The last day's lunches have been packed. Graduation clothes laid out. Year-end open houses ogled over. Final field trips attended, portfolios applauded, parties in triplicate planned and held. Tears shed and snorts snorted and sighs deeply exhaled, in the whiplash-wild roller coaster that is every school year's end.
Papers and notebooks and art and all the abundant school shrapnel three students create over nine months? I'm looking at it. Here. There. Everywhere. It's a very theater-in-the-round experience, only more college-ruled than thespian. It has arrived via a steady stream of bags, boxes, broken binders and unabashed heaps, since Monday. It won't linger any longer than July. Maybe August. You have my word.
Teacher treats have been baked; gifts wrapped; cards written; a thousand attempts at thank you, always and again, insufficient. When language fails, bake. A brownie's worth a thousand words.
New board games have been vetted, mastered, and adored. Thousand-piece puzzles, commenced. Blanket forts, built. Stuffed animals, schooled. Epic, itty bitty paper worlds, created. Entire days' play, packed into the hours after 3 p.m. It helps that our days are sixteen hours long.
BTW, we lost bedtime. I'm sure it's around here, somewhere. I've searched high and low, to and through 10 p.m. No dice. Totally MIA. If you see it around, would you, you know, send it my way? I kinda miss it.
The drawing table looks as if we are already in deepest, darkest summer, absolutely demolished. Repeatedly. Maddeningly. Wonderfully. Just generally impressively. Armageddon occurs there at least thrice before dinner. On the dining table, also. Kitchen table, too. Every flat surface, actually, that isn't already piled high with school stuff, is chaos, covered in Making. I try to hold my ground, maintain some semblance of standards, but it is the ultimate losing battle. Creativity will not be corralled.* I have a love/hate relationship with this reality.
*No more by time, than by space. Excerpt from a recent conversation.... Child (upon being asked to get ready for bed): "But I'm BEING CREATIVE!!!!! Are you saying you don't think creativity is a GOOD thing?!" Me: "I love creativity. Adore it. Right up until 8 p.m."
Fresh summer journals are at hand and on standby. An order of 12 dozen Ticonderogas, placed. Markers, replenished. Paints, in place. New card stock, ordered. The entire art cupboard, recently rehabbed.
Wait. Hold up. Something's coming back to me... Something about making a bed and lying in it?
Summer Reading Programs have been begun. Summer weeding programs, also. My garden help expectations have diminished with each passing year. Rather, shifted. Toward making the garden first and foremost a place of discovery, and surprise, and nibbling. (See: berry installation program.) I take on more of the maintenance, in exchange for them taking on more wonder. It's a good trade, and I try to remind myself to drink of that vessel, also. It's tricky, that bit. Weeds spring eternal.
But I find every year our outdoor life improves, as we make more ways to explore. And that this joy becomes ballast for the occasional work order. Ten minutes of deadheading. With clippers. Clippers! Clippers make pretty much everything awesome.
Eating out of the garden has begun in earnest. Chives, parsley, cilantro, radishes, strawberries. Honeysuckle galore. I find heaps of orange blossoms all over the house, trumpets sucked clean of their secret honey. All last week, new nightly blends of "garden tea" were brewed up before bedtime, custom mixes of shiso, thyme, mint, sage, flowers and more. Our egg salad improves immeasurably, come June, emboldened by every herb the garden offers, plus radishes, five minutes from the ground. Salsa becomes so much easier when I can step outside and snip-snip-snip the cilantro. I think this may be my definition of luxury.
The bees are back in force, and famously busy. Each one I see is so loaded with saffron pollen I worry whether they're flightworthy. (Delta would totally make them check their bags.) Garden 1.0 is history, the final iris, exquisite peonies, the fading daisies. Garden 2.0 is well underway, a flurry of flowers whose names I don't know. Everything's in, everything's growing, at rates that put the tropics to the test. Even the nasturtium and sunflowers, which we've tried to grow every. single. year. And failed, every. single. year. They look (*KNOCK ON WOOD*) to be surviving. I won't push it with thriving.
The Spring's final read-aloud is nearly finished. The summer's first read-aloud, stealthily begun. (Hello, Milo! Hello, Whether Man!! Hellooooo, cardboard Tollbooth [highway not included]!!!) All those years of 3 a.m. feedings and nappy blow-outs and mid-day meltdowns, when naps were too-soon extinct but constitutions not yet stiff and strong? I maintain that the chance to re-read childhood favorites is our karmic payback. And between you and me? I think we come out ahead.)
Existing projects have arrived at A Good Stopping Point and been put on hold, on the theory not-quilts cannot be finished in my few remaining uninterrupted minutes. Also, the next step looks like this: ??? (!) So the obvious next best step is to start something else. And so! New projects have been (dubiously) begun! Because I'll have so much free time in coming months. Time, especially, to tackle complex instructions, new skills, uncharted territory. Yup. You bet. (Hope is like weeds.)
(What's that? How's the unproven project going? That seam ripper up there rang your alarm bells? Why, swimmingly! Thanks ever so for asking. I've only repeated the same step three times! Which is pretty impressive, if you are me.)
We've been coasting all week on old favorites, Dutch babies, pancakes, biscuits, warm bread, red sauce, crepes, steak. Comfort food to soothe tattered, tired souls. Familiar fuel to power through the finish line. Though I have devoted some time to researching the all-important, impending question: which doughnut for Friday? I am torn between Alton's yeasted, raised classics and these chocolate-topped Bavarian Creams. (Because: June 5? National Doughnut Day?!?!)
Also, I have three cups of cooked quinoa in the fridge. It's official. We are poised for Summer. And so, so ready.
That quinoa is earmarked specifically for this salad, which I plan to put in heavy rotation in coming months. It's everything I love and look for in a meal: vivid, fresh, bold, swaggering with flavor, giddy with texture, abundant, generous, and pretty well instantaneous in assembly. Especially if you do as I do, and anticipate hunger striking inconveniently, instantly. Because hunger never creeps; not mine, anyway. And patience is not my virtue. And so, I keep greens on hand, and scads of nuts toasted, and cook extra veg, and while I'm at it, put a pot of quinoa on the hob to burble alongside whatever's for supper. The result? Virtually no extra work, and a cheat-y fast track to my favorite happy meal.
But yada yada convenience. Let's talk content. I start this salad with the guts, the proverbial meat, The Good Stuff. Into a big bowl, I add edamame beans, toasted slivered almonds, sometimes scallions, cooked quinoa, and cooked and cooled broccoli. Let's pause there. I adore cool cooked broccoli, alone or embellished. Sprinkled with coarse salt, squeezed over with lemon, straight from the fridge, any/all of the above. Cooked well, by which I mean al dente, even to soft, never to army, broccoli cooked and chilled takes on a tender sweetness never evident while hot. I always make extra. I always inhale it. I rarely show enough restraint to get it to the salad bowl.
Shame on me. Because chilled steamed broccoli is brilliant in the salad bowl. That tender sweet adds heft and meat to all manner of mixed grains and greens. Better, each tree's nappy top drinks up a dressing like nobody's business, going rich and sparkly and whatever else is lighting up your dressing of the moment. The broccoli bits become little flavor bombs, scattered throughout the bowl.
These bits get drizzled with whatever combination of acid and oil you're crushing on, at the moment. Lime, coriander and olive oil. Lemon, parmesan and olive oil. I'm still hooked on this jazzy riff, all funked up on fish sauce. Though I'm thinking of swapping in rice vinegar, sesame oil, and a smattering of seeds. You know the drill. Choose from your arsenal. Give it all a good glug and toss and watch and admire that quinoa and broccoli thirsty it up, like the true salad champs they are. To this heady mix, add a few cups of fresh arugula, gently biting, and toss again. You've now spread the wealth. A throw of feta, for saline twang, a final toss, and you're looking at lunch.
And oh wow, what a lunch. Salty, sharp, tender, brisk, nutty, sweet, smart, and really, I'm just getting started. The glossy jade soy beans add so much joy. The broccoli, so much bold jolly. The quinoa dances amidst it all, like edible earthy excellent confetti. It's knife and fork food of the very best sort, and fuel enough to feed an entire afternoon of swimming and weeding and making and cleaning and adventures untold and not yet imagined. Food for when you want to be poised and ready for whatever awaits. For summer. For always.
Broccoli Edamame Arugula Salad
serves 1, with room to grow
Play with this one. I could see tomatoes here, or cilantro, or ricotta salata, or the plush/crunch of cubed avocado and pumpkin seeds for a glorious, all-green situation. Yesterday, I added minced preserved lemon, a few teaspoons. I highly, highly recommend this deviation. And although I could see asparagus or green beans or any number of other tender green cooked vegetables, I particularly adore broccoli, here, for the way its "treetops" drink up the dressing.
I make this mostly from leftovers and prepared goods, rendering assembly the stuff of minutes, and can't recommend this path highly enough. Cook up a cup of quinoa on Sunday; steam extra broccoli; toast a tray of slivered almonds. Come lunchtime, your meal will be a meager matter of dump and toss. Hands down, my favorite kind of cooking.
3 cups baby arugula
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup shelled edamame, defrosted
1 heaping cup cooked, cooled broccoli
1 scallion, thinly sliced *or* 1 Tbs. red onion, minced (optional)
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup good feta, crumbled
+ vinaigrette (see below)
You will need 3-4 Tablespoons of your house vinaigrette, for this salad. I've been crushing hard on this one, funked up with fish sauce, though any basic oil + acid combo will do. Try: 2 Tbs. olive oil + 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice + 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, pepper and grated parmesan optional. Or: 2 Tbs. olive oil + 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice + 1/2 tsp. crushed coriander seeds + 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. For any: pour all ingredients into a lidded jar; close; shake madly; apply.)
Prep Veg (up to 3 days in advance):
Cook quinoa, as at end of this post. Fluff finished quinoa, then cool completely. Defrost frozen edamame by running under hot water until tender to the core, 1-2 minutes. Drain and let dry. Pull last night's leftover broccoli from the fridge, and cut into 1/2" dice. Alternately, cut 1 small crown of broccoli into 1" trees, and steam over well-salted water for 7 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, cool, and cut to 1/2" pieces.
In a medium, shallow bowl, add cooked and cooled broccoli, edamame, almonds, scallions (if using), and cooked quinoa. Shake vinaigrette vigorously, then drizzle 2-3 Tablespoons over the "chunky bits". Toss gently, thoroughly, to combine, and to familiarize the "bits" with the dressing. Add arugula on top of the big bits, then toss gently, thoroughly, to combine and "dress" the leaves. Add crumbled feta, then toss once or twice again, to just combine. Taste, add more dressing if needed, and eat generously. You've a summer ahead!