Tuesday, June 29, 2010

nuit d'ete

Last night a deep red line hung low near the horizon. It was as if the heat of the earth had seared the edges of the sky. Heat and humidity had been building all day until dusk, when the sky was finally forced to open, and moisture rained down, but only for a few minutes.

Now is the time of year when I love New York most - the people who can leave town do, families of Europeans wander around midtown holding maps, staring up at buildings, wide-eyed like children. The temperature drops only slightly after the sun slips beneath the horizon, but the black, city streets continue to hold the heat through to the next morning.

Tomorrow I fly to San Antonio. I've never been to Texas. I'll be joining a huge gathering of people on a spiritual journey. I'm glad the event is being held somewhere that's hot.

Monday, June 7, 2010

family and food

Rhubarb-orange meringue pie

I haven't written anything here since the wedding. One might think that a wedding would be ample enough opportunity for one family to display high emotions, curious behavior, and general drama, but the week directly following my sister's wedding in Georgia, a family reunion was held in North Carolina.

Now please do not misunderstand me, I love my family and I certainly enjoy seeing extended family members whom I don't get to see
often. But when these events do take place I know it's best for me to be kept busy. I chose, as I often do, to situate myself in the kitchen and prepare food. Sometimes it was for six or eight people, but on the weekend of the reunion itself I was cooking for forty people. This may sound like a daunting task, but I actually enjoy it. It is an opportunity for me to keep busy, be creative, and perhaps even to be of service.

I was not the only one cooking the whole time. My aunt is a competent cook and whipped up some tasty eats, my mother is a gifted cookie-baker (something I rarely have patience for), and my cousin Allison, from Portland, Oregon, is terrifically skilled in the kitchen. One night before the whole clan arrived, my mother, my sisters, my aunt and her family (about ten of us in all), gathered for dinner. I roasted a turkey with a pomegranate glaze, made a dressing (stuffing) for the turkey with olive oil rosemary bread, dried apricots, pistachios, and mint (baked in a separate, buttered pan), giblet gravy, a sweet potato gratin (insanely delicious), and a rhubarb-orange meringue pie! Everyone was pleasantly sated.

For the days when there where about forty people I made a huge quantity of lemon chicken from the Silver Palate cookbook, which all disappeared, a lentil salad, a New York style cheesecake, two strawberry rhubarb pies, and the rhubarb-orange meringue pie was so good the first time that I repeated it. The second day of the reunion cousin Tony and I fried up catfish that uncle Steve had caught the previous week (which had already been cleaned and filleted), while uncle Steve was behind the house grilling about forty pounds of ribs. I made two onion-thyme tarts with wholewheat crusts, and there were also numerous salads, cookies, and desserts. My sister made an especially good pomegranate butter cake with walnuts (she and I share a love for cooking with pomegranate molasses), and Allison threw together a kick-ass pasta salad and a spectacular chocolate cake.


Perhaps the nicest thing about my stay in North Carolina, aside from several exceptionally successful gastronomic highlights, was the strengthening of my relationship with my aunt. My mother's sister and I have never had any particular difficulty between us, but we've never been especially close either. Somehow, through a series of misunderstandings, selfish alcoholic behavior, and hurt feelings, I wound up staying at my aunt's house with her family for a week instead of at my mother's house. A week can often be a long time to stay with even the closest of family members, but she and I managed to use this time as an opportunity to get to know each other better. This is, after all, a woman that I've known since I was born. I found her husband and her family to be thoughtful and welcoming. She and I shopped and cooked together, spoke of family history, both long gone as well as recent, talked about the imminent departure of her son, the newly graduated lieutenant in the marines, to Okinawa, commiserated about the various pains of the family disease of alcoholism, and basically kibitzed all week. It is remarkable for me to notice that what once might have been a difficult situation filled with resentment and hurt feelings was so easily turned into a positive experience. I continue to be amazed at the evidence of myself getting better.