My downstairs, 7:34 a.m., Monday morning:
Family room: flip-flops, haphazard on the floor. A book of poems plus some pens, alongside. Gnomes and a magnifying glass, cattywampus on a bookshelf. Left sofa arm anchored by The Maggie B, one Wii remote, and 1-2-3 Peas. Playmobil doctor, spread-eagle, face down, looking for all the world as if he's just given notice. Or given up. At least on us. The room's a small catastrophe.
On the floor, a basket of yarn, overflowing, left there not my by knitting self, but by my boy who just learned and now loves Cat's Cradle. One set of fake teeth which I've somehow stepped on three times, in the past twenty-four. They're blue, and plastic, and flimsy, and very, very surprisingly sharp.
On the opposite wall, one desk with two two-pound weights to the left of the laptop, a nearly-gone Theo 85% behind, and a heap of books on subjects spanning treehouses, food and fiction, everywhere. The weights are a little dusty. Not the chocolate.
In the kitchen, two double AA's, maybe dead, are adrift not far from a dragonfly, definitely dead. The bug's on cardboard (house rules), under glass (Weck storage), awaiting a turn under the microscope. He's been there three days. Which has led me to wonder, what's a dragonfly's expiry? I would look it up, but I'm still wiping up (and, okay, inhaling) peanut butter and chocolate, remnants of these.
The breakfast table is downright Dutch, all bountiful, colorful, stuff-filled still-life. Except here, it's all sticky pancake plates and half-eaten bananas and abandoned dice, and diving board tallies and yesterday's pictures and my old Cray-Pas and I'm just getting started. Dead elegant pheasants and jewelled pomegranates? Not so much. The Dutch masters didn't have kids, I've decided.
Next door, the dining room table is daily cleared for dinner, having gone feral, routinely, by five. Thus, there's a small oddball army at the room's edges, guarding the perimeter. Two birthday party treat bags, two swim lesson treat bags, one USPS box, destination: Annette. And those are only the generals.
There's a Fourth of July flyer, and a friend's little toy lantern, and one foil-wrapped rocket, hand-lettered "NASA", made by a boy who would dearly like very much to attach several helium balloons and send it skyward. Please. Now. Father's Day detritus. More drawings. More random. More Playmobil, this time a winged, wanded fairy, whose powers are a little unclear, but clearly, tragically, don't include "insta-clean".
We won't talk about the large basket of school stuff, on silent standby, in the dining room's darkest corner. School? What's school? It's dead to us, now.
The living room is modestly better, mostly because it's modestly bigger. We're talking a few square feet. The latest Highlights is splayed on the sofa, half the Search 'n Find found and finished. More shoes sit next to the shoe basket than in it. The swim bag, it seems, has taken up permanent residence on the floor. Because the closet is far too far to go, to put it properly away.
It's maybe six steps, bag to closet. I'm the one responsible for getting it there. Truly, just too far.
The stairs, treads four through five, specifically, bristle with bills, receipts, summer reading programs. I have a (bad) habit of using the banister rails as my personal upstairs-downstairs in-box. It works, in that I don't lose things. It doesn't work, in that if you come by my house on a Monday morning at 7:34, you'll be met with a filing cabinet, disguised as steps.
Sheet music is sitting pell-mell on the old, inherited, beloved Tom Thumb piano. We're two weeks into lessons, Zoë and I. She can bang out Twinkle Twinkle and Mary's Little Lamb like nobody's business. I'm clobbering Moonlight Sonata. But all that practice means, at least, that the keys do not need dusting, Saturdays.
Did I mention the house was spit-spot, Saturday? The benefactor of our weekly deep clean?
Monday morning, you'd never know.
Let's not even talk about today.
Today, Friday, is an entirely different disarray, library books teetering and unfinished crafts sprawling and stray black raspberries, squashed across the entry. But, meh. Details. The main thing, the leitmotif, the omnipresent? The chronic perpetual grade-A mess. Because this is summer, and summer is glut, and no matter my stand that at every day's end, we return the house to neutral, neutral's a subjective, seasonal thing. And never is neutral's sliding scale as evident as it is at June's end.
I'll take it. If a messy desk is the sign of a full mind, surely a whole house in similar straits is the utmost sign of a summer, well-lived. Those crushed berries were hand-picked by a friend, eaten out of hand, tucked into a pie. That incomplete craft bears the imprint of friends, and each child's signature, and a day, fully plundered. Those library books weren't returned sooner because there were plants to pot up, and Carcassone to play, and closets to deep-clean. (At least the closet's clean.)
Also: This is why we like pictures of flowers. The rest of the house is "not photo ready."
Though honestly, if I took two steps back, you'd see the garden's in similar shape. We've had two weeks of hot heat and heavy rains, which has this effect on a garden: those things that we planted grow overnight, literally, visibly, tremendously. Cucumbers seem to stretch a foot. Peas tendril up by inches. Beans, at the base of their teepees last week, have suddenly shot bottom to top, and beyond. It's surreal.
Also surreal: those things we didn't plant, which respond in exactly the same way. The weeds, people. They are fierce. I'm not even pretending to keep on it. My outdoors make my indoors look Mary Poppins-perfect.
But again: I'll take it. Glut's a good thing in a garden. Most of our "crops"—to the extent you can intensively garden a postage stamp—are still in the deeply nascent stages. Our tomatoes are tiny, hard green golf balls. The beans are buds. The zucchini, as well. The cucumbers, despite their sprawling vines, are totally dwarfed by my pinky fingernail. I had to get down on my hands and knees to see the canteloupe Henry swore he could spy. A pencil eraser would crush it to bits. My vision is good. His is infintely better.
The bulk of the glut, in other words, is weeks and months out, yet. But it will happen, soon enough. And if I harbor any doubts, there's cilantro as harbinger.
I grow cilantro every year, because I adore its fragrant leaves. Every year, I wait (wildly im-)patiently while it stays small and struggles and barely grows. I go out, wanting cups, parsimoniously harvesting sprigs, wishing, willing, waiting for it to grow.
ANDTHEN***BOOM***! In the space of what feels like three days, it shoots up and flowers and goes to seed. In those days, I snip wildly, eat greedily, and indulge at every turn. Partly, I'm trying to stall its trajectory, to encourage a few more leaves before surrender. Mostly, I'm just celebrating, with cilantro. More often than not, with cilantro-spiked salsa.
Pending tomatoes, my salsa of choice is this stone fruit affair I've been making for years. I first picked up the notion at the old Met Market on Queen Anne, when my oldest was one. They were sampling salmon, piled high with peach salsa, and I thought it so bizarre it deserved trying. Two minutes later, I thought it so perfect a combination, I've never looked back.
It's a casual thing, a shy cup of sweet onion, minced and macerated in lots of fresh lime. While the onions lose their bite and gain crisp, you dice three or four ripe peach-like things. Peaches are lovely, as are nectarines, as are champagne mangoes, when deep winter hits. The main thing, the leitmotif, is that your stone fruit is juicy and lush and sweet-tart and ripe and a complete stranger to mushy. Because when you chop up such a fruit, and spike it with sweet onion, and great lashings of cilantro, and a smattering of chili, it, too, is astounding.
The result is vivid, in all the right ways. The fruit's sweet is suitably tempered by its own edge of tart, and the gentle hum of heat. (Or by a roar, if you'd rather). It is bright and bracing and juicily bursting, with nubbins of crunch and cilantro's green pluck. It's a sweet-tart-sharp-juicy thrilling thing. A little like eating fireworks. But without the side-effects.
I adore it heaped high on corn chips; margarita optional. Earlier this week, it accompanied black bean/grilled zucchini burritos. It flatters seafood shamelessly, seared halibut, poached cod, whatever-looks-fresh fish tacos. Yesterday, we ate it like salad alongside slow-roasted Copper River salmon. Easy as it comes. Good as it gets. And definitely, my kind of glut.
Stone Fruit Salsa
I typically double this, but in the interest of modesty, am outlining scant (i.e. normal) proportions. As to chilis, I prefer the convenience and even heat of a good dried chili powder (aleppo, chipotle) to the erratic burst of fresh minced chili. If you prefer otherwise, feel free to use fresh (a fresh red chili, minced, is particularly fetching). I have made (and loved) this with champagne mangoes, as well. And when corn comes on, an ear or two's worth of raw kernels makes a very fine addition. Also: Right now, Costco, Copper River Salmon. Go.
1/2 sweet onion (Walla Walla or Vidalia), diced (1 cup)
2 plump limes, juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + more to taste
3-4 ripe nectarines or peaches (4-5 cups)
generous bunch fresh cilantro
good dried chili powder (I like aleppo or chipotle), to taste
drizzle olive oil (optional)
Set diced onion in a wide, shallow bowl, and squeeze lime juice over. Add salt, stir, and set aside at least 10 minutes, and up to one hour. When ready to eat, dice nectarines, and add to bowl. (If your stone fruit is of the cling variety, i.e. doesn't want to let loose the pit, simply slice the "cheek" from either side, cleaving close to but not bisecting the pit. Then, trim the remaining slice from each side. Et voilà! Mangle-free fruit.) Chop cilantro and add, along with olive oil, if using, and stir gently. Dust lightly with chili powder, stir to combine, and taste a generous spoonful for heat and salt. Adjust both to taste, test again, and set out to heap high on tortilla chips, fresh fish, and/or spoons.