There’s a field down the street from where I live. It’s been there as long as I can remember and in this day and age, where suburban sprawl pushes deeper and deeper into the outskirts - until there’s no city center at all, but just one suburban town butting into another and another - finding a field like this has become a rare thing, indeed.
A few years back, before the omnipresent talk of recessions and housing bubbles and job creation, it was going to be another housing development. The pumpkin patch would go –leveled and paved – and in its place, another set of houses squeezed as closely together as possible: cookie-cutter facades masking builder’s grade cabinetry and mirror-image floor plans. But instead, in the epic downturn of the economy, something good came out of it all.
The building stopped. The pumpkin patch remained and the fields were not built over. The grasses grew back and then the bushes and h flowers.
Now it’s a strawberry field. It’s owned by an Asian family and on certain days during the summer, you can see them hunched over, harvesting the fields, nothing but their straw hats -nón lá – bobbing up and down.
And these strawberries warmed in the sun: sweet and soft, with just a twinge of tartness behind a round, sweet flavor are so delicious, you find that you just can’t look at a normal, frankenberry the same way again. They’re lovely and delicious and, even for a girl who’ll take a big ol’ slice of cake for dessert any day, they’d be perfect for dessert just by themselves.
Dear bad day,
I despise you. Loathe you. Don’t like anything about you. Today I wanted happiness. Today I had good hair – wasted on angry words, judgment and meanness. Today felt just fine until the ugly crept in, insidious and sneaking, setting up camp right in my gut where it’s feeding on my insides.
I’m exhausted from the gnawing coming inside out. Tired from all the battling this day has seen. The fatigue has crept in and now the only remedy for the slinking ugliness is rest. Perhaps sleep will drown out the voices of the day; dimming sadness, causing it to fade away. Maybe the darkness of rest will bring lightness to tomorrow.
And just like that, I banish you from my existence. You are gone.
You have no power here.
Tomorrow you will be a distant memory,
After many hours toiling on the Internet (ok, maybe just a two-minute Google search) the final verdict on the rhubarab issue is:
BUT... it's not really so simple, friends. The botanical...etymology, if you will, is slightly more complex:
| || |In 1947, rhubarb was legally classified as a fruite, even though botanically rhubarb is a vegetable. It was the United States Customs Court in Buffalo, New York, that ruled rhubarb to be a fruit since it was used mainly as a fruit. This cost-effective act allowed imported rhubarb to pay a smaller duty than if it was a vegetable. Dubbed "pie plant," pie was the only dish this tart treat was used for in the early days.* | |
Et voilà. Capitalism prevails. Fruit it is.
I find rhubarb mysterious.
It probably goes right up there with the existence of the universe and the meaning of life and why my refrigerator freezes my lettuce only when I feel like having a salad and there’s nothing else in the fridge.
You see, we don’t get a lot of rhubarb in our neck of the woods. Rhubarb is more of a cool weather plant and well,
frequent hundred degree weather around here wouldn’t exactly be described as cool.
I mean, you know it’s hot when you find yourself having in-depth conversations with your girlfriends about the best underwear fabric for the weather (high performance wicking vs. cotton). And these discussions turn into heated debates. But I digress…
It’s hot and I find rhubarb mysterious.
Rhubarb mystifies me because it’s a fruit.
It is a fruit, right?
I mean, it goes in pies, apparently (though I’ve never had a strawberry rhubarb pie that I can recall), but it looks so…stalky.
Is rhubarb a tree?
It looks tree-like.
You have to cut it up into chunks, but then it cooks down.
It’s red and it’s kind of green, too.
And seriously, the stalk thing. I don’t think I get it.
But it’s strange, rhubarb’s just been…around. All of a sudden, there it is in the stores, all rhubarb-y, defying the heat.
So I made rhubarb cake. A summer rhubarb cake.
And you know what? It was pretty good.
A little bit tart, the cake and crumb set off the rhubarb in a way that made it a perfect, summer cake.
It was delicious. Mysteriously delicious.
Mysterious Rhubarb Summer Cake (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 1/4 pound (565 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lenghths on the diagonal
1 1/3 cup (265 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice (psst, skip ahead and zest it for the cake before you cut it)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups (165 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup (80 grams) sour creamCrumb
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces, or 55 grams) unsalted butter, melted
Make the cake: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 8x11-inch baking pan with butter or a nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper, extending the lengths up two sides. (It will look like a sling). Stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and 2/3 cup sugar and set aside. Beat butter, remaining sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at at time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Whisk together flour, baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon table salt and ground ginger together in a small bowl. Add one-third of this mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue, adding half the sour cream, the second third of the flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.
Dollop batter over prepared pan, then use a spatula — offset, if you have one, makes this easiest — to spread the cake into an even, thin layer. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake, spreading it into an even layer (most pieces should fit in a tight, single layer).
Stir together the crumb mixture, first whisking the flour, brown sugar, table salt and cinnamon together, then stirring in the melted butter with a spoon or fork. Scatter evenly over rhubarb layer. Bake cake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake is done when a tester comes out free of the wet cake batter below. It will be golden on top. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.
Cut the two exposed sides of the cake free of the pan, if needed, then use the parchment “sling” to remove the cake from the pan. Cut into 2-inch squares and go ahead and eat the first one standing up. (If it’s written into the recipe, it’s not “sneaking” a piece but, in fact, following orders, right?) Share the rest with friends. Cake keeps at room temperature for a few days, but I didn’t mind it at all from the fridge, where I kept it covered tightly.
I’ve been thinking about leaps.
Having grown up with a parent who kept a bucket list long before it was the trendy thing to do (and certainly long before Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman popularized it in the 2006 film by Rob Reiner), it never occurred to me that listing out what you wanted and needed to do before you died was an odd thing. My mom called it (and still calls it, actually) her list of, “things to do before I die.” I like that it’s now becoming more common; it’s good to have an end goal.
I was, coincidentally, watching The Bachelor (I know, I know…) when I was inspired by a concept that they brought up:
A leap list.
While a Bucket List is supposed to be a list of things that happen before you, “kick the bucket,” a “Leap List” is a list of things before you have a major life change: a big birthday, having children, or graduating from school. It’s all the things you want to do before you make a big leap.
I like it.
I recently came to the realization that it’s been four years since I finished university. That means (and now you’re doing the math) that I have officially been out of school for as long as I was in it.
So I figure that, at 26, turning 30 is as “leap” worthy as any other arbitrarily chosen milestone. Particularly since it doesn’t look like I’m getting married or having children any time soon.
I haven’t decided on a complete list of leap-worth things (though something like running a half marathon or seeing the bison may be on it), but I actually completed one just yesterday.
Friends, I am blonde.
Like, legitimately, bleachy bleachy blonde.
If you know me (even a little) you’ll know that it’s a big deal. Because, let’s face it, I’m a brunette kind of gal. I read lots of books. I avoid direct sunlight if possible. My favorite season is the fall. I listen to classical music without being forced. I’m not exactly a stereotypical blonde.
But for years I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have blonde hair (and, truth be told, I was a very blonde baby), so I figured, what the heck. And now my first leap list item (ok, it’s still a work in progress and getting the color just right will take a few more visits to the salon) can be officially crossed off. Neat.
Wondering is great. But wondering “what if” is the worst kind of wonder out there. It seems to me that leaping - literally, proverbially, or otherwise, is easier when you’ve taken baby steps to get there. We can’t stop forward progression; change is constant, but we can prepare ourselves for the big moments, so that when we arrive at the precipice, we have the muscle to boldly, proudly, happily take the leap.
The new hair with a very tired, poorly lit me.
“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.” - Kofi Annan
Have you seen it? I’m looking for the ball, I seemed to have dropped it somewhere.
Life these days feels like a mad attempt to keep myself afloat. Just above water, but still not swimming the way I want.
But today, today I needed to find the ball, pick it up and play the game. Today was kind of a big day, if only for me.
Today was the day I was supposed to come home. Up until this point, I was supposed to be in France: teaching, living, being. But I haven’t been. I haven’t been in France. The plans changed.
I ran today.
Actually, it was sprinting. I did sprints this morning to practice for the Ultimate Frisbee league that I am in. At 6 this morning, I was at the gym, doing sprints on the treadmill for my league.
I was up at 6AM and not 9 or 10 AM because I had to go to work today.
And for those reasons, today was a quiet celebration. Why? Because in France, a day like today couldn’t exist for me. That was goal. In France, where I was, when I was and with whom I was, I couldn’t possibly have done what I did today. So today was worth noting.
Leaving France was hard.
Deciding to leave France was hard. I’ve never quit anything before it was over: never left, even when it didn’t feel right to stay. So deciding to leave France, rather than continue on the slow path of physical, emotional and spiritual deterioration, was a hard decision. But in the end, leaving France and coming home wasn’t hard.
Sometimes I forget that I was even there. Rather, most days, it feels like it was only just a dream. A distant memory punctuating the reality of my life here.
But here’s the thing.
Just as I don’t regret having come home when I did and why I did, I don’t regret having gone to France either.
You see, France was a bridge. France was a moment in time; an opportunity to move on, to let go and to get distance from where I was, in order to embrace where I am now.
Sometimes in life, we all need to find our own France. Sometimes we need to take a moment to breathe and to change our scenery. Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves, lose ourselves, take the leap into the unknown –throw it all out the window and chase whatever it is we think we need. Because sometimes what we think we want, what we think we need, what we think is missing isn’t what we thought at all. But if we never go to France – never
test the water – we’ll never be able to let go of the dream of what it could have, would have, should have been. We’ll never be able to move on and see how, after all the heartache and break, that we are, after all, stronger in the broken places.
So today I sprinted and went to the gym, worked and made plans with friends. Today, leaving France became ok. Because I left when it was time - not when the timer was up; because in doing so I made a goal for myself that in this interim I would make the life I wanted to make. The life that wasn’t possible there. And while I still have
miles to go before I sleep, today was a good day, because I made it exactly what I wanted it to be.
To the most amazing, awesome, brave, caring, smart and funny person I know: My very best friend, Shelly!
Shelly and I met in 2005, through our sorority:
In college, at a sorority event.
Shelly loves to be silly:
Designing trash bag dresses for another sorority get together in college.
Who knows what we're doing.
We like to bust moves like champions (Shelly is better than me):
Shelly loves to travel and see the world; she appreciates diversity:
NYC Central Park.
Shelly is smart. She reads and listens and is constantly learning:
Shelly loves good food (and drinks!) and is a great cook!
A shared affinity for big beer.
Shelly is compassionate. She talks the talk, but also walks the walk:
Some of her girls camp participants. Shelly also designed the shirts!
Shelly loves animals - all kinds!
I'm not really sure what I did to deserve the friendship of such an amazing, wonderful person. Shelly is currently finishing up two years of Peace Corps service in Africa and will be coming home in just a few months! I miss her so much and even though we are apart on her birthday, I wanted to wish her a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I love you Shelly - many many many happy returns! To the next seven years - and beyond!
I’m tired, friends.
I’ve actually been tired for three weeks, just in case you wanted to know.
You probably didn’t want to know that, really.
The thing is, I’m back to the 9 to 5 grind and, along with some other things (like my trip to LA), have been totally busy. I feel like I’m in a constant jog.
I want to preface my statements by saying that I really like my job: the people are great, the work challenging (but not too challenging) and the fact that I get a paycheck every two weeks isn’t too bad, either. But man (and I know how cliché this sounds) I wish I had more hours in the day.
Don’t you think it’s strange how we’ve set up a society that requires us to spend a large majority of our waking minutes working at a job, just so we can survive? Doesn’t that seem ironic?
As I’ve said, it’s not that I don’t like work, it’s just that, when I’m done with work, I wish I had a few more hours, ya know?
It kind of reminds me of a Deep Space Nine episode* where they reveal that in the depths of space, where– and you’ve never thought about this, have you? – they artificially create day and nighttime, the average day is actually longer than 24 hours.
I love this. I want this.
But I still only want to have to work for 8 hours in my longer day. Apparently you get used to the longer days. At least according to Star Trek. And oh boy, how I wish it were true. Because I really really want more hours in the day.
And to live in the Star Trek universe. But that’s a different story altogether, isn’t it?
*oh what, you didn’t know how much I love for Star Trek? Deeply and intensely. It’s true.
So, where in the world am I?
Well that’s an existential question, indeed.
But literally and physical I’m in …Los Angeles. Better known as SoCal.
Being back in LA is a strange experience – I went to college here (in Orange County, actually and yes, there is a difference and yes, people down here care about that distinction) and I’ve been back only once, for a quick weekend trip for my twenty-third birthday. And as I got to thinking about it, that was quite a few years ago, which actually, is amazing. Three years feels simultaneously a lifetime ago and then again, just yesterday; it’s funny how life work that way.
Coming back down the grapevine, the geographic division between Northern and Southern California, I started to get a funny feeling –for years I took the seven-hour drive down South and, towards the end of that period of time, became increasingly sure that I was much too NorCal to be able to live in SoCal. (And people wonder why there are constant wars over what seem, to an outsider, like innocuous regional differences). It wasn’t so much that the place was unbearable. In fact, there are many redeeming qualities – the beautiful weather, the ocean, the great food (not only Mexican, but also a general interest in eating good quality, whole foods), the abundance of exciting things happening that you can only get in a big metropolis – to the greater Los Angeles area, but I was pretty sure that if I stayed, all the negative things would probably end up sucking out my soul. You see if you’re not careful, SoCal can get you thinking that things, rather than people are what matter most. You might end up thinking that having a sexy car is important because your car, of course is all about your identity. You may end up thinking you’re not thin enough, well-dressed enough or blonde enough. If you have a tendency, as I do, to getting caught up in aesthetic, it can be a slippery slope.
This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen in my neck of the woods, but when you’re shopping at WinCo every week, it does have a tendency to keep you grounded in the reality of a variety of different lifestyles.
All that being said, I’m looking at this as a bit of a test. Decidedly, four years after having graduated from university, I’m pretty different.
Well, at least, I’ve a had a lot of experiences that have grown my perspective: seeing so many corners of the world, good relationships, bad relationships, new friends, hobbies, health issues, employment, unemployment, and disappointments. A lot has changed. And all of these things have altered my worldview.
So I’m interested to see how much more the me now can stomach what the me then found so utterly unappealing. It’s an intriguing question, the factor of perspective on our emotional response. I’ll be interested to see what things that irritated me then will pop right back up to the surface and which ones will make me that, nah, it’s not so bad after all.
I’m only here for a week, but it should be plenty of time to get a feel for it again. And, of course, see some friends who unlike me, have managed to maintain a semblance of class and a down to earth nature, despite the potential negative. But what can I say? They must be better people than I. So, we’ll see how the week goes.
KD's Note: I would cut the oil a bit, and double the rest of the dressing ingredients to really up the flavor intensity.
Lemon Garlic Orzo Pasta Salad with Feta, Bell Pepper and Tomato (adapted from Epicurious)
12 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups crumbled seasoned feta cheese (such as basil and tomato; about 6 ounces)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 cup chopped tomato
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Transfer to large bowl. Combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, mustard and cumin in small bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper and add to warm orzo. Allow to cool slightly.
Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add crumbled feta cheese, chopped bell peppers, Kalamata olives and tomatoes.
Add dressing to orzo mixture and toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)