On the cusp of a new season, I’m usually pushing ahead to the next one, eager to flip the page, like Avery zipping through her board books. Spring has its obvious lure out of winter, ushering in light and warmth and new growth and asparagus (!). But autumn normally has an equally compelling pull for me, all fresh, new, and crisp, not to mention its gourds and apples.
But this year, as Labor Day has come and gone, and as August has slid into September, I don’t feel that same pull. Maybe it’s that this was our first full summer with Avery. Maybe it’s that this summer has been so good. Maybe it’s that I’m fearful of the unknown—I haven’t lived an autumn or a rainy winter in Seattle yet, and I don’t know what to expect. Whatever it is, I’m just not ready to move on.
I wish I could tell you that we ate this meal under a setting late August sun, the table set with beautiful linens and the candles lit and the conversation care-free. Instead, we ate this meal amid Cry It Out, Part II (The Bedtime Sleep Regression Edition!). Sweet Maria. Send help. Or wine. Actually, send help and wine, and cross your fingers that our champion little sleeper returns soon.
But you’re not here to read about our toddler trevails, so instead I’ll tell you about when I first started cooking this dish. It was when we lived in DC after college, when Kevin and I each lived in tiny studio apartments an eight-minute walk across Dupont Circle apart. My kitchen was a slim and shallow galley, featuring two electric burners, a small square of counter space, and electrical outlets that weren’t to be used unless a blown fuse was your thing. But it had a garbage disposal and it was mine and oh! did I love it.
We didn’t take one big, long summer vacation this year. Instead, we had many long-weekend visitors, and took a few weekend trips of our own. In some ways, it made the summer feel like one big long vacation, in and of itself. It’s been pretty fantastic. So, it’s really saying something when I go as far as to proclaim Saturday afternoon’s boat ride on Lake Union, which we took with my parents and sister who were in town visiting, a highlight of the summer. We had such a lovely time. There were refreshments:
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but since we moved to Seattle, I’ve been working from home. The situation is a little odd—my colleauges are all in Chicago and my daughter naps in the room right next door. And in some small ways, it’s challenging. I keep central time zone hours, so my day starts very early in west coast-terms. And I can no longer pop next door to bounce an idea off a co-worker, or grab lunch or drinks with friends from work. Worse yet, when Avery cries or giggles, I can hear it and ache to be there for it, but I try to stay out of the way of her and her sitter. But all of these things have upsides, too—my day ends early in west coast-terms, I have a lot of autonomy (and my commute is a dozen steps down the hall), and I get to pop in on Avery throughout the day.
I concentrate on those upsides as much as I can, and I also try to appreciate the many other benefits of my current arrangement. When it’s lunchtime in Chicago, I can easily head out for a jog or do yoga, smack-dab in the middle of the work day. The other day, I ran along the shipping canal that connects Lake Union and Puget Sound. I stopped to stretch at the point where the canal spills into the lake (or is the other way around?), and the sun threw sparkles across the lake as float planes took off and landed, and boats cut through the water. I felt so grateful.
If you walk out our front door and take a right, the road quickly dead-ends into a street that climbs a steep hill, wide enough for only one car to pass, with houses on one side and a thick wall of trees and bushes on the other. A month or so ago, I noticed that many of those bushes were suddenly bearing not-yet-ripe berries. They were still small and pale, but I suspected that they were blackberries, which grow wild all over Seattle. A few warm weeks later, the berries have plumped and turned a deep, inky purple. They’re ripe, as they say, for the picking.
When we learned of our neighborhood’s annual block party, which was held a couple nights ago, I wondered what to bring to the party to share, and my mind quickly turned to those blackberries. I settled on a pound cake, and determined that I would thread a ribbon of blackberry puree throughout it.
Avery will be one year old on Friday, and it’s got me feeling very reflective. I think back over the past 12 months, and I remember days that felt like they lasted for weeks, and weeks that flashed by in the blink of an eye. I think about how much of the year I spent feeding Avery, and how much that has changed as the year has unfolded. To start, I nursed her for many months, and it was a chore at times and more depleting than I could’ve imagined, but it was also an extreme privilege—one of the most basic, natural things I’ve ever done, but yet something that made me feel incredibly proud.
I think about spooning Avery her first runny bites of oatmeal, the question in her furrowed brow and then the twinkle in her eye. I think about how quickly that oatmeal became pureed fruits and vegetables and then bits of basically everything. I think about how some days Avery would gobble handfuls of something I’d made her, before literally pulling the very same food out of her mouth the next day. But, mostly, I think about how she’s game to try anything, and I hope hope hope she’ll hold on to that quality.
I’ll keep this quick, because, at the moment, there’s a summer to live. There are wading pools to splash in, lemonades to sip, ice creams to scoop, sunsets to watch, and tents to pitch (this weekend! with our infant! wish us luck!). But, of course, one still must eat. And if one can be persuaded to cook indoors, with heat (a tall order—trust me, I get that), it should be something like this recipe, which requires only a brief burst of stovetop heat before a blink-and-you’ll-burn-it pass under the broiler.
Avery and I have a new Friday afternoon tradition, almost too new to warrant that name. But for a few weeks now, after I’m done with work and Avery’s up from her afternoon nap, and before Kevin gets home from work, Avery and I head to a nearby neighborhood farmers’ market. From the street, you can see down to Green Lake in one direction and out to the mountains in the other, but the market is hidden away, tucked back from the street in an empty parking lot. It’s the perfect size—big enough to offer plenty of variety but small enough to feel intimate. And the late Friday afternoon time slot ensures that it’s got a good hum of activity, without becoming overwhelming like the crowded Sunday morning market can sometimes feel.
Best of all, Avery loves it. She’ll lean out of her stroller, craning her neck to peer at the musicians—last week a guitarist by the entrance, plucking out reggae tunes that felt perfect for a Friday afternoon, and a jazz trio at the other end. And I handed her bits of the heel of bread the baker offered us after we bought two bagels (destined for Saturday breakfast), and passed her raspberries from the half-flat I stowed beneath the stroller. In both cases, she quickly reached up her chubby little hand for another, and then another.
One of the worst parts about growing up is the end of Summer Vacation. Summer as an adult is, of course, still wonderful, but the very best parts—the parts with grill smoke and popsicles and fire flies and toes dipped in cold water—get pressed into the margins of day-to-day life. So the Summer Vacation feeling makes only fleeting appearances, during an after-work stroll, say, or a too-brief weekend afternoon spent lakeside.
And that makes it impossible to believe in the Summer Vacation myth that I fell for year after year as a kid: that it’ll never end. That the days will continue to unspool like one Saturday after another for as long as you can imagine. I’d give almost anything to subscribe to that innocent fantasy again.
In some ways, Seattle reminds me of the small town in northern Minnesota where my parents grew up and where my grandparents still live. Their town sits on the edge of Lake Superior, at a place where dozens of rivers empty out into the lake and the shoreline alternates between rocky beach and sheer cliffs. In the summer, there’s plenty of blue and green beauty, and the sun shines warm, but not hot, before an evening chill sets in every night. The same goes for Seattle this June, on the days when it hasn’t been drizzly and gray (today, I’m looking at you).
Tuesday was one of those gorgeous, pleasant days. I sat at my desk, with the sun warm on my face and the breeze floating in through the open window, and thought about northern Minnesota summers and my impending trip to the grocery store to pick up things for dinner.