For years, I’ve tried to treat the seasons with balanced attention. Like a mother who tries to love all her children equally, I work to find the best from fall through spring. Winter is dark and cold but it’s a good time for contemplation. Spring is a riot of sounds and smells returning to the earth. Summer? Ah, summer. It’s hard not to love you best but I also have to remind myself of the beauty of the fall. I make it through the year by loving each month equally. Carpe diem, and all that, you know?
Ah the hell with it. There’s no use in pretending anymore. Summer, I love you best.
In summer near Seattle, you can sit outside all day, talking with friends on the porch while the kids jump on the trampoline and chase each other around the lawn. In summer, there are blue skies, warm air, and the feeling of being lifted with every passing hour the sun makes an appearance.
In summer, small girls sit on the back deck for hours, having tea parties with imagined hot strawberry tea.
In summer, there are picnics.
Oh sure, we can picnic indoors, any time of the year. Lucy often asks for a picnic in front of the couch. We spread out a dozen dishes of food — roast chicken, pickled cabbage, hard-boiled eggs, salad with sunflower seeds, the last nubs of cheese, leftover roasted asparagus — and we each choose our own plate. It’s a great meal for a Sunday night, when the week is done and we have bits of leftovers from through the week. She’s convinced we’re having a picnic. (She eats well those nights, since she loves to choose her own meal.)
And when I was a kid, my mom tried to make the meals we ate on the road more exciting by calling them car picnics. We’d go to the closest grocery store, grab salami and cheese, bread and chips, and something to drink. And then we’d balance food on our laps as my father drove. “See? Isn’t it fun to have a car picnic?” my mother tried. My brother hated them. He still winces when you say the phrase car picnic. Now that I’m a parent, I understand what happened. Take two hungry kids and the lack of time to pack a lunch? Car picnic!
Still, nothing compares to a picnic in summer. We had one on Saturday, spurred by the visit of our friends Jess and Eli from Boston. Ashley brought her darling kids, which made Lu happy as heck. Sam and Megan loped in a little later, due to ferry traffic, but that only made the party stretch into the afternoon. We ate Ashley’s chicken wings with pickled celery, her chickpeas slicked with harissa tossed in fresh arugula, Danny’s coffee-roasted almonds, his sorghum-lentil salad, Megan’s cold potato salad with fresh peas, salamis from Olympic Provisions, cheese from Beechers, slices of watermelon, and fresh Rainier cherries. We snacked all afternoon, discovering new bites between conversations.
It was a very good afternoon.
It was an afternoon fueled by the food. The food was the center of a large wheel, each child running toward a new adventure on the green lawn a spoke of that wheel, each new topic of conversation turning the wheel slowly.
And in a way, absolutely nothing happened. That was the loveliest part.
We seem to be a culture that thrives on feeling busy. I know I fall into that trap sometimes. Who can be the fastest hamster to drive that wheel around and around, going nowhere but doing it quickly? Picnics are a wonderful antidote to busyness. Nothing happens. We moved slowly from the back deck to the garden to the kitchen to fetch a glass of cold water to the trampoline to watch Sam lead 4 small children in jumping games to the back deck again to talk some more. The sun moved slowly across the sky and we had nothing to do but be with each other.
After an entire day outside, jumping and laughing, playing with her friends, eating well then pretending to be Peter Pan, dancing dancing dancing and following two bigger boys running? Lu passed out at 6:30 in the evening, sun-warmed and happily exhausted. This is summer.
Summer, I love you best. I don’t care who knows it.
Before the picnic, Danny was playing with some almonds and coffee. I watched him in the kitchen as I sat at the dining room table and wrote. He kept opening drawers and finding new spices he liked. He zested a lemon, ground some cacao nibs, and dipped a small spoon into the cayenne. I love watching him dance around the kitchen.
As you can see, there weren’t many almonds left in the bowl when I took this photo. Everyone at the picnic kept grabbing a handful in the middle of a conversation, then going back for another handful. They disappeared quickly.
- 1 cup ground coffee
- 1/4 cup cacao nibs, ground fine
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 pound raw almonds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preparing to roast. Heat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Making the spice rub. Whisk together the coffee, cacao nibs, cocoa powder, brown sugar, smoked paprika, lemon zest, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne in a bowl. Set it aside.
- Roasting the almonds. Pour the almonds onto the prepared baking sheet. Roast, giving the baking sheet a shake halfway through, until the almonds are fragrant, about 12 minutes. Watch closely to make sure they don’t burn.
- Coating the almonds. Dump the almonds in a large bowl. Pour in the oil. Toss them around to coat them evenly. Sprinkle about 1/2 of the spice rub on the almonds and toss them to coat. You can add more if you want more.
- Finishing the almonds. Pour the coated almonds back onto the sheet tray and into the oven. Roast the almonds until the spices are fragrant and the almonds are starting to become crisp, about 5 minutes.
- Let the almonds cool completely before you eat them.
You’re going to have leftover spice rub. Use it on roast chicken, pork, steak, or another batch of nuts. I think it would be a great rub for tofu too.