Sometimes you catch a glimpse of what your life might be like someday.
This weekend, the Chef’s brother Kevin came into town for a day, on his way to Whistler for an avalanche control conference. His daughter, the Chef’s lovely niece Kelly, drove up from Eugene with her long-time boyfriend James to spend the day with us as well.
Who am I kidding? Really, they were all there to meet Little Bean.
I understand. She’s hard to resist. With her cooing alone she could conquer the world. These soft sounds rush from her lips and we are mesmerized. She smiles and everything stops. If she giggles, we talk about it all day long. And in between those dazzling displays of babyhood, Little Bean furrows her brow when she’s confused by why our mouths are moving and these sounds coming out. She cranes her head to follow the light in the room. She eats, she swings, she sighs with delight when we dance with her, she listens to stories like nobody’s business.
She is, we know, like all babies at nine weeks old.
We don’t care. We think she’s tops.
And so did the Chef’s family. Once Kevin arrived, we spent the day playing pass the baby, from one set of loving arms to the next. Hours passed, in conversation and concentrated staring at that little face, as they do when I’m at home alone with her, all day.
Every evening I look up and think, “Wait, how did it get to be 7 pm again?”
(Between caring for this being I love beyond words, and reading political blogs far too often when she’s asleep, and attempting to write every evening — the Chef and I do have a manuscript due to the publishers at the end of December after all — my days are full full full. Each day feels three minutes long, in the best way.)
And so the day rushed by too fast, once again.
But one of the moments of the morning has stayed with me the most.
James and Kelly are more centered and compassionate, funny and loving, at 25 and 24 than most people in their 40s. They are both incredible athletes — skiing in the winter, trail running the rest of the year — and more fit than I will ever be. And they are both without a stitch of arrogance. If I were their age, I would hate them. They have it so together.
But they both grew up in small towns, in grounded families. They were both taught to respect other people, to listen deeply, to not always assume they are right.
So we’re standing around the kitchen, talking about food. What else? We had just eaten pancakes, with Skagit River bacon, our fingers still sticky from jam. Thick mugs of coffee sat on the table. Little Bean was napping in her swing.
The Chef and I proposed we go to the farmers’ market, even though the rain slated down outside. Kelly and James had just discovered the Saturday market in Eugene, and they spoke about local produce in the tone of the recently converted. We all talked about the joy of developing relationships with farmers, knowing where our meat comes from, and the taste of fresh food. Oh, the taste of a peach just picked that morning.
At this point, James’ face grew soft with remembering. He talked about going out to the garden of his family’s New Hampshire home, and picking green beans and eating them, snapped out of his hand. He recalled the strawberries, the fresh vegetables that made his little-kid mouth water. There was no sense of obligation there. He actively, avidly, loved the food from his parents’ garden.
“And my dad used to make fried green tomatoes,” he said, in this voice filled with longing. He’d dip them in egg, coat them in flour, and fry them up for us.” On top, a dollop of melted cheddar cheese.
That did it. The Chef and I knew what we wanted to make for dinner that night. Along with steelhead salmon, shrimp cocktail, roasted potatoes, and salad, we had to have fried green tomatoes.
There were so many lovely moments from that oh-too-brief visit with the Chef’s family. But it’s that moment that has stayed with me the most. James, in remembering, was no longer in our kitchen. He was walking in his family’s garden, a little kid again, feeling safe and exploring, eating real food and loving his life.
I’ve thought about it for days. That’s the way we’d like Little Bean to look back on her childhood someday.
We have so many hopes for our daughter. We’re trying not to turn them into expectations, because that only creates disappointments. But we can hope.
I hope she never does that nose-dive of self-confidence that seventh-grade girls go through sometimes. I hope she doesn’t pretend to play dumb just to fit in.
I hope she always asks questions, never takes anything at face value, even our opinions, and resists the urge to give in to shiny statements and attack ads.
I hope she learns how to throw a mean curve ball, and leaves the boys amazed with her triples over the third-base line.
We both hope she learns how to love humanity, even when it’s hard to do sometimes.
We have so many hopes. That’s part of what fills the days, isn’t it? The gorgeous attention required to be in the moment with her. And the endless possibilities we can dream for her.
But in an elemental sense, I think what I’d like for her most is that, at 25, she’s as kind and clear as those kids are, and in remembering the food she ate as a child, her face grows soft with remembering.
We really need to learn how to garden.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
You can’t really call this a recipe. I’m sure everyone has a favorite way of using those green tomatoes that never went red at the end of the summer. But maybe this will just be a reminder to go grab them from your tomato plants bent over from the weight of the season, and make some of these for dinner.
green tomatoes (or orange or red, if you wish), as many as you want to eat
salt and pepper, pinches of each
good olive oil
buttermilk (just for proportions, we used 1/4 cup buttermilk to 2 eggs)
P.A.N white cornmeal (the same kind you use for arepas)
grits (we like Anson Mills)
your favorite cheddar cheese (oh, the jalapeno one from Estrella Family creamery)
Turn on the broiler.
Slice the tomatoes (or cut the plum ones in half). Bring a skillet to heat. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.
Dip each tomato slice in the beaten egg-buttermilk mixture. Dredge the slice in the white cornmeal, and then the grits. Put the slice in the skillet.
Repeat with as many tomatoes as you can fit in the pan.
When you have browned both sides of the tomatoes, put a little cheddar cheese on top of each slice and slide the skillet under the broiler. Watch it closely.
Eat them up. Yum.