Zoë was honing her time-telling the other day, and frustration was fast approaching. She was working on one of those dry erase mats with a blank clock face you can fill in at will. She'd carefully drawn the hour and minute hands, and was working out what exactly they meant. I watched as she looked, up and down, up and down, up to the clock on the wall, down to her marked-up mat. Eyebrows scrunched. Knuckles went white. Lips did that determined don't-tell-me thing they do. Finally, she blurted, "It just doesn't make sense. It won't work!" I stepped in to deflate the frustration, explain again the weird way each number sometimes equals one, sometimes five, when she (uncharacteristically) cut me off. "No, no, I get that," she said, staring up. "The problem is it won't stay the same. The problem is the clock JUST KEEPS MOVING!"
Agreed. Totally a problem.
The calendar claims school starts Wednesday. This would be absurd, seeing as Wednesday's nearly two weeks before Labor Day. But the kids a mile down the road started last Tuesday. They've already completed their first full week. And August is only half begun.
But for now, even as we're stockpiling composition books and collecting schedules and trying to make sun-stiff hair settle for school pictures (and failing), we're gulping summer.
We're pecking away at the puzzle Mamo brought and left, one of the loveliest I've seen, and the hardest. I'd never before noticed that the luminous Carl Larsson was so exuberantly fond of blues and greens. Like, one-thousand-pieces fond. I exaggerate. At least 39 pieces include oranges and reds. But as for the other 961...
We continue to dog-ear science books galore, marking projects we mustmustmust do. Beginning games we hope to complete. Making bucket lists for dwindling days. The lists read more like fiction than non-. But even fiction has one foot in possibility.
The garden teems. There are flowers that are only just now setting buds. The zinnias are still at full-throttle jolly. Much-anticipated first melons are finally being picked. The cucumbers continue. Geez, the tomatoes are all still green rocks. Summer can't call it quits, yet.
(Aside: On the balky laptop front, I solved the problem by upgrading my hardware. Found this awesome cable for my old Smith Corona, jack on one end, USB on the other, which enables my typewriter to tap into wi-fi, and presto! Click, clack, post!
Wouldn't that be awesome?
In fact, the local computer guru recommended an exorbitant system overhaul. I opted instead for bargain basement patches, which were guaranteed temporary, plus your well wishes from last week, which I suspect are the better buoy. And so for the moment, the gerbils are happy. Next week? All bets are off. The only sure thing is that this girl here will still, as she has all summer, be putting her stories down on paper.)
Friends come to play in the middle of the day, and play dates run hours over schedule, and swim lessons blaze right through bedtime, and bedtime, what's bedtime? I'm sure it's around here somewhere...
(I'm fairly certain the phrase "rude awakening" originates in back-to-school alarm clock shock.)
We're tucking in bike rides wherever we can, all part of our push to get up on two wheels, all of us, all together. Progress is being made. Band-Aids, applied. Miles logged. Good stuff. A family bike ride has been my birthday wish for three years running. I didn't really expect it to come true those first two years. (I take the long view.) But I'm feeling hopeful about this November.
And even as we read our little hearts out, at breakfast in P.J.'s, and at high noon, and any time the mood strikes, I feel the stirrings of that faint, familiar end-of-summer unrest over books unread, which in my head, runs something like this: "Ohmygosh, another one GONE, and we still haven't read Island of the Blue Dolphins, and what about Little House on the Prairie??, and I so meant to get to The Candymakers and oh geez, The Great Brain??? GAHHHHH!!!!!"
I am normally a mostly mellow person. Except when melodramatic about books.
Then again, I think back on all the books we did devour (this and this and oh my! this) and remember that school does not spell the end of reading. Also, I'm still flying high on this extraordinary development: for the first time in fourteen years, I have three full-fledged, syllable-slinging, chapter-book-reading readers. It's a little like when they learn to walk. And talk. And sleep through the night. Combined. But way better.
Time passing has its upsides.
Still. Summer. So much yet to do. Just today, I swung, on a dare, high enough to touch the trees with my toes. Crossed over a creek on a fallen tree, arms out, no branch-handholds, no cheating. Hopped on my bike not once but thrice, flip flops and tank top and no chill at all. We'll gobble up all we can, while we can.
Which, in our kitchen, seems to mean more corn. I've never been especially keen on corn, but corn in Ohio is salmon in Seattle: trite, cliché, completely fantastic. It works its way into most August meals, but there's one in particular I want to discuss. In fact, it's a two-fer, a condiment which gives rise to a salad. Both of which I can't stop gobbling.
Last week, while getting the week's groceries, I grabbed a corn salad sample, on impulse. It looked a wreck. I didn't expect much. It was so blindingly good, I snuck a second. And considered a third. Any more seemed unethical. I took the recipe card, instead.
The recipe was wonderfully simple: corn, pickled peppers, ricotta salata, plus a (tiny) ($8!!) jar (or two) of some fancypants harissa dressing business. The first three ingredients, I could do. The fourth: not so much. In part, because I would need at least ten, so huge, my hunger for more. In part, because: $8 for 1.4 ounces? And in part, I figured I could totally hack it.
So I did. And then, ate all the evidence.
Because, it turns out, when you toast cumin and coriander in a small skillet, then remove and toast almonds, and then toss these bits in a blender jar with a bit of garlic and warm aleppo pepper, and a glug of olive oil and a splash of vinegar, you create a condiment/paste/pesto/spread/dip/base thingy with no end of uses.
Also, a new staple.
Also, a new food group.
I mean, here's this crazy-amazing stuff that's toasty with almond and rich with olive oil and and intense and warm and heady-spicy, but interesting-spicy, not hot-spicy. Maybe a little hot-spicy. Maybe I thought, "This is like eating fireworks!" Which it was, if your idea of a rip-roaring Fourth is sparklers and smoke bombs. I'm a solid one-star girl, on the twenty-year path toward two-. If you like serious heat, seriously up the chili. Also, maybe, up the batch size.
Because I've yet to find anything this almond harissa crazy sauce doesn't suit. Swipe a cold crisp carrot through; no one can eat just six. Stir it into scrambled eggs, with or without ricotta, and/or fresh tomatoes, and/or wilted spinach, and you might find your week's lunch rut. Toss with hot boiled potatoes, or roasted potatoes, or roasted eggplant, or several blackened eggplants, their smoky soft insides livelied up by a ruddy spoonful or three.
Make turkey burgers. Until last week, I'd never made a turkey burger. Never eaten a turkey burger. Never understood the appeal or, frankly, the existence of turkey burgers. But Paper Towns (another Summer read; another strong recommend) had a line about a nice dinner of turkey burgers. One line. John Green will do that to a person. Make turkey burgers suddenly make sense. They were unexpectedly excellent. Possibly because mine was anointed with a serious smudge of the above. I've never understood ketchup, either. I see, now: it ought to be this.
I want very much to try it on fish, maybe mixed with soft butter and set on post-sear, to melt and season and sparkle. I plan to dollop it on soup, minestrone, lentil, maybe tomato? Come Fall, I plan to toss it with roasted, cubed sweet potatoes and warm chickpeas, maybe greens. And slather it under the skin of a roasting chicken. And spoon it into baked acorn squash halves.
I'm just warming up.
But for now, I'm content (read: giddy) to keep that first corn salad in heavy rotation. I loosen the paste with olive oil, shave in crisp sweet kernels, add peppers and cheese. Sauce on hand, it's a five-minute salad, the sort that soon becomes all you want to eat. Crisp and just-sweet and pickled and sharp and tweedy with salty-creamy cheese, and everywhere that kicky dressing, glowing, thrumming. You can't manage to find a forkful that's anything but a merry riot. Not unlike our garden. Not unlike our days. Not unlike Summer. Not bad, for now.
Almond Harissa Crazy Sauce
Aleppo pepper is a gorgeous chili, fruity, warm, not too hot. Available at Penzey's (under construction) and elsewhere. Please note: you will need a blender or food processor (or mortar, pestle, and patience). I suspect this would keep at least several weeks in the fridge. Three days is my record.
1 Tbs. whole coriander seeds
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
3/4 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled, roughly chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. aleppo pepper
1 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
few tablespoons warm water, as needed
In a small skillet, over low-medium heat, toast coriander and cumin seeds, shaking regularly, until fragrant, 1 minute. Remove to a small plate to cool. Place almonds in skillet, and toast, shaking occasionally, until slightly darkened and fragrant, 6-8 minutes. Place everything in the blender, save water, and blitz several minutes until homogenous and smooth, 3-4 minutes, pausing to poke about, now and again. Add warm water by the spoonful, as needed, to loosen and aid in the blending.
Corn Salad with Peppadews, Ricotta Salata + Crazy Sauce
with thanks to Whole Foods for two tiny sample cups
My Whole Foods stocks tiny pickled Peruvian peppers, which in addition to being tragically cute, and eminently poppable while making dinner, can be tossed in whole. Peppadews, those round red pickled peppers ubiquitous to olive bars everywhere, taste identical; just chop before adding. Grilled corn would be wonderful here, if you're the sort of person to throw a few cobs on the waning fire. Finally, this salad holds admirably, both at room temperature for the afternoon (picnics!), and for a day or two in the fridge (leftovers!). I love that in a salad.
1/3-1/2 cup crazy almond harissa sauce
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt + more to taste
4 cobs of corn
1 cup pickled peppers + a dribble of their liquid (optional)
1/2 cup chopped, fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, chives, oregano)
1 cup ricotta salata
On the large holes of a box grater, grate the ricotta salata. Set aside.
In a wide, shallow bowl, dollop the almond harissa sauce, add the olive oil and salt, and whisk to combine and loosen. Shave corn kernels directly into the bowl. Add chopped peppers, and herbs, if using. Toss gently, thoroughly with the almond harissa dressing, to coat. Add ricotta salata, and toss again, just to combine. Taste for seasoning, and adjust. At this point I often add a splash of the Peppadews' juices for brightness, a splash of olive oil, more salt, more sauce, etc. Play until everything sings.