Sunlight. An open book about to be picked up again. A hot cup of coffee. A toddler playing happily by herself. Still in our pajamas at nearly noon.
This must be vacation.
For five full and loving days, Danny, Little Bean, and I were in Arizona, visiting Danny’s parents. They doted on their granddaughter, she babbled happily in their presence, and we sat back and enjoyed the moments.
And the sun. People, it was 73° most of the days we were there. I sat on the back porch and drank iced tea, about 3 gallons of it. Little Bean played with gravel and bubble wands and sidewalk chalk. We rode around in a golf cart on quiet cul de sacs with her, and she thought we had invented the best thing ever. We watched the mountains grow pink in the sunset. We sat at the dining room table, the four of us together after she had gone to bed, empty plates in front of us, talking until it was time for sleep. At 9:30.
Oh god, it was so good to do so little.
It has been a busy and sometimes dark hard winter around here. Harder than I have wanted to share. Flying to Arizona, being bathed in light, and taking time away from the computer? Yes please.
Waking up in the morning and seeing that clear light behind white curtains woke me up than drinking coffee. Making breakfast in the kitchen, with all that light streaming in, felt like a slow moment. Watching that high light find the cracks in the wall and illuminating rocks made me feel much better. Even screwdrivers are beautiful in this light.
Of course, Arizona has a much different climate than Washington. We’re still eating leeks and kale, dreaming of English peas. But the farmers’ market in Oro Valley splashed color into our sepia-toned eyes. Green, green, more green — orange!
We couldn’t resist the strawberries. Little Bean ate most of them, her face stained with smears of seeds and a red grin. I could have bought every one of those jars of pickled things and homemade jams.
There is no decadence like being able to buy fresh citrus from the farmer who picked it from his tree that morning.
Most of all, however, we felt loved. There’s nothing like the comfort of family.
Danny’s mother, Rosemary, made sure her kitchen was safe for me. She baked me gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and put them in a separate cookie jar. She made me two loaves of bread, one whole grain and the other cinnamon raisin, from mixes. She labeled a plastic cutting board with my name and kept one knife set apart for me. She even made a butter container for me, so I wouldn’t find any surprise crumbs in my toast.
That is love.
We didn’t do much. There wasn’t any need. Danny’s parents are in good shape, but they are in their late 70s and early 80s. Reading the entire paper in the morning, doing the crossword by the afternoon, planning and cooking meals, watching a basketball game on tv, a nap, a little walk, and time for dinner. Conversation, then time for bed.
Sometimes I dream of the day when I am retired and can live, simply.
One day, however, we did go to the Tucson zoo. Little Bean stood on her tiptoes in excitement, to show the rhinos to her daddy. She cooed and squealed, her eyes growing wide at the giraffes and elephants. All the animals she sees in books are real? Over and over, she ran back for her grandmother, tugging at her leg to share something new.
It was, as Rosemary likes to say, a grand day.
The time to climb onto the airplane back to Seattle came far too quickly. It turns out that taking five days away from work has left me 38 weeks behind. Never mind. It’s worth it.
And when I start to feel the old stress climbing my neck, I look at this photograph: Little Bean eating the strawberries offered by her grandmother.
This love, this moment, for me, is the only thing that matters.
Hot Crab Dip, adapted from the recipe files of Rosemary Ahern
While we were in Arizona, Rosemary was kind enough to let us raid her recipe drawer. The small drawer to the right of the stove is filled with cards with recipes written by hand, dessert ideas cut out from magazines, and tried-and-true meals made from Junior League cookbooks and church publications. It was a treasure trove.
I wrote down a bunch of them to make for this site. How could I resist something called Scarlet O’Horseradish dressing? More than novelty names, these recipes had the dog-eared edges and scuffed ink appearance of something made over and over again.
You know, sometimes we’re all about the new. Not just the two of us keeping this site, but all of us who write about food. How many times can we write about meatloaf? Or scrambled eggs? So we make up new recipes and leave the simple stuff to our stoves. Except, sometimes the simplest foods are the best.
The last night we were in Arizona, Chuck and Jackie came over for cocktail hour. Chuck and Danny’s dad, Jerry, have been friends since they were in kindergarten. I’m not kidding — they have been friends for 78 years. They have somehow lived in the same area at the same time, all their lives, from Iowa to Colorado to Arizona. After all that time together, they know each other as well as the most familiar meal. And yet, when Chuck and Jackie are due over for drinks and food, we all bustle around the house, preparing, making everything ready for these dear friends. We sat in the living room, sharing stories and talking about the weather. On the table was spicy hummus and crackers, cheese sticks, and this hot crab dip.
“I always love this dip, Rosemary,” Jackie said, as she leaned forward for more. We all agreed. I don’t know how many dozens of times Rosemary has made this dip, made with canned crab and mayonnaise from a jar. Every time, however, it has made people happy.
The best food sure doesn’t have to be fancy. We think you’ll like this too.
6 ounces cream cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (homemade mayo is best, but the one from a jar is fine too)
12 ounces crabmeat (fresh is best, but you can use canned crab if you can’t find fresh)
1/2 cup fine-diced onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Beat the cream cheese until is whipped smooth. (You can use a food processor for this.)
Stir in all the remaining ingredients.
Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof dish. Bake until it is warm and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Makes 2 cups.