Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Salmon on the Grill

Here's what I had for dinner last week. Salmon was at a good price at the supermarket and that is one fish I just adore. Having been enjoying a day of sunshine in the midst of torrential rains, I decided it must be prepared on the grill.

I got out a giant sheet of foil (cause this was a giant slab of fish) and drizzled a bit of olive oil on it. In my memory somewhere it seems I've seen a light olive oil packaged in a spray bottle. It always seemed needlessly fussy to me. I mean, who can't manage the distribution of their olive oil, after all. But on this day I wished for one for I only wanted just the lightest of coatings to avoid a stick.

I distributed two cloves of garlic (minced) and 1/2 t. tarragon over the salmon and folded the foil around it, crimping it shut two or three times over to avoid leaking any fantastic juices.

What's so great about fish is the quick cooking, and heaven forfend that it overcook. I slammed this puppy on the grill for ten minutes and it was perfect.

Unwrap and serve with something green, from the garden and fabulous.

Just look at those flakes!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On Motherhood

Stuff I learned from my mother:

Selflessness - In the way she always convinced us she really wanted the smallest pork chop or the burnt piece of toast.

Work Ethic - I have a mental picture of my mom every Saturday evening, setting her hair in rollers for church the next day, her chin dropping to her chest as she nodded off with hairpins in her mouth, exhausted from the day's work.

Self-Sufficiency/Thrift - Mornings in the garden, before it got too hot. Evenings under the lamp of the sewing machine. Vacation days away from the government job, but hard at work canning in the summer kitchen.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. - "Kids, stop scuffling."
"Settle down."
"I asked you to stop."
(Actually, should this entry be called, "If you can't beat 'em, give them a beating?"

Individuality - In the days of my adolescent conformity, my mother was not one bit interested in my desire to not be noticed. I was constantly embarrassed by my simple family and my mother just shrugged and did as she saw fit. If it was raining, she pulled from her purse the little pouch with the rain bonnet in it, unfolded it from its accordion shape and slapped it on her head... while I walked twenty feet behind and pretended to study my shoes.

Ambition - I don't know how my mom thought she could go to college. It certainly wasn't a precedent in her community. Her own mother died when she was only two, and her older sister moved back to the farm with two young children, so Mom had babies on her hip from the age of ten. The family was rich in love, but not particularly lucky at farming. When Mom went an hour away to college, earned her degree and settled down two hours away from the farm, she seemed elegant and city-ish. (She was a school teacher and our town had 1200 people.)

Family is Precious - "If I happen to be in a coma when your baby is born, please make sure I hold him." (From the hospital bed in her living room.)

My mom offered me a lot during the 25 years I had with her. As a child, I felt like nothing was quite right if she wasn't at home and even terrible things were manageable as long as she was a part of the solution. There were times when my parents went out for the evening or mom had a meeting at church and I had to go to bed in a house where my mother wasn't. I would lie in bed and stare at the wall wondering how to sleep in such a house. The country road outside my bedroom window was not well-traveled and if the headlights of a car crossed the wall of my darkened bedroom, I would wait and hope that the headlights would slow down and turn into our driveway. Often they did not and that felt so sad.

My mom is gone now and I lost her too soon. She didn't get to hold my baby, coma or not. I remember the moment, a week into my own motherhood experience, that a wave of realization crashed over me. What I felt for my baby was WHAT MY MOTHER FELT FOR ME. And I never had a chance to let her know that I GET IT. And my grief started all over again.

But really, not all people have such great mothers. Or such moments of clarity. I'm lucky to have these reasons to be so sad sometimes.

I hope I honor motherhood as much as my mom did. As much as I learned at my mother's elbow, first-hand experience is a better teacher. The best truth I've gotten is the knowledge that I'm actually tough as nails.

OK, I've been mulling over deciphering the formula that makes a mother a warrior. I just keep landing on cliches, like the fact that we're nurses, chauffeurs, housekeepers, cooks, mediators, educators, coaches, philosophers, etc. I think it's all true, but everyone has heard it already, so it's lost the meaning of what I'm trying to say. I think part of it is that we ARE all of those things, but we do all those jobs while we're exhausted, grieving, angry, lost, sick, worried, lonely, misunderstood and unsure. And we do them not because its our job, but because we are compelled - by duty, by devotion, by dedication to our families.

Unglamorous, motherhood is. I never said it was pretty. Everyone else's needs come first and, while I sometimes get tired of it, I wouldn't have it any other way. How many Sunday mornings do I focus on getting everyone else dolled up for church, only to slam on my one and only coat of mascara in the parking lot of the church? I could be sitting, midstream, on the toilet, and if any of my children called me with urgency, I'd be running out the door with my pants around my ankles. Every one of us has been soaked in urine, diarrhea, breast milk, mud or vomit and kept on tending to another, simply because it needed to be done.

Last summer, I allowed each of my three kids to take a friend for a day at the beach. Great day, for sure, but no sooner had we pulled out of the parking lot and gotten on the interstate than we had a flat tire. A flat tire! With six kids in the van! It was hard to figure out how to change the tire, but I did it. Actually, for me, it was hard to figure out how to get the spare out of its hiding place! I got filthy dirty and aloof strangers felt they were doing their part by looking at me sympathetically as they whizzed by in their functional cars. But had they stopped and helped me out, I would have missed the triumph in doing a hard thing simply by putting my head down, being an adult and getting through it. And because I'm a mother, I did it while teaching valuable lessons: Here's how to change a tire. Here's where you put the jack. If you don't know the answer, look in the owner's manual. Oh, you tightened the nuts as far as they would go? Lemme see. (Craaank. Craaaank. Crrraaaaaannnnnnnk.) Your mother is still the toughest person you know.

I'm always confused by women who call in the coast guard whenever they are sick, busy or unrested - women who need someone with them when they take the child to their immunizations - because it might be hard. They are totally robbing themselves of the chance to find out what they can do. They can be the only one in the room, heck, in the WORLD who will make things better for another human being. Your child's head fits perfectly into that comfortable spot on your shoulder. No one else's feels as good to them. The way you do Christmas, or Sunday evenings, or road trips - is going to be the way your children think they should be done when they have children of their own. Doesn't that make you feel frikkin' powerful? It does me. I don't know if I've done justice writing about all motherhood has given me. It gave me a backbone and self-esteem and resolve and identity and it made me an adult once and for all. I'm nobody's princess. I'm a gladiator. A superhero. And I can feel great about myself because such a job will have an eternal presence in my family tree.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Apple Crumb Pie

It's Teacher Appreciation week again in our local school system. The PTO at my girls' school provides a meal for the staff on the Wednesday of this special week. For three years I've been asked to provide all the homemade pies for dessert, and for three years I've agreed to the task.

This year I hadn't heard anything about the meal until quite late. I stopped in the office a couple of weeks ago on my way to volunteer in Ava's classroom. The principal turned all smiley and charming and told me the teachers really hoped to get homemade pies again this year. I thought it was strange I hadn't heard anything from the PTO yet. After a little investigating, I learned that my buddies in the Parent/Teacher Organization had set out to protect my busy schedule (and sanity) and had taken the homemade pies "off the table."

I never thought of myself as the co-dependant type, but knowing that a group (or even just one person) wanted some of my baking so badly caused me to volunteer to donate time I didn't have if PTO would cover the expenses. And so, after getting home from the Little League field at 8:30 PM on Tuesday, I set to work.

I planned to make six pies and that's what I made last year, but I think I accidentally made seven. My pies were: apple crumb, rhubarb, strawberry, frozen coconut, peach cream, peanut butter, and banana cream. Whenever I make a large batch of pies, I like to make both peanut butter and banana cream because I can just make an extra large batch of vanilla pudding and either pour it over peanut butter crumbs or banana slices. The pies definitely got eaten, but the banana pie was the last one (by far) to be chosen. I wonder if I should make it again.

The quickest to disappear were the strawberry and rhubarb.

If I did it for the adulation, I was not disappointed. I'm a little embarrassed about how much it meant to me.

Here is my recipe for Apple Crumb Pie.

3 c. peeled and sliced apples (I like Granny Smiths for baking.)

1 c. sugar

2 T flour
1 dash of cinnamon

1 unbaked pie shell

Mix these first four ingredients together in a bowl.

Then, put in unbaked pie shell.

Make crumbs of the following:

1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
3 T margarine

Pour over the apples in the pie crust. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350 until done - about 30 minutes more.