Archive for August, 2009
After an early, misty morning trek to our favorite boulangerie for croissants and coffee, we decided that the best way to spend the weekend was at the beach. The husband and I have very opposing views of what constitutes a perfect day at the beach. I tend to be drawn to gloomy, stormy weather, relentless crashing waves and pelting rain. After an invigorating, brisk walk on the water’s edge, I look forward to the coziness of the beach cabin, with its crackling fire, mugs of hot coffee and cocoa, countless board games, and hours of staring at the incessant waves from the comfort of my wing chair, open book ignored in my lap.
The husband, on the other hand, wants scorching days where he can spread out his blanket and doze off to the lively chatter of kids playing in the sand and seagulls calling to each other. Later on, he wants to fly the kite with the kids, go in search of dripping ice cream cones, and have a game of beach volleyball, after which he’ll take another long nap.
But hey, we know a happy marriage takes a lot of work and compromise, so that’s exactly what we do.
The only clouds to be seen were far on the horizon, but the wind was picking up. We laid our blanket and bags down and the husband, sweatshirt zipped up, hood on, and went for a nap. I opened my book and started daydreaming. In another couple of weeks school would start, and shortly thereafter the preparations for the holidays.
And then the rain came in errant little plops at first, and then in great big ones. The mountain whose road we had meandered on, had donned a cap of foggy gray descending in waves, it seemed, down the side. We gathered our things and ran to our little cozy cabin where we quickly built a fire. Snuggled in our blankets, hot drinks in hand, we all agreed that we were in the perfect place to watch a summer storm push through.
Our little family has a ritual on Saturday mornings. Waking up early, the kids crawl in our bed and proceed to wake us with kisses and tickles. We linger in bed, all of us beneath the sheets, laughing and hugging and talking about what dreams we dreamt. Without fail, our daughter’s dreams are about Hello Kitty. Our son’s about some sort of invention, or if not an invention, an alien. My husband’s dreams are about things he can’t remember but little snippets of, and mine about all sorts of crazy and unrealistic things - such as gorging on croissants and losing weight instead of gaining.
After much analyzing of what they could mean, and a few more kisses and hugs, we get up and get ourselves ready to head out to a hearty breakfast. We need fortification for the morning calls for walking and more walking. We are lucky to be able to live within walking distance to some of the best restaurants and shops in the city. And so we walk, whenever the weather and little legs permit. In the Pacific Northwest, sunny summer mornings are the most glorious of all.
I always end up having either an omelette with sauteed wild mushrooms in butter, or a fantastic oversized waffle with fresh berries and cream. Deciding between the two is the most difficult decision of the day. Sometimes I order both and - and as much as I hate to do it - split the waffle with my husband. Because it’s Saturday and ice cream is allowed with breakfast, the kids order chocolate chip pancakes with vanilla ice cream on the side.
And then, because we have to work off all those calories - and really, who wants to spend such a splendid day in the gym? - we head to the Farmers’ Market in the University blocks. What a sight! Baskets of vibrant dahlias in every color. Fragrant lavender tied with ribbon. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries… berries, berries and more berries. Cucumbers, radishes, green onions. Earthy, aromatic wild mushrooms that smell of pines and oaks and damp forest grounds. All of them tucked between stalls of breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries, and those of cheeses, sausages, and wines.
Despite still digesting our breakfast, the pervasive smell of fresh herbs and root vegetables stir at our appetites, and our stomachs begin to rumble in anticipation of the next meal. And being the gluttons we are, we find a shady place to spread our blanket, and give in.
Most of what I know about life, I learned around the kitchen table. Much to the dismay and embarrassment of my teenage self, ours was a family that ate all its breakfasts and dinners together. And while our parents rarely chastened our behaviors in public, home was an altogether different territory. Not only were we repeatedly reminded by the adults to sit up straight, take small bites, thoroughly chew our food, keep our elbows off the table, and not speak with our mouths full, we liked to remind each other as well. Sometimes the younger ones made a point of it, by shoving each other. After which, they were made to stand in the kitchen corners with their arms raised, backs to the room, as a reminder that hands were not given to us for hitting or shoving.
As the years went by everything was discussed around that table our father built, from the Sunday morning sermon (with beloved Tanti Marie doing perfect impersonations of the preacher) to current fashions to whether it was necessary that I get my starter bra. My mother’s traditional upbringing guaranteed us three course meals every day – soup, main course of some type of meat with two sides, one of potatoes, or rice and the other a salad, and to finish it off, dessert. This meant that instead of the normal 45 minutes, it took us an hour and a half to get done eating.
In fact, most of my childhood was spent either eating or learning to cook what we were about to eat. The kitchen was always a hub of activity, and countless times I couldn’t go to where I wanted because no one could give me a ride as they were all busy working on the next meal, or canning, or making preserves, or pickling. Besides that, the three of us girls were needed around the table to shell the peas, or peel the potatoes, or stuff the scooped out tomatoes with whatever stuffing mixture was prepared.
Because they were younger, my sisters got out of it pretty quickly and escaped to the yard with its lemon and orange trees and their dolls and dollhouses made out of shoeboxes. I, on the other hand, had to stay. “How do you expect to get married, if you don’t know how to cook?” My mother, or Tanti Marie, or grandmother would ask. I was only twelve, yet they had a point. Getting daughters married was a goal for my mother’s generation, and I was constantly reminded of it. So I stayed and did my part, and listened to their chatter.
I learned to read expressions and sudden silences. Certain words coupled with certain looks, meant certain things. I wonder if they ever suspected how much they were giving away. Or if they cared.
While I have become a bit more modernized than my mother, and share the cooking with my hubby, I still hold sacred the ritual of eating our meals together. All the essential lessons: good manners, love of family, love of life, are learned around the family table. I hope that this is a tradition that I will pass on to my children, and they to theirs.
In the last month, I have been to more weddings, parties, showers, birthday celebrations, family barbeques, dinners, and lunches than I have the entire year. With the exception of the winter holiday season, the months of July and August are spent hopping from one place to the next. Rarely a day goes by that we don’t go somewhere or see someone. And while it is tiring (and we are the only neighborhood family carrying our sleeping children from the car into the house at midnight), it is also great fun. Both hubby and I are sociable people who love to be around other sociable people every chance we get.
Yet I am reminded that my turn is coming. One way or another, I have to reciprocate. Today I spent a good portion of my free time looking over easy summer recipes for a dinner with family and friends that I’m to give in the next two weeks. I say easy, because I usually go for the complicated, only to find out halfway through that either the meal will never be ready in time for the guests’ arrival, or judging by how dry it is, it was ready a while back, and the only thing it’s good for now, is the garbage can.
Because hubby is a fabulous cook (who really should do all the cooking in our family), and I am good at delegating, I’ll give him the job of preparing the meal. I’ll do what I do best: selecting and arranging the flowers, staging various surfaces throughout the rooms for exquisite presentations of food, donning my favorite embroidered apron from my mother-in-law, arranging the sofas and chairs in a conducive conversation provoking sitting area, and so on.
With the crowd coming, I don’t need to stress in the least. Because they love us, they believe everything we do is spectacular (and I am not giving away the menu, after all, some of you readers will be there). Still, we aim to impress, if not our guests then at least each other. That’s just how it is when one’s married, I suppose.