Friday, August 23, 2013

The Treachery of Figs

What may seem like a well-oiled summer just plain isn't. I had plans - good plans, even, but as anyone who has spent a summer with their kids will understand, they didn't always end up the way I expected. Not that I'm complaining, because I'm not, it would just be nice to know ahead of time what was going to happen every day.
My summer plans got derailed about ten years ago when we bought this house. It was our first house,  we didn't know better, and as soon as we parked in front of it Sara saw the front porch on our quiet dead-end street and fell in love. Quaint, I think, was how we looked at it. It had major flaws, but it was a house that we thought we could make into our home. Now, of course, she'll tell you she hates it (which isn't entirely true, I hope) because nothing is quite big enough, or new enough, or works well, or looks nice - you get the idea. And strangest of all, it has developed a sort of black hole quality that we never expected. Why? Because no matter the weather, the cleanliness of the house, the time of day, or the mood we're in, people come. In droves. Most of the time, it's great... I loathe people, but love company.
So our door has been open for most of the summer, with kids from the neighborhood streaming in and out, and the occasional adult. They know the dogs, who don't even bother to get up anymore when they come in, they know where the gumball machine is (we've gone through 12 pounds of gumballs this summer), and they know they can stay until I get pissed off at someone. It's an uneasy balance. So aside from all of the random activities to keep the kids busy, I've spent a good amount of time alternating between getting bandages and ice packs for every kid in the neighborhood who gets hurt outside, and yelling at them for one reason or another. It's a love-hate thing. It's amazing and horrible all wrapped up in one big life-sized ball.
Amazing because there are days when I see them growing up right before my eyes, and I'm not sure exactly how to explain that. They make choices, friends, enemies and cupcakes. They organize and form packs. They have drama and elementary school sized life lessons, and there are days when they are so thankful I'm there that it floors me. Floors. Me. Those are the moments that I want to share with someone else so desperately that it feels like my skin is splitting when I can't, and those are the moments I wouldn't have any idea how to share if I could.
And horrible for the same reasons. It's so achingly hard to be the parent that I want to be all the time, to protect them and let them go at the same time, and to hold on to the time that I have. 'Bittersweet', someone said to me while we were talking about this summer, but that doesn't begin to cut it. It's torturous and back breaking work, because every problem they have becomes mine, and somehow they make it worthwhile... and I get the feeling that now that they're older they feel the same way. Some days I'm Bellerophon to them and some days Chimera, and they never know what they're going to get when they wake up. To be fair, it's not that dramatic... usually I'm just a guy.
I have the same problem with figs. I have two little trees in the back yard, and they're no small amount of work. No large amount of work either, but enough to be a welcome distraction. The problem is that it's and endless wait for them to change from little dusty green balls into luxurious purple teardrops, and when they're finally ready I still don't know what to expect. Sometimes they're full of earth and chalk, and other times the skin bursts from the slightest touch of the jagged edge of my teeth and the insides send tiny shivers down to my toes. They're exciting, though, because you never know what you're gonna get. Anyone can grow apples, but it just doesn't seem like any fun.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I Am The Archer, I Am The Sea

I feel like every time I post something here, I have to start by saying "it's been a while since I posted", or something like that... So from now on lets just assume I said that. It'll save me some trouble.
So I'm here. Got nothing, though.
You know how there are times when you have great stories? Hilarious ones, even? I get that a lot. On good days, every conversation leads to something. Work is insane, which helps. The kids are so relentlessly funny that there are times I need to get away from them for a minute so I can get a hold of myself... but it's like my own secret club these days. I haven't written much because I sort of don't want to jinx it. You'll have to come see for yourself.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Entered Into With Abandon

I woke up early. No particular reason, I certainly wasn't thinking about how old I'm getting - I just heard Sara stirring about, and that was it. It was five in the morning, and still dark, but I could see the frost rounding out the corners of the window since the yard lights were on next door. I haven't camped out in the cold in a while, but it's the first thing I thought of. There's something romantic about it, I think - waking up to your breath hovering in front of you, feeling the first bracing wave of air tighten your skin, and the slippery feel of wood smoke as you try to warm up again. It's easier in the summer, days spent outside don't have a sense of urgency attached to them, but in the cold it's all about survival... not to say that I've been at the brink of death outside, because I haven't, but in the cold there is a greater sense of purpose. But there I was, under the edge of the covers that Sara hadn't pulled onto her side yet, dreaming about the cold, and I needed to cook something.
I didn't need to eat something, mind you, just needed to cook it.
It's been a while. I laid there, toes dangling outside the sheets, and tried to figure out how long. I don't remember how it started, but it seems like years that I've been going through the motions, sharpening knives and starting fires because it's what I do. But right then, I was swirling in it again... and it's funny, I don't really think about food, I think about the process of food. I think about the way a really sharp knife holds on to a cutting board when it sinks in a little, like when it holds on to a bone as meat slips away from it. I think about raspberries melting under hot sugar, about the skin on pork bellies cracking under heat. I think about changing my mother's stollen recipe so that I can braid it into an Estonian Kringel. I think about buying salmon so that I can salt cure it with beets and black pepper... and I can't wait till my kids eat mushrooms so that I can carve little intertwined fish into the caps.
I think about the sound of peaches as they pull away from their pits, and the way firm tuna yawns away from the bone when it's trimmed. I think about tying bunches of asparagus with blanched spring onions and how raw honey feels on my cheeks as it dissolves. Crisp potato crusts, mother of pearl caviar spoons, wonton wrappers, lemongrass and pin bones. I dream of making poached eggs not because I want to eat them, but I like the process of a gently placing them into a simmering vortex just right, so the whites shudder from the heat and envelop the yolk in a swaddling blanket. I think of epic culinary failures, grand successes, and everything in between.
Most of all, in the morning air, I am unmanageably happy despite my cold feet, because for the first time in a long time, the work makes sense again. Before anyone is awake I slowly grind coffee beans and tamp them just so, whisk eggs with Dijon and Murray River pink salt, and warm my hands in the griddle smoke... and at work I think of coming home to softened cepes and starting something new.
And for weeks, despite the world's sincere effort to ruin my mood, I spend at least a few minutes of each day filled with absolute joy because of the simplest things... and at the moment, a few minutes is all I need.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Savage Fur

We have squirrels. They aren't flying, red, or black - they're just squirrels. When the kids were younger, they would stop whatever they were doing to shout "squirrel!" every time they saw one. Which, as you might imagine, was every minute or so.
About ten years ago, outside of our old apartment, I saw a dead squirrel in the road, and later a live baby squirrel who had escaped it's nest scrawled across the pine needles next to the road. I went inside, couldn't get the image of it out of my head, and went back outside to collect it in a shoe box. Once it was inside the house, I realized that I had no idea how to raise a baby squirrel, didn't have any tiny clothes and I wasn't lactating squirrel milk - so I was stuck. The idea of taking it back outside again seemed far more cruel than never taking it in to begin with, so the baby squirrel and I sat down at the dining room table and mulled it over.
After looking around a bit, I found (in the yellow pages, of all things, which shows you how long ago it was) an animal shelter about 20 miles away that was foolish enough to accept orphaned squirrels. Problem was, they were closing when I finally got them on the phone, and I had to keep the squirrel overnight. "Pedialyte," they said, "and an eyedropper. That should keep it OK until tomorrow." This is before I had kids, keep in mind. Beer, I had. Leftover pizza. An impressive mustard collection. I also had a mannequin that I painted blue. It had a clock in it's stomach. It was awesome.
Right, the squirrel. So I went to CVS and found some pedialyte, which comes either unflavored or flavored... unfortunately none of the flavors were "Nut" or "Part Of A Knish Some Drunk Guy Left In The Park" so I went with unflavored.
Now, I don't know how many of you have ever tried to feed a baby squirrel pedialyte, and maybe there was a health class video that I missed, but it's pretty hard - I assumed because a glass eyedropper didn't feel like a squirrel nipple and I didn't smell squirrelish, but it could have been anything. They're unbearably cute though - which is the problem. Once you pick up a baby squirrel there isn't really any turning back. They have the beginnings of fur, which is unspoiled by weather and toil. Their paws are still pink and turned inwards, and with each breath their sides shudder and inflate like a paper lantern, and they look completely and utterly helpless. It's a losing battle, picking up a baby squirrel, is what I'm saying.
He lived, in case you're wondering. The next morning I drove to the shelter and dropped him off, and they gave me a case number in case I wanted to call and check on his progress, which I didn't, because he was a squirrel. I did anyway, though. I couldn't help it.
And now we have squirrels. Everywhere. We grow pears, peaches, plums, and figs - and they eat them. We carve pumpkins and they crawl inside to gnaw their way out. They eat our birdseed, make nests in our gutters, chatter back and forth in intense squirrel arguments, and chase each other in tight circles until we let the dogs out. They look in my windows. I'm fairly certain that there has been some squirrel conversation at some point or another, and they heard that I'm the sort of guy who would like to have a shitload of squirrels hanging around. Which I am most certainly not, and I think I'm going to need some sort of plan to get them the hell out of here, like somehow getting a neighbor to rescue a baby squirrel or living inside an electrified dome. I wish there was a way I could tell them that they're slowly driving me mad, because I fear one day I'll be old and wrinkly, and die while shaking my fist at them on the front porch... and they'll mourn my passing by surrounding me with piles of horse chestnuts and tiny grey hairs. And then they'll eat all my pears.

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