Posts tagged ‘berries’
It’s August, and that means it’s blackberry season in the pacific northwest.
The blackberry bushes here are inescapable, weeds even. I pass the thorny plants growing along our neighborhood, behind my school, and against the sidewalks. We had some in our backyard when we first bought the house, until my mother hacked the branches away in a fit of determination. Every year, when I spot the fat berries hanging low on their vines, like clusters of black beads, it feels more like summer than anything.
I’ve been seeing them all month, but I haven’t been craving them… Until a few days ago. I was sitting at the dinner table, thumbing through the pile of cookbooks that live there permanently. It’s my habit when I’m bored. I flip back to the dessert section and try to make myself hungry. That day, I saw a marionberry tart, but for some reason it made me want blackberries.
Because they’re so expensive, I didn’t eat a lot of berries growing up. Even today, in my mind they’re exotic. Raspberries, blueberries, marionberries – they should be reserved for special occasions, like a birthday or celebration. But blackberries are so plentiful here, and so easy to get.
When I was in elementary school, my mom and I liked to visit a park by our old condo. I’d never seen so many blackberry bushes before. They towered high over my head like a maze, and the air between them seemed to buzz with insects and filtered sunlight and the sweetness of sugar. It all came back to me in a rush as I sat there with the cookbook in my hands.
I couldn’t get blackberries out of my mind. When I decide I want something, I just can’t avoid it. I mentioned the berries over and over to my parents. My mom said she remembered where the park was, so after breakfast we headed out. We were nearly there when my dad pulled the car onto a fence-lined stretch of gravel in a rare patch of shade.
“This isn’t the park,” I protested, but he pointed along the side of the road.
“They’re everywhere,” he said, pointing at the blackberry brambles twisting in and out of the barbed wire.
I was doubtful as I opened the trunk and passed out bowls to my parents. This didn’t seem as nostalgic and serene as my memories at the park. Even in the shade we couldn’t escape the hazy swelter of the afternoon sun, like hot breath on our backs. Spiders dangled from leaves and cars sped behind us in a whirr.
We spaced ourselves several meters apart from each other. I reached for the darkest, plumpest berries on the highest vines, straining on my tiptoes and stretching up. As gentle as I tried to be, they burst out of their skins when I dropped them into my bowl. Before long my hands were perfumed with juice, which stained the ridges of my fingerprints purple-red and smelled like August.
The whole way home, I breathed the fragrance in and dreamed of dessert.
And I got it. The blackberries are truly the star of this blackberry, peach, and ginger crumble.
The peaches are really delicious too. I like peaches, but I can’t say that I love them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a perfect peach, or even a really good one. The rest of my family has – every year my grandma wistfully describes fresh peach ice cream and lattice peach pie. Or better – fresh and still sun warmed, eaten off the tree. But me? I’m satisfied to cut them into rough chunks and toss them with berries in a crumble.
And the ginger was almost an afterthought, but such a good one. I loved dicing the crystallized ginger into tiny cubes, because it left big sugar crystals and the sharpness of ginger all over my cutting board. You only get a little in each bite, but you know it when you find it.
The original recipe calls this dessert a crisp, but I substituted some cream cheese into the oat topping. I had some leftover to use up, and the result was delicious. I could taste a subtle tang, and it made the topping a little soft and chewy. I’m not sure what makes a crumble a crumble, but somehow “crisp” didn’t seem right. All I know is that I shamelessly dug into whatever-you-call-it straight out of the pan, hot or chilled, for breakfast or for dessert in the warm twilight.
These past few weeks, I’ve felt suspended in limbo. In a lot of ways, this summer feels like my last. The last summer I can get away without having a steady job. The last summer where my high school friends are all in town and trying to keep us together. The last summer I’ll see the world the way I do right now. I keep having to remind myself that I’m a high school graduate, and that everything is about to change in September.
I don’t feel like a college freshman, the way I still don’t feel like a legal adult. Once in a while, when I hear from a friend or spot the square graduation cap in my closet, I’m stifled with hesitation. There are moments where I don’t think I’ll survive if I’m tossed into the depths of the unknown. But sooner or later, I walk past someone with a Red Sox tee or tell someone about my expected major – and then I’m overwhelmed with a desire to pack up and move to Boston already.
The morning after I graduated, I thought to myself, “This is it. This summer is like the eye of a hurricane.” A month in, though, I’m seeing it a little differently. The next two months aren’t the calm before an unstoppable storm… they’re a window of opportunity. The opportunity to relax while shouldering a bit of responsibility, and to enjoy every second of this limbo.
So what have I been doing with my last days in Washington? Even though Seattle is currently going through a miniature heat wave, I’ve been spending most of my hours in the kitchen.
It started about a week ago. My dad and I were at the dinner table, talking about college and 17 and Baking. Up until then, I’d felt unconcernedly confident about maintaining the blog through the school year. After all, it simply had to work out. How hard could it be to keep up the blogging?
But little by little, tiny cracks chipped away at my optimism. I came to the unpleasant conclusion that I can’t bring the KitchenAid mixer with me. It’s so heavy, how we would transport it across the country? And where would I keep it – my dorm? Would I carry it down the streets of Boston in search of a kitchen? I reluctantly admitted there were flaws in my idealism, all the way down to the simple issue of where I’d store flour and eggs. Would I even have time?
So I’ve begun baking like crazy to stock up on photos. While I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to keep blogging through the blustery chills of October and the January freeze, it contradicts my general philosophy of only using seasonal items. In the past week, my searches for wintery produce and dabbles with autumn spices have only reinforced my appreciation for seasonal ingredients.
It’s July, and it’s also a window of opportunity for the fruits and vegetables I’ve waited for all winter. I’ve missed the satisfaction of a real tomato, heavy with juice and sweeter than sugar. It’s been too long since I last eased a knife through the streaked hull of a watermelon. I’ve been craving the fuzzy blush of a peach and the first seed-studded bite into a strawberry ever since January. They just aren’t good in April – some things are worth waiting for.
Gosh, I’m hungry again.
And with the ingredients come the dishes I’ve been lusting after. Spontaneous fruits-of-the-moment fruit salads, cold cucumber soup, sparkling herb lemonade! Even water tastes better when you’re drinking it between forkfuls of grilled salmon with grape and melon chutney.
I know I’m not the only foodie in town excited by summer produce. My parents have both been waiting, and it’s finally the time of year for my dad’s zesty blueberry corn salad with lime, and my mom’s avocado and sundried tomato eggrolls with chili dipping sauce. There’s only a short window of time when we can indulge ourselves in these savory summer dishes, and we’re taking full advantage of it.
I love my mother’s eggrolls. She first came up with them last summer, and when avocado season rolled around this year we began eating batch after batch. She starts with a gorgeously ripe avocado – as creamy and thick as butter, the kind of green that sends happy flutters in your stomach. Add sun dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro and sharp red onion, and you’ve hit upon something special – smooth, crispy, chewy, and indulgent.
My dad loves the combination of fresh blueberries and gently cooked corn. The corn is still a little warm, still has a little pop to it. The blueberries are cool and sweet. Spritzed with lime, they become like dark pearls, stunning against the light yellow kernels and flecks of zest. There’s only a small period of time when blueberry season and corn season cross, so now’s the time to make this refreshing salad… over and over again.
In the coming weeks, as summer draws to an end, I might get sick of flaky eggroll skin or juicy corn. Before long, I’ll be longing for pumpkin puree and for the give of a ripe pear, the way it smells like crisp leaves and November rain. But everything is worth the wait. And for now, I’ll enjoy the summer’s bounty as long as it blooms, ripens, and warms in the July heat.
It was no surprise to anyone that after 8th grade graduation, I sobbed for weeks.
I didn’t just cry at the pre-ceremony event, the actual ceremony, and the post-ceremony party. Instead, weeks into summer, I broke down whenever I heard the Vitamin C graduation song or saw a friend’s face. Looking back at the past, it’s ridiculous and a little embarrassing, but not surprising. I was always an overly sensitive kid.
I remember once, when I was in middle school, unearthing a box of old school reports from my elementary school teachers. I’d opened and read every report written about me since the first grade. I don’t know what I expected, but I was disappointed to see the same thing written every year: “While Elissa shows a clear passion for learning, she needs to control her emotions. She feels everything a little too much.”
Reading those papers, I felt like my sensitivity was a major weakness, my biggest flaw. If only I could learn to make my heart a little tougher, life would suddenly make sense. But I felt like I couldn’t change what was so clearly part of me. My life was overflowing with sensitivity.
Fast forward four years, and my sensitivity certainly hasn’t left. I’m consumed with sympathy when I hear about earthquakes or hurricanes or oil spills around the world. If I make a rude offhand comment to my mother in the morning, it drenches my entire day with guilt. And I still cry when I watch the Lion King. It’s just so sad.
But somehow, something has changed. I graduated Monday night on my school’s football field. I didn’t cry when I walked into the main gym for the last time and saw my entire senior class in blue gowns and square caps. I kept it together when my mother presented me with the purple lei she’d secretly bought for me, just for this occasion. My heart didn’t break when I finally saw my parents in the crowd, smiling like 150 watts.
Because I didn’t spend the entire time crying, I’ll remember things about this graduation that I can’t remember from 8th grade. I’ll remember how A- kept knocking off my graduation hat, so I couldn’t get it straight during the actual ceremony (thanks a lot.) I’ll remember the way the knots of my cords felt against the back of my neck, and the melody that C- and M- played on their cellos. And surreal and dreamy as it might be, I’ll remember the snapshot image of everyone’s caps suspended in the air, like they could float there forever.
It’s Wednesday – a lifetime of hugs, handshakes, photographs, laughs, and memories later. I still haven’t shed a tear. It’s not that I’m not sad to leave high school, because I am. I’ll miss my morning carpool with C-, my doodles in first period with M-, and watching Battlestar Galactica in E-‘s basement with a pillow clutched to my chest. In a few months, I’ll begin to miss things that I haven’t even thought of, the little things I took for granted every day I went to class.
But something fundamental has changed in me. In 8th grade, I clung so fervently to the past that I had to be dragged into the next stage of my life. I was terrified of change, even though I couldn’t admit it. And now? Well, I’m still terrified of change. But I’m also ready for it, eager for it. The thrill of college is tangible and overwhelming – it’s electric.
And while I don’t think I’ll ever stop tearing up when Simba takes his rightful place in Pride Rock, I’m no longer held back by sensitivity as a weakness. In fact, wielded in the right way, I think it’s a strength. It’s what fills my head with imagery as a writer, it’s what lets me empathize with everyone around me, and it’s what makes life so much richer an experience.
My life is no longer overflowing with sensitivity – it’s flowing with inspiration. Everywhere I look, I am surrounded by potential and motivation. I want to take everything I’ve learned in high school and change the world with knowledge. I want to throw myself into Boston head first, arms open. I want to read every book in existence, and let the words push me forward.
I devoured A Homemade Life in one afternoon several weeks ago. It’s by my hero Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette, and it’s beautiful. She weaves every story with family and food and love, tying everything in her life to the meals she remembers. “Inspiring” feels like an understatement – I want to write a book like that someday.
But for now, maybe I can be satisfied with baking food like that today. When I saw her recipe for white chocolate coeur de la crème, I couldn’t stop myself from making it that very evening. It’s a mousse made with cream, cream cheese, and white chocolate, chilled and served in dollops with berry puree. It was everything she’d described – creamy, soft, simultaneously airy and substantial – brought to life.
It’s incredible how my view of the world has changed in four years. What will the next four bring?
I was almost fooled by the week of sunny weather Seattle’s seen, but the rain has finally begun to pour.
Just last week, the cherry blossom trees stretched over my head in airy, arching bloom, but these days I have to duck to avoid the low branches laden with water. Rain streaks down the windows, bathing everything in a steely blue glow. Umbrellas pop open like strange flowers when I walk outside. In the mornings I wear red rain boots to class, and in the evenings I fall asleep with the sound of rain in my hair.
I usually like this kind of weather, but right now, I can’t stand it. I’m impatient for summer. Impatient for dusty sidewalk chalk and melting Creamsicles, but mostly for everything summer represents – freedom, relaxation. No stress. There are only two months to go, but I don’t think I can make myself wait.
I am tired of being patient.
I was patient all through Christmas break, through the slush of February and the bitter chill of March. Four months to go until college letters… now two months… one month to go… Every day I switched between cheery confidence and desperate doubt. It was like picking petals off a daisy – they’ll accept me, they’ll accept me not…
After months of waiting, I finally received the last of my college decisions yesterday. Of the eight schools I applied to, I was accepted at five. I was waitlisted at two very good universities. But the only school I really wanted to go to, the only school that could stir any passion in me at all, was the last one to send out decisions.
The whole day was simply killing time. I came home early and found that I had nothing to do. I ate a banana. I checked the mailbox (it was empty.) I read a book of short stories without understanding any of them. When the decision was available online, my brain staggered. I fumbled my way to the website and watched the page load with agonizing slowness.
I skimmed the first line and immediately knew. The letter was brief, polite, encouraging. It was brutal.
I read it, read it again, read it a third time with burning eyes. Emotions passed through me like images on a strip of film – horror, confusion, anger, pain, exhaustion, heartache, sorrow – until I couldn’t feel anything and laid face down on my bed, overwhelmed. Then I cried until my skin was as taut and my body was as hollow as a drum.
Have you ever felt like you’ve been waiting patiently your whole life for something? Something to validate all the work you’ve done? That’s how I felt. I’m just so disappointed in myself and I can’t help but feel wounded and unsure. I curse the thought that my only outright rejection is the only one I can’t take. I keep thinking about what I could have done, how I could have been better. I know it’s useless, but you aren’t rational when your heart is breaking.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve moved on, that the rain has cleared and I can smell summer around the bend and life is good. Not yet. It hasn’t hit me, but I know it will.
I didn’t break down today, as miserable as I felt every time I had to answer with that sad little smile, “Yep… rejected.” When I came home I wanted to be in the kitchen. And more than anything, I wanted to write. Typing out this post has been as good as Tylenol so far.
So much of my future is a mystery, but there are some things I can be certain of. Family, good food, and good company. I can be sure of ice cold lemonade in the summer to come and spiced pumpkin pie in the autumn to follow. I can be sure that luck will be with me wherever I go, though it may not always seem like luck at first, and that I will always have the patience to weather the wait.
These bars come together and bake in no time at all. Instant gratification, no patience required. For now, I can be grateful for that.
[PS: Happy birthday Grandma. Love you.]