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Summer is on its way, Readers. The Minxes are nearly done with school–summer officially begins for them mid-week. After the miserable whirlwind that was our April and early May, I am so grateful for the arrival of lazy mornings and days at the zoo and swimming pool, where our biggest worry is applying extra sunscreen.

This weekend, we had Daddy up for our second official Sunday lunch without Mama at the table, and I have to be honest: it still feels sad and strange and more sad without her. He asked me if I wanted her old, battered recipe box and of course, I said “yes.” Then we got a little teary and sentimental, because her recipe box is loaded with so many childhood memories and scribbled scraps of paper, revealing the keys to family-loved dishes. That’s gold right there, her recipe box. I also requested her collection of vintage aprons, even though I’m a heathen and never, ever wear an apron in the kitchen.

“Why do you want them, then?” Daddy asked. “If you never wear aprons yourself?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I just want them. I feel like I’m meant to have them. I know it makes no sense, but I do. Jesus. Nothing makes sense anymore.”

Even though there were sad moments, it was wonderful to spend the day with him and I made a big batch of Mama’s (in)famous Orange Potato Salad and insisted that he take the leftovers home, along with a batch of Oatmeal Chippers. It gives me a sense of comfort to be able to send him back with a few yummy things to nibble on, even if it’s in solitary fashion.

I’m pleased to report that he’s planned a few trips in the coming months. Daddy-o loves to travel, and I’ve definitely inherited his wanderlust. Mama was always content just to snuggle in at home, but Daddy gets itchy after a while and longs for a change of scenery. I’m with him on that one.

He’s planning a trip to Cuba with a friend in October, right before his birthday, which will be one Hoo-Boy adventure. I can’t wait to hear all about it. We also have a family trip to Hawaii scheduled over the Thanksgiving holiday, where we’ll be scattering Mama’s ashes into the Pacific.

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We all decided that Thanksgiving would be too painful to spend at home this first year without her, and I know the beauty and majesty of Maui will give us all some welcome relief. Hawaii is our happy place, and we’re lucky to be able to go there together. We’ll lick our wounds a little, but ultimately, I think it’s the right call.

As the days get warmer, I start to get excited about eating fruits and vegetables again. Let’s face it, winter produce is nothing to crow about. I don’t want to look another grapefruit or parsnip in the face, do you? I want juicy peaches and sweet corn and buckets of heirloom tomatoes. We have a few more weeks until those things come into season, so I’m filling the interim with grilled zucchini and snap peas–this particular recipe for snap peas, if I’m playing favorites. And boy oh boy, am I playing favorites.

I tried this recipe two weeks ago and I became so enamored with it that I’ve been eating just this (like, almost the whole batch by myself) for lunch and dinner several days a week. If a girl is content to pig out on a plate of vegetables, those are some sexy vegetables. That’s right: sex-y. These snap peas are sexy little blistered beasts. They have so much going for them, people. They’re flung into a screaming hot pan until they get all charred and toasty, and then some chiles add a lovely slow burn, and lemon and fresh mint tie the whole thing together in a fresh and bright and irresistible way. If you’re of a mind to, gild the lily a little and add some toasted cashews to finish the dish. You won’t be sorry. I mean, let’s be real here. When are toasted nuts ever a bad idea?

I also love that this dish is best served barely warm or at room temperature, so you can make it ahead and fuss with other elements of your meal while they just hang out and get more delicious by the minute. That is, if you decide to eat anything else. Frankly, all you need is a crusty baguette and you’ve got a meal, in my opinion.*

Ah, summer. You can’t get here fast enough.

 

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Blistered Snap Peas with Chile, Lemon and Mint

serves 4

slightly adapted from Cooking Light magazine

 

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

3/4 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings taken off

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

pepper

1-2 red Fresno chiles, minced (depending on the level of spice you like)

2 scallions, sliced

zest of one lemon

juice of half a lemon

1 tablespoon fresh mint

2 tablespoons toasted cashews, broken into pieces (optional)

 

Heat a heavy large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of the oil and get the pan screamin’ hot. Add half of the snap peas, half of the salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until starting to blacken and blister on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn the snap peas over and blister the other side, another 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan and repeat procedure with remaining snap peas.

While the snap peas are still hot, toss with the scallions, chile, lemon zest and lemon juice. Let cool slightly. Add mint and toss.

Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, topped with cashews, if using.

 

*Except for one leeetle problem. I might not be able to eat crusty baguette anymore. *sob*  I’ve been going through digestive assholery for many, many months now, and it’s finally gotten to the point where I have to get the damn thing scoped and biopsied and tested, because I cannot handle vomiting every 3-4 days. I just can’t take it any longer. I also will be very, very unhappy if it turns out that I cannot eat delicious, delectable gluten for the rest of my years. I live for gluten. Life without baguette and pasta and pizza? Suckage. But so is throwing up every few days. I go in for my fun little gastrointestinal scope on Friday, so stay tuned.

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Good Lord, the weather’s been whack-o this year. We’ve bounced around from big, heavy-hitting blizzards to 80 degree April afternoons to gray, rain-soaked May. It’s been bleak and rainy for days now, which is highly unusual and unlikely weather for Colorado. When it rains in this state, it’s usually a 20 minute affair and then it hi-tails right out again. We are not used to a steady, unrelenting stream of misery. How the Hell do Pacific Northwesters not fling themselves off bridges? It’s so depressing and that wet cold hits you deep in the bones.

Poor Mozz-man is not digging the rain. He loathes getting wet and he’s also unused to steady rain, so he keeps begging to go for a walk (like, every 30 minutes), expecting the weather to have improved, but when I open the door and he sees what’s out there, he gives me a look like, “Fuck this noise, lady.”  When things are dire, he’ll go out for a few quick pees and then hustle his white, fluffy carcass back inside. I can’t say I blame him, but his constant hounding is making me a little barmy.

The girls and my husband have also been plagued by nasty spring colds. My husband rarely gets any kind of disease, so he was knocked flat for a day or so and then improved. The girls’ afflictions have lingered, though, and it stinks to see them so miserable.

I thought we all could use some cheering up, so I made the ever-so-rare decision to do some baking this weekend. Here’s how seldom I bake: when I made the decision to do so, and settled on a recipe, I promptly had to make a trip to the grocery store because we didn’t have flour, or brown sugar, or butter, or vanilla in the house. That’s pretty pathetic. I slodged through the rainy parking lot, though, because joy via baked goods was definitely in order.

One benefit to not being a baker is that when I do lace up my apron, the girls are duly appreciative and impressed. These cookies definitely got oooh’s and ahh’s and oh boy’s.

These chocolate and peanut-studded oatmeal cookies were my childhood favorite, and I was anxious to share them with the girls (and yes, it’s terrible that I’m just getting around to doing so now that they’re 14 and 10. Yeesh.)

I did have to laugh, because when my husband saw these cookies cooling on a rack, he reached for one and then immediately recoiled, eyeing them suspiciously.

“Have one,” I said. “They’re not just for the girls.”

“Okay,” he said, narrowing his eyes, “As long as they don’t have raisins in them.”

Raisins are one of my husbands most loathed things on the planet, along with mustard, pickles and sour cream. I call those foodstuffs “The Fearsome Foursome,” and they will never pass his lips.

“Would I put you in the path of a cookie with raisins in it?” I chided. “Am I that nefarious? They’re chocolate chips, PickyPants.”

Relieved, he ate one. And then another. And then half of another.

These cookies are the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and the oatmeal gives them a nice crunch and heft. Like most cookies, they’re best warm out of the oven, but they keep well for a few days in a zip-top bag. They also freeze like a dream, so you can do like I did and freeze half the batch for later snacking. Or for the next time a rainy patch of weather gives you a serious case of the grumps.

The weather is supposed to improve by the weekend, so my thoughts are turning to what I’m going to plant in my garden. These wet, gray days have got to be good for something, right? Well, besides cookies…

 

oatmeal chippers

Oatmeal Chippers

makes about 4 dozen

 

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels or diced chocolate (you can go a little bigger on the amount if you’re feeling racy)

1 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts (you can leave these out, but if you do, add 1/4 teaspoon salt to the batter mixture)

 

Stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

 

With a stand mixer, beat the heck out of the butter and the shortening for about 5 minutes. Add the white and brown sugar and beat for another 3-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and beat well.

In two batches, add the flour mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in the oats, chocolate pieces and the peanuts.

Refrigerate batter for about 30 minutes.*

Preheat oven to 375. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Lightly press on each cookie–just a little, to even out the spoonfuls.

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

 

*In a pinch, you don’t have to chill the cookie dough. If you can spare the time, though, I recommend it. I think the cookies have a better finished texture when the dough is slightly chilled.

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The Solitary Table

May 16, 2016

Many of you readers have asked me how Daddy-o is doing, and it fills my heart with so much gratitude and love that he’s on your minds. Frankly, he’s on mine, too. I know he’s trying to stay busy and being very brave through this whole business, but it hurts. When you’ve been married to someone for over 50 years, the sudden void feels mighty and crushing at times. Okay, a lot of the time.

Daddy and I talk about it, but it doesn’t make it go away.

We find that we miss her at different times of day. He misses her in the morning, when he used to creep down the stairs early in the morning and fetch her a glass of juice to drink before she got out of bed. She suffered crazy low blood sugar in the mornings and was notorious for jumping out of bed and promptly fainting, so the last few years, he’d been heading her off at the pass with some juice. She’d sip it, they’d talk about the day ahead or whatever was in the news, and after ten minutes or so, then get moving. Those first mornings without that little ritual were rough.

I miss her between 4 and 4:30 in the afternoon, when I’d make my daily phone call to check in. For over twenty years, I’ve automatically reached for the phone at that time of day. When I was younger, it was to talk about my day of teaching, what my high school students were up to, what plans I had for the weekend. After I was first married/a new mother, I called to lament a day filled with dirty diapers and spit up and crayons stuck up the nose and “Jesus, I can’t hear the theme song from Max and Ruby one more time.” As the girls grew, the conversation was more focused on what they were doing, what they were learning, what kind of people they were becoming. Sometimes there was hand-wringing, most times there was laughter, but always there was that connection…that openness of heart and words.

Now I call Daddy at that time of day, and it’s different, but it’s good. Whenever I used to call, if Daddy answered the phone, we’d chat for a bit but as soon as he could, he’d pass the phone to Mama, assuming that I was calling for her. And I guess I was. My father isn’t a man of many words. I must say, though, he’s getting pretty good at it. It’s actually pretty adorable–I can tell that he’s reading the news and tucking little bits and pieces of his day away, so when I call, we have things to talk about.  If I’m honest, I’m doing that, too. I could just bitch and moan to Mama over the phone for hours, but I’d like to do a little better by my father right now.

The time he misses her most, though–and God, I hate this–is when he sits down to eat a meal. At an empty table.

An empty table is a very lonely thing.

It’s not something you ever plan on happening to you. Until it does.

He isn’t fixing a ton of meals for himself, although he’s proud that he’s learning to master the Art of Microwave and assemble a proper salad, and I’m proud of him for that, too. He usually eats one meal a day–his main meal, usually lunch–at a restaurant. He’s quickly become everyone’s favorite customer. He’s got quite a way with the ladies, my Daddy-o. I’ve never seen so many waitresses scramble to fill a water glass in my life. When I’m lucky enough to join him, it makes me happy that he’s out of the house and at least eating in a place that bustles with human activity. Even when he dines out alone, he says it’s okay. He doesn’t feel so alone, because it’s noisy. There’s a lot going on.

It’s those Goddamn solitary salads and ham sandwiches at an empty kitchen table that get him. They get me, too.

Meals are meant for conviviality; the table is a place to gather at the end of the day, with people you love. A homecoming. A back-together-Hey-how-was-your-day kind of thing. I don’t like the idea of him sitting alone.

If I had my way, Daddy-o would pack up his things and stay here for a while, where it’s crazy and raucous and there’s always a kid or an animal underfoot, but he’s stubborn. I try to bring up the topic of moving closer, but he’s stubborn about that, too.

He likes his house and he likes his routine and he’s German, dangit, so convincing him to change is an uphill affair. I’m trying to find a balance between pushing him and honoring his wishes. It’s awkward for all of us. We have no idea what we’re doing; all we know is that we’re hurting. And that we have to muddle through.

Together.

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Grief Risotto

April 17, 2016