdict? It's on my summer must-see list...
:: Speaking of which, a favorite summer tradition, inspired years ago by the lovely Luckybeans: a stack of blank 2x3" cards, left out in the early weeks of summer, to capture everyone's wishes for the weeks and months ahead. From this year's pile: "ride a camel", "build lego town #2 and open with pizaz", "learn how to reed alot beter" and "teach Minecraft to family so they can exist". I'll leave you to decide who wrote what.
:: Almost as fun as finding pavers with sums chalked on, under the beech.
:: Or the "cave paintings" they dreamed up and crushed dyes for and drew, in a fit of creative cooperation.
:: Or coming up from aforementioned laundry to find my girl tableside, maths on one side, story in progress on the other. It surely wasn't always this easy. Isn't always. Isn't usually. But how fun when it is, eh?
:: Cutthroat Kitchen. Pick one, any one. I rarely watch television; more rarely still, youtube. But these two are crowd-pleasers, at least under our roof, and reliably bring on the giggles.
:: Speaking of which: What makes you laugh? I've realized it's just not a habit I have. I'd like to fix this. Pointers? Books. Videos. Jokes. Habits. Life. Looking in the mirror. Bring it on.
In the kitchen...
:: Service berries: ripe! Strawberries: ditto. Radishes: done. Beans, tomatoes, cukes, lettuce: up and coming. A summer of weeding and eating. Yes.
:: I cannot stop eating Megan's Salad, which was my lunch, all last week. And this.
:: If (and when) I can ever move on, I look forward to test-driving Heidi's spare lovely salad.
:: These brownies. We've made two batches, in as many weeks, which reminded me all over again that of the dozens (upon dozens and dozens) of brownies I've baked and/or eaten over the decades, none, not a one, holds a candle to these.
:: This smoothie. Some foods sweep me up, then fade away. Not this. Eight rounds in a fortnight, easy. I've simplified it, over the months, to better reflect my pantry and tastes. 8 ice cubes + 8 large kale leaves + 3 dates + 1 cup whole milk + 1 Tbs. almond butter. Blitz long and well. Inhale. Inexplicably, ridiculously good.
:: No. No contradiction at all between outrageous brownies and green smoothies. Unstintingly mad for both.
:: Aeropress. Loving this for making that rarest of cups, an excellent, single cup of joe.
:: Particularly with these beans.
:: Cheesy popcorn. Because Summer happens. And sometimes, somehow, suddenly, dinner. Dinner's a sneaky fellow, under the best of circumstances. But never more so, I think, than in Summer.
"Popcorn plus..." equals dinner around here, all year, the ellipses followed by veg, smoothies, apples, often all of the above. It is quick and hot and delicious and adored, and if we've already played the egg card, a godsend. Often, we pop up quarts in our ancient air-popper, and drench the whole in browned butter. But equally often, this past year, we go in for cheesy popcorn.
I'd attempted cheese-flecked popcorn for years, loving the idea. Never the reality. Every effort ended in pallid, bland kernels, sitting on a bed of wayward cheese. I tried often. Couldn't crack it. Until I caught a mention in Mad Hungry which I'd previously somehow always flipped past. It's understandable. It shares a page with 'basic salsa'. The photo opposite is all chips and dip. And the title is, oddly, unfetchingly, 'cheesy corn snack'. It was easy to miss. It also held the secret.
Scala Quinn calls for stove-top popping, in a thin gloss hot oil. This is everything. Popping in oil coats every last kernel in the thinnest whisper of sheen, which in turn acts as magnet, to attract and retain the upcoming tsunami of cheese. The cheese, when it hits, is smitten. And defenseless. And melts reliably, gloriously on impact, instead of sinking ignominiously to the bottom. Oh, how I love a lonely bowl bottom!
As the months (and vats) have piled up since my first go, I've veered from Quinn's original. I prefer coconut oil, for its seductive faint sweet. And considerably more cheese, because: cheese. Because the salty eager umami of extra sharp cheddar (or parmigiano reggiano, or pecorino; we're not picky) plays brilliantly with the mild nutty crisp of corn. Because if you add adequate cheese, it distributes itself in masterful ways, ironing out that awkward haves-and-have-nots distribution popcorn so often settles into. Because every last puff ought to sport at least a rumor of cheese; every fifth puff, a full scandal.
Oh, right: and because cheese equals protein equals substance equals something somewhat resembling dinner. There is time yet for salads and crèpes and I don't know, fresh corn. Something properly June Cleaver. When our act is together. (Pfft.) But for now, and for always, there is cheesy popcorn. And (shhh....) it is one of life's lovelier dinners.
inspired by Lucinda Scala Quinn, Mad Hungry
This makes a lot of popcorn, enough to mostly fill my stockpot, enough to constitute (with fruits + veg) dinner for my family of five. Fair warning. That said, it also holds remarkably well, something I chalk up to the coconut oil. Unlike buttered popcorn, which goes spongy and weird in an hour, and (eck) congealed by morning, coconut oil-popped popcorn stays crisp and light for days. Any leftovers make a great snack, for grazing fingers. Recipe scales easily, if you'd like less.
As to cheese, we use Tillamook's Vintage Extra-Sharp White Cheddar (Costco) or parmesan, most frequently, though Romano's a close third, and anything sharp and on the dry side works well. More important than type is the texture, which you want to be fine enough to melt on impact. I grate both with this, which works brilliantly. Pre-ground parmesan (fresh, from the cheese counter, in the clear plastic tubs) also works well.
Note: You will need a large, lidded pot. Which, if you fill it with warm soapy water, post-popping, and leave to soak half an hour or so, easily comes clean with a quick wipe and rinse.
1 1/2 cups popcorn kernels
3 Tbs. coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
6-8 oz. finely grated extra sharp cheddar, parmesan, or pecorino
Grate cheese. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, over medium high heat, melt coconut oil. Add popcorn kernels and salt, cover pot, and holding handles with potholders, swirl steadily, a few times, as the kernels heat. I set my stove to a 4 (on a 1-6 heat scale), and find it takes about 3 minutes before the first pop. Once popping begins, swirl continuously, until popping slows considerably, several minutes. For this volume, on my stove, popping continues at a good clip about 4 minutes, and starts to wind down about 7 minutes from first lighting the gas. Use your nose and your ears as guides; you want the sweet, corny smell of yellow kernels, and a steady, ongoing pop. Around 7 minutes, while all is still swell, I turn off the heat, give a last shake, and leave the (covered) pot on the (now-off) element for another 1-2 minutes, to capture holdouts. I stop before the pot goes silent, erring on the side of a few unpopped stragglers, preferring this to a scorched pot.
When popping has stopped, remove lid, toss to fluff, and pour half the grated cheese over the hot popcorn. (I do this directly in the pot. Be warned that the pot will stay hot for some time. If serving small fingers, you may want to transfer popcorn to another [cooler] bowl.) Toss popcorn and cheese thoroughly, then add half the remaining cheese, and taste. I often add up to another 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and usually, the full 8 ounces of cheese. See what you think; add remaining cheese and/or additional salt to taste; and ring the dinner bell, HOOT!