Sometimes, the best pleasures are the simplest.
This morning, when I woke up, the sun had already risen. The sky was high and clear with light, washing everything clean with its clarity. After months of waking to darkness and struggling to school in lavender light at best, this morning opened my entire body wide. Yesterday, my dear friend Meri and I took a long walk around my neighborhood, marveling at the warmth of the air along our arms, which were bare against the sun for the first time in months. We heard someone running his lawnmower along the grass of his front yard, from blocks away. We both said, “It’s spring.”
I was punch-drunk on spring air.
It has been a long, dark winter. And as much as I tried to be a good Buddhist, and remind myself that there needs to be darkness and cold to make us appreciate the warmth and light in the world, I had to remind myself far too often for my taste. In other words? Winter just plain stunk this year. Rain, unceasing, cold down my back, the grey slatting light never enough to quell my hunger for sunlight (or even enough to take decent photographs most days), long mornings of darkness, more darkness at 3:30 in the afternoon, everyone logey or depressed, being surrounded by people at half-masts of energy and exuberance, nothing but root vegetables, an almost insatiable desire for baked goods, and all that damn rain — this was the winter. Try as I might, I just don’t like the winter as much as I do spring and summer.
But today, it’s spring. Officially, spring. Boys are bouncing basketballs against the sidewalk as they walk home. People’s chests are opening outward, like buds unfurling into flowers. The Seattle sky stays light in the west until nearly seven now. There are barbeques burning in the afternoons. People’s faces have opened into easy smiles again. I’ve turned off the heaters. My entire body wants to say “ahhhhh.….….…..”
Soon, the farmers’ markets will rouse to life, in all my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle. On the weekends, I’ll be able to buy mushrooms from local farmers. Baby peas will appear in my green salads. Tender artichokes, muscular arugula, and then the first batch of spring goat cheese — they will all be here soon.
On Friday afternoon, I walked around the Market (that’s Pike Place to those of you who don’t live in Seattle), grinning at being back. Somehow, during the winter, I never make it down to the Market. But in the spring and summer, I’m there three times a week, shopping there instead of the grocery store. On Friday afternoon, the warm air propelled me along, across the cobblestones, past the long tables filled with buckets of tulips, down the walkways crowded with the first tourists of the season to my favorite produce stand: Sosio’s.
This highstall is buried deep in the Market, past the tentative steps of most of the tourists. The people who work there know how to slap paper bags against their thighs until they smack open. They also offer the first tastes of the season to anyone who walks by, then stops. Most of the time, I go there without a plan of what to cook that night. I simply say, “What’s good right now? What will be good tonight?” Then, they let me nibble and sample, letting early spring plums ramble down my throat until I cannot stand it anymore. I need some.
On Friday, when I asked what was best that day, the friendly man serving me simply pointed to the strawberries. Full as pregnant pauses, more lurid red than anything in nature the past four months, and dotted with seeds that were destined to stick in my teeth, these strawberries looked splendid. I had to have some. I took a bite, expecting pale fruit and only a hint of strawberry taste. I nearly cried when an authentic sweetness came rushing to my tongue instead. With subtle warmth, a high clear taste, as rushing sweet as a first kiss at the end of the evening these were strawberries.
It’s really spring.
Throbbing with spring green taste and the mellow sweetness of balsamic vinegar, these wonderful soft bites never fail to delight me. Recipes don’t have to be complicated to satisfy, completely. This time of year, I roast asparagus in good olive oil and balsmic vinegar nearly every day. I nibble up the long spears, hot out of the oven, as an afternoon snack. If, somehow, I manage to restrain myself and save some for the next day, I slice them up for salads with slivers of parmesan cheese, or toss them in egg white scrambles with smoked salmon. Somehow, roasted asparagus is spring to me. This year, I’m going to gobble it all up.
one bunch of asparagus, of medium thickness
one tablespoon olive oil
one tablespoon balsamic vinegar
one teaspoon kosher salt
one teaspooon cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°. Set a large pot with an inch or two of water to boil.
Cut off the thick, woody ends of the asparagus and rinse each of the spears. When the water comes to full, roiling boil, throw the asparagus spears in the water. Let them cook for thirty to forty seconds, no more. (This is also called blanching.) Lift them out of the water.
Immediately toss the asparagus spears with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. (And honestly, the measurements above are only a guide. Toss them all in to your taste. Don’t overdo the balsamic vinegar, however. You want the depth and unexpected sweetness of it, but not the acrid tang of too much vinegar.) Place the coated spears on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. Place this in the hot oven on the top rack.
Cook the asparagus for about ten minutes, or until they are sizzling audibly and have become soft enough that a fork will go in easily. Don’t overcook, or they will wither into themselves. Let them be a vivid spring green. Eat, immediately.