Monday, January 31, 2011

Citrus Salad Sun

Easing into the snowy, slushy parking lot at Wegmans, the temperature at mid day is 10 degrees. The kids in the their snow suits squeeze into a double wide grocery cart. The store doors slide open at our approach. A blast of forced air hits our cold, pink noses. Rounding the corner, as I take off my gloves and hat, I gasp and involuntarily smile: before me, crate upon crate of every imaginable citrus gleaming, spilling, tumbling, beckoning.

"Orneeeees!" Coral announces. I have yet to correct her pronunciation on that, I love the way she says, or sings, "Oranges!"

In an instant I have a full sensory memory of a salad I had this time last year at Fanny's in Brooklyn, a citrus salad. I had ordered it twice and taken a picture, memorizing it with the goal of recreating it this year, and every year after. In that goal was a hope, hidden in the folds, that we would be home this year, cooking for ourselves. Last year we were eating out almost every night in Brooklyn or Manhattan as we navigated Colby's brain surgery.

From the savored memory of the Fanny's salad I chose two kinds of grapefruit, honey tangerines, mandarins and blood oranges. Also, parsley, red onions, green and black olives, and capers.

I knew from the Fanny's salad that it would be a lot of work removing all the skins and pith from each and every section while keeping the sections somewhat intact. The glorious pile of fruit towered in a bowl on the dining room table for two days while I mentally practiced how I would make and compose the salad. The scent of their skins perfumed the air and elicited fantasies of warmer climates.

I made a small version of the salad to test the recipe. The explosion of water, sugar and the brightness of the colors was a pleasant shock to my senses. Nothing growing here now has that concentration of sun. As I ate, I decided who I would invite to lunch and adjusted the dressing.

One of the fun things about salad is that you can tell almost everything about the balance of flavor and texture by looking at it. It is a visually satisfying way to cook, or compose. On the table, this salad inspires in me, in this climate in January, an absolute sense that Spring is rounding the corner. The earth is warming, from the inside first, slowly reaching the surface as meanwhile the angle of the sun lengthens. But before the golden light of spring fully returns, you can bring it inside your home with a platter of late winter citrus.

Citrus Salad
Grapefruit, honey tangerines, mandarins and blood oranges. Variety is key, you want a range of color, sweetness and acidity.
Parsley, red onions, green and black olives (I used Cerignola because I like their meaty texture, nice against the citrus,) and salt packed capers.
For dressing:
Red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper

Chop red onion and cover with red wine vinegar to soften.
Rinse salt packed capers and let stand in cold water for a few minutes.
Peel and section citrus.
Pit and cut olives into chunks.
Pinch of parsley leaves, cut only a little, the leaves look pretty on this salad.
And compose!
Dress this salad lightly, and add salt to taste, the capers and olives add most of the salty taste you need. Pepper at last minute so you can really smell the pepper with the citrus.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter Farmers Market

Winter Market: red cabbage, watermelon radish, celeriac, carrots, cold storage pears, honey.

The Ithaca Farmers Market is a dedicated structure on the shore of Cayuga Lake. The last day of market is in December. It is so cold that the meat sits out on the counter and the vegetables are in coolers to keep them from freezing. After the holidays, in the first week of January, the indoor winter market starts up.

It is a small, dedicated group of farmers who do the winter market. They continue to harvest and drive in the icy dark to market in the deep cold. Arriving to market the tales are shared of frozen batteries, impassable driveways and still everyone has arrived.

Eating my dinner, I notice that the red cabbage is significantly sweeter than even the one bought from the same farm in November and December. This plant has been through a lot even in that short time. I think that sensory knowledge of place is central to my gratitude for our farmers.

Even though I live in the country now and walk on the actual dirt every day, I still have a deep and wide gap in my understanding of what it takes to get my food on the table. For me, the food chain begins at the market. I know more now than I did in the city. There too I shook the working hands of the farmers who grew the food I ate. Here I know the farms and I know the people a little more. I might even know the breed of hen whose eggs I scramble up in the morning.

But I have never known this arc of taste of region and climate, the arc of texture and sweetness of a cabbage from fall to deep winter. This knowledge, while a personal epiphany and great pleasure, also feels old, and normal. Normal knowledge of place, and the food that sustains us.

Thank you farmers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Fight and The Table

We had not had our fight for quite a long time. And it arrived suddenly, and completely. Dinner was on the table and despite Colby having had ten seizures, the mood was light as I set out the napkins. Then we heard Colby have another seizure: it was time for Diastat.

The manifestation of our fight is about Colby: when she seizes a lot, status epileptus, we try and take care of it at home rather than taking her to the hospital. Her emergency medications, Valium in two forms, are imperfect and hard to administer. There is a lot of gray area in figuring out how much she has gotten in her body, and how much she needs. And this is where the fight comes from.

We, husband and wife, do not agree on how aggressive to be with the drugs and getting her out of the seizure cluster. I am more panicked about the seizures and willing to take on the burden of the side effects of the drugs. In my heart I feel like getting the seizures to stop is the most pressing fact. And Craig is more able to ride the moment, able to wait and see what happens next, in a way, he is able to be more present and accepting of the seizures and what their affect is on Colby.

Feeling this fight return filled me with adrenaline and fear. It had been so long, I felt like we had come so far in our ability to talk things through and eventually, however eventually, find our way, together. As soon as I felt how right I felt and how wrong I thought he was, I was plunged back through an icy cistern of difficult memories. The early days with Colby when we were going through these seizure clusters together for the first time. They were nearly constant back then, five years ago. The days and weeks and months of seizures and hospital stays bled together. And we fought. Not agreeing about how to care for a child in a chronic medical condition, I saw no way through. I did not expect us to make it.

Five years later, on the bed with Colby, emergency Valium, Diastat, in hand, dinner waiting for us on the table, the fight heaves around us and I feel as sure as I was back then about one thing: this is impossible.

And it is impossible. So, then what? How can you accept that? Coral was quiet. She had never seen this fight before, our real fight. I stood in the hallway. My petulant side wanted to slam a door and sulk. But that is not a true choice here, I thought to myself. Craig is not wrong to think what he does, and it would be strangely childish for me to behave as if there were something to apologize about and act like I wanted to be coaxed out of the bedroom like a pouting teenager.

Dinner is on the table. As I stood there in the hallway, Craig storming, me sulking, I realized it had been a year since this essay series started. And this was it, the choice, again: do I show up at the table, find my kindness and gratitude, and face the person, the people, across the circle from me? Do I show up?

I took a deep breath and walked to the table.