Some things one remembers, whilst in Maine:
How to read a tide table, and why. How black, the sky. How bright, the stars. How incorrigibly insatiable, the skeeters. Also: how to nudge, rub, noodge, press, influence, impact, and otherwise not-scratch-to-smithereens bug bites.
How to wash and dry dishes by hand, meal after meal, drink after drink, day after day. And cajole/coax/command children to do the same. How not to catch a crab. (OUCH.) Lobstah love.
The giddy high of finishing four books in two weeks. The grump of trying and failing to find a geocache. Also, the thrill of the multi-state success. The soft grit of sand between your toes. And teeth. And you and every last inch of your car.
D&D. It's been three-plus decades. I didn't love it, then. But this time around, I share a roof (and a genepool) with an aspiring (and dear to me) dungeon master. I'm in.
How delicate a balancing act it is to arrange and accomodate five wildly diverse personalities. (Answer: equal parts communication, persuasion, expectation, elbow room, ice cream, and dictatorship. Also: ample naps.)
How to eradicate routine. Elude bedtime. Omit vegetables for entire meals. How to sink. How to swim.
How to build a fairy house. (Clue: with whatever's at hand. Though if you happen to find yourself here, what's at hand might be especially grand.) That gardening callouses do not matter one whit, when it comes to kayaking. That tender pink blisters notwithstanding, you'll go out again in a heartbeat, anyway. The swimmy freedom of not knowing the hour. Or day. Or date. Or very temporarily, why it matters.
How the eighteen-and-one-halfth hour of a twenty-two hour road trip feels when one has eaten one too many pounds of fudge, and drunk two too many cups of coffee, and dropped 4,925 too many crumbs on, under, and around the steering wheel. And still, somehow, have three-point-five hours to go.
How easy it is to "swing by" Niagara Falls, on the way home. How tiny the kids were, the last time. (Is Zoë eating the pie, or the pie eating Zoë?). How huge, now. And how, even now, they take in the majestic awe of the thing in four minutes, flat.
How Winnie the Pooh is eternal for a reason. And still and all, how that much better it is to read it again, to your smallest Piglet, from your mom's 1926 edition. "Why's there no matching House at Pooh Corner?," they ask. "Because it hadn't been published yet," I answer.
How not to teach a child to fly a kite. (With a lightweight, inexpensive, thin plastic proxy, set aloft on an ocean's fierce winds. Goodbye, kite! Hello, frustration!). And, how to correct your error. (With two sturdy, riptstop, elegant flying aces, picked up from a local kite seller in the know.)
Gratitude for those who recommended Pie and The Magic Thief. Their audio incarnations got us there and back, respectively. Also, for those irrational souls game to repeat the cross-country crazy, two years running.
Fog. All of it. The sight, feel, smell. I do not understand the mechanics of fog, except in the ways that it orchestrates my heartstrings, and seems to exist only on the coasts. And that it has all the perfume and presence and weight of any pitch-perfect piece of ripe fruit.
How to catch a wave. How to receive it, revel in it, ride it, roll with it, then reach for the next. How to situate oneself in that sweet slim spot, just before the swell, just behind the surge. How this precise position is critical, and ephemeral. So far from fixed, it has no coordinates. It changes and morphs with each day, each tide, each and every last wave that rolls in. Five feet to the left, now twelve inches to the right, now toward the horizon, now hasty retreat.
How the best waves come to those who watch, and wait, and workworkwork their position. This way and that, respond, tweak, adjust. How the force of the thing will lift you, as if you're lighter than air, smaller than sand. And really, of course, to the ocean, you are. A humbling, giddy, excellent thing.
How it is to make food in a makeshift kitchen. Underequipped. Barely supplied. Scantily provisioned. In other words, fantastically situated.
Minimalist is nowhere in my nature, but I relish conditional cooking. Of choreographing dinner from a refrigerator's remnants. Of shiny new meals resurrected from dregs. Of feeding vegan and paleo guests. On the same day. From the same menu. Edges inspire. Limits goad. Constraints only underscore the abundance.
Which isn't to say I get all innovative in a rented kitchen. Not hardly. Our Maine greatest meal hits read something like this: boxed mac and cheese, quesadillas, eggs and toast, salami and bread and cheese, repeat. Good local bread. Sturdy salami. Wonderful, local, mark-of-the-maker cheese. (Dear Maine: I heart your cheese!). But still, salamai and bread and cheese. Barebones stuff. Sandy-toed stuff. Need nothing, leave nothing, prep nothing stuff. Fruits and vegetables happen, of course, because these are my most favorite mainstays. But mostly, new carrots, not even peeled, or fresh berries, coiffed in cream. And sometimes, zucchini, skeletal simple, stunningly good.
This began as courgettes in olive oil, which I've been cooking on repeat (along with other Mollies) since Rachel first posted it, last June. It is less a way with zucchini than life, an unequal trade of few inputs for stupendous outcomes. A nice bit of fuzzy math, if you can swing it. Technically, it asks only for zucchini, garlic, ample olive oil, and salt. And—and here's the clincher—discretion, that inscrutable, elusive ingredient, as unavailable for sale in ends-of-earth Maine, as in downtown Manhattan.
Also, as free for the asking.
Because discretion is, of course, merely Greek for attention. To minding one's work, and mending one's ways, and amending one's process to accomodate a day's contours. To add this or subtract that (salt, time, oil, stirs, aromatics, ambitions) to suit the situation. Food that flexes to reality, instead of the other way round. Food for rental kitchens. Food for real life.
The result is zucchini unfashionably khaki, steeped in flavor, inexplicably creamy. It slumps like a teenager at table, soft as an old sofa, and as comforting. I've come to like mine with half a large onion, halved again, slivered, and caramelized alongside. The thin umber strands add a vexing sweetness that tug and pull at the squash's mild side. I also tend to toss the whole garlics back in the pan, mid-braise. The cloves gently steam-caramelize into little gold gems, prizes for the garlic greedy. I also, most often, shower the mess with pecorino, thickly grated. The rich sheepy threads do this fantastic dance with the the zucchini's sweet, the garlic's pungent. It doesn't take much. I swoon.
Today, anyway. Tomorrow, the coordinates will change. The zucchini will instead be summer squash, or their girth broader, or the kitchen my own. The water will crest a little to the East, and I'll follow, and choose milky mozzarella. Or scrape crisp corn over all, or set an olive-oil fried egg alongisde, or pile a heap high on soft buttered polenta, or, perhaps, something else entirely. It's not set in stone. I'll scan the horizon. Consider the landscape. Catch the wave.
I use a huge 14" skillet here, though a more-standard 12" works, too. Dial down quantities, and pan sizes, to suit, though know that two people can pound the following quantity, handily.
As for toppings, the options are endless. Torn basil + fresh weepy mozzarella. Golden-yolked, olive-oil fried egg. Fresh oregano + crumbled feta. Fresh corn, sweet and crisp, straight from the cob. Slow-roasted chicken + its lemony juices. Or use this, conversely, to twirl into a plate of hot pasta. To top crisped crostini. To spoon over a wide soft bed of polenta... Ride it.
3-4 Tbs. good olive oil
1/2 large onion, slivered into moons
4 plump, peeled whole garlic cloves
2 pounds fresh, sweet zucchini (6 small, or 4 medium), sliced into 1/4" coins
1 tsp. kosher salt + more to taste
pecorino romano, thickly grated, to top
Into your largest skillet (12-14" is ideal), glug enough olive oil to cover the surface, 3 tablespoons or thereabouts, and add the whole peeled garlic. Warm over medium heat, allowing the oil to burble but not spit, and the garlic to go from white to pale ivory, five minutes. Remove the garlic, add the onions, zucchini and salt, toss a few times to coat, turn the heat up to medium-high, and cook five minutes. Nestle garlic along the top layer, and continue to cook a good, long while. The whole mess will want for gentle turning, now and again, every five minutes or so. Count on at least 20 minutes of cooking, maybe 40, depending on pan size, coin thickness, heat, the stars, everything. When the onions are caramelly and soft and deep amber, and the zucchini universally, unattractively pale khaki in the center, and bronzed here and there about the edges, you've nailed it.
Take off the heat, set aside to cool briefly, then top the just-warm coins with thickly grated pecorino, to taste. Try to share.