Summer slowly seeps into autumn, creeping like a child on tip-toes. The light fades and simmers, so softly that we hardly notice the changes. Every day, a new revelation.
That’s not true, actually.
For me, it has always felt like summer Summer SUMMER! for three months, and then — boom — it’s fall. No warning, and no real fun, either. In my mind, summer started in the second week of June, and ended right after Labor Day.
You see, for most of my adult life, I was a school teacher.
Granted, the start of school brought satisfying tasks. Brand-new pencils, the tips untouched by paper yet. Blank notebooks with spines ready to be cracked. The eternal hope of an organized life, the fresh start of September.
But for years, I dreaded the end of August. Life changed, abruptly, at Labor Day. The back-to-school ads on the radio made me groan and want to throw the covers over my head. 6 am loomed. I longed for summer to last longer.
Now, however, my year no longer begins in September. This is the first summer in nearly a decade where I have known that I am not going back to school. If I even listen to back-to-school ads now, I giggle a little, still feeling like a kid playing hooky. Friends of mine returned to school two days ago, for dreaded all-day faculty meetings. At 8 in the morning, I am just starting to stretch my arms above my head and then turning toward the Chef next to me in bed. Usually, I go back to sleep after kissing him.
And it was only this year that I realized, with a shock – summer is not my favorite time of the year.
Oh, I’m happy to be alive any time I can. I’m not turning down 70 degrees and light like liquid in expansive blue skies until late in the evening. I’m also not turning up my nose at fat raspberries that dissolve on the tongue, plump blueberries that burst in the mouth, or nectarines so ripe that the juice runs down my chin. The world feels utterly alive, all the time, in summer.
But this summer, I realized, it sometimes feels like too much.
When I lived in Manhattan, I walked the streets like a woman on a mission. I ate up every experience I could, spread my arms out wide, and laughed so loudly that the sound bounced off all the buildings. Never once did I forget that I was living in New York. That city was as much of a personality in my life as any friend. I loved it.
But I was also exhausted.
Every evening, I had the slightly panicky feeling that I was missing it. What was it? That great ineffable connection with all that was dazzling and fantastic. I lived with the knowledge that, even if I did go to a Broadway play one evening, a grungy music club in the East Village the next, and the latest great restaurant the night after that, I had already missed 5000 opportunities to experience the heart of the city. Honestly, I felt guilty if I just stayed home and watched television in my pajamas, my spoon touching the bottom of the Ben and Jerry’s carton. Eventually, the pressure grew too much. I wanted to move to a city small enough that I could wrap my arms around it, and walk from one end to the other in a long afternoon.
Seattle, here I am.
Summer feels like living in Manhattan. Everything is possible. And there’s no way to do it all. We should have gone hiking more often. Or at all. Oh, and camping. I’d love to go camping with the Chef. We didn’t make it to the coast this year. Luckily, I have my entire life with him.
But in summer, even the vegetables are so bounteous that they feel a little dizzying. Eggplants, their purple skins taut around the flesh beneath it. Should I make roasted eggplant salad? Ratatouille? Baba ganoush? Tomatoes only come around once a year, and now that I only eat in season, I really should eat them every day. Tomato soup? Slow-roasted tomatoes? Canning pounds of them to put away against the winter? Sauce for gluten-free linguine, with a splash of Chianti?
The funniest discovery about summer? I miss cooking. During these powerfully perfumed days, I don’t want to turn on the oven. I nibble on fresh tomatoes with sea salt, crumble goat cheese on salads, and live on homemade hummus. When the Chef and I eat dinner at 11 pm, we generally chew on an assemblage of tastes, rather than full meals. Other than the endless parade of crisps I have been making with fresh fruits – and our wedding cake – I haven’t baked a thing in nearly three months.
I miss braising meats, on low heat for long hours. I miss mashed potatoes, knobbly vegetables, and eating soup as a way of staving off the cold. Misty rain, cooler evenings, and butternut squash? Bring it on.
And now that I have moved away from the lockstep schedule of teaching, I realize that the idea of four seasons is simply poppycock. (Really, every three weeks is a different season around here.) It’s no longer summer here, but it’s not entirely autumn. It’s summerautumn. The light gleams a bit more weakly in the evenings. The tips of green leaves are tinged sunset-orange. And there are red-skinned apples on the green grass.
Before I started hanging out at farmers’ markets and eating food when it ripened, I thought apples arrived in September. (Apple for the teacher.) But our apples started plopping on the ground just after my birthday, the first week in August. Right now, the entire tree is lit up by clusters of bright red globes. And – with no exaggeration, I can tell you – there are about 150 apples on the ground around our trees.
When I grew up near Los Angeles, walking in bare feet on hot concrete, you never could have told me about my life today. I would have been astonished to think that the adult me could walk out her back door in the early afternoon, walk on cool green grass toward a gnarled apple tree, and pick up baskets of fallen fruit. Twenty feet from her door.
I can’t keep up. Since we leave for our honeymoon next Friday (excuse my while I let out a little squeal – wheeeeee!), I’ve had to let go of all the hopes of jars of applesauce, apple pies for all my friends, and preserving apple butter for presents for Christmas.
Just like the leaves on those trees, I’m going to let go soon. It’s nearly autumn. The light is fading. I can only do so much.
I once thought that apples were the most pedestrian fruit, the fallback when nothing else was at the store. But my god, the taste of these apples, just off the tree. A crisp skin, a rush of apple sweetness, a tart poke at the back of the mouth, and the satisfying chew of crunch and flesh and apple pap that disappears after several chews.
The taste of these apples, in the early afternoon, satisfies me far more than neat rows of new pencils ever did.
Apple Ginger Sorbet, from David Lebovitz’s book The Perfect Scoop
I know that I have extolled the virtues of David Lebovitz here before, sung his praises on multiple occasions, and even accepted his marriage proposal, long ago. (I think the Chef is still a little jealous about that one.) But seriously, I will never be able to stop talking about how marvelous he is. People, he’s an international sweet sensation.
One of my favorite memories of this summer is the day I drove David all around Seattle. He was in town to promote The Perfect Scoop, by doing a cooking demonstration at Sur la Table and stopping at Theo Chocolate to sign books and taste truffles. (Have you tried the basil truffle yet? Why not? And by the way, even though they do make a bread and chocolate bar in their factory, almost all their other chocolate is gluten-free. And delicious.) In between the public events, he and I ate sushi together, drank pretty good espressos, lay in the grass under a tree at Greenlake and talked back and forth with our eyes closed, and ate dinner at Impromptu with Adam, Molly, and Tea. A spectacular day, to be sure.
Why have I not shared this with you yet? Well, the Chef and I were married about a week later. That seemed to take over. And see what I mean about summer? So much bounty.
But I am here to tell you, emphatically – buy The Perfect Scoop. You don’t need an ice cream maker, you won’t need much money, and you will never make all the recipes in one summer. Believe me, I have tried.
Every one of them, however, is magnificent. Including this apple sorbet.
4 red-skinned apples
2 cups Riesling or Gweurztraminer
1-inch, piece of fresh ginger
2/3 cup sugar
Preparing the apples. Cut all the apples into chunks. You can even leave on the peels and cores!
Cooking the apples and ginger. Put the cut-up apples into a saucepan. Add the wine (I like a crisp Riesling here, myself). Crush the piece of ginger, or slice it into large chunks. Cover the pan and bring it all to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow the apples to simmer for 15 minutes, or until they are tender.
Straining the apples. In small batches, pass the apples through a fine-mesh sieve, into a large bowl. Push firmly to extract all the juice from the apple pulp. (Some of the pulp will pass into the bowl. That’s fine. It will add texture.) Throw out the peels and remnants of apples.
Adding the sugar. Add the sugar. Stir. When it has dissolved, stop stirring.
Making the sorbet. Chill the mixture until it is entirely cold. Add the liquid to your ice cream maker and let it run until the sorbet is done. (If you want, you can pull the sorbet just before it is hard, and put it into the freezer this way. Somehow, this makes the sorbet creamier.
Makes about 1 quart.