housekeeping

roasted broccoli

Well, I hope I’m not jinxing things by saying so, but that last post seems to have worked: it’s looking and feeling more like spring every day! Today I drove with the windows down! Tonight as I’m typing, the birds are chirping! I’ve been hearing about Passover seders on Twitter and from friends, Easter is on Sunday, it’s practically April, after all! So in the spirit of welcoming (i.e., wishing, hoping, begging, pleading) for this new season that has. to. come. eventually, it’s time for a little spring cleaning. These are things I’ve been meaning to tell you, wanting to tell you or just plain am going to tell you. Settle in for a long post, cause that’s what we’ve got (with lots of pictures!).

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always, with lemon (roasted cauliflower)

sunday lunch at adam's

While it’s true I’m easily persuaded about most things, whether it’s trying cookies without flour, taking trips to new places or realizing I’d been wrong all along about that crazy thing called meatloaf, you could still say there are a few fixed aspects of my nature, ones I don’t expect I’ll ever shake.

It’s hard to imagine a me that didn’t love the sky, for example, who didn’t stare at the clouds or gasp at a golden sunset. Would I still be myself if I didn’t notice the seasons change? I love the way my dad chuckles when he knows he’s wrong, the way my mom only shows her full grin when she’s laughing hard, how my younger brother is a better driver, planner and cook than I am. And really, I’ll always move towards relationships without pretense. That’s just who I am.

cauliflower chopped

Since they say a person is defined by what she really loves, you might as well also know, in that case, that I like fall leaves and fresh fruit and people who sacrifice without expecting anything in return. I want warm sunshine and broad daylight and to spend time with those who know me.

Also, and no less important, there is lemon.

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what is simple and complex and real

green beans

One thing you can say for green beans: they make sense. When you take a big bag of them out of your second CSA box, for example, confusion is not what assaults you (unless it’s curiosity over which of the many good, good ways to make them you will choose).

That’s more than I can say for a lot of things, and I mean even beyond turnips or Swiss chard or bok choy. Like relationships—is there anything more wonderful, painful, easy, hard and just plain confusing than knowing another human being? In my life, I’ve sat across the dinner table from someone, recently, and heard myself sing-song-ing surface things like, Oh, you know, I’m just keeping busy with work, I like to bake, and nodding while they say, Yeah, here is what I do for a living and here is where I live and gee, it was great seeing you, let’s do it again sometime, while we both walk away with our pasted smiles, saying, call me later!, hoping we won’t, interacting on a shallow level when we both want deep (I mean, I want deep. Or at least real).

I want to be honest with the person I sit down with, to not pretend, to share my stories and hear theirs, to stand on top of the table at our plastic booth of pretense and yell WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS? But I don’t.

So eventually there comes a point when we’ll rise from the table, from the topics, to something else, anything else, that feels safe, and neat, and not so messy. I think we both want to know and show love, but we fail at it.

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we’ll start somewhere

fresh parsley

The smell of parsley makes me think of Passover, and the Seders we had at our house, all through my growing up years, with different friends each time, when my mom would make a big meal that everyone would rave about. On those nights, we’d dip sprigs of parsley in salt water—the parsley symbolizing spring and the newness of life, the salt water reminding us of the tears of Israel while they were in Egypt, before God parted the Red Sea and brought them out of captivity.

Until last night, that was the only place I’ve ever eaten parsley on its own. I’ve had it in things—like Thanksgiving stuffing, where it reduces from leafy stalks to bending, fragrant herbs on the stove, drenched in butter and sauted with onions. I know bits of it—dried or fresh—go into all kinds of marinades and rubs, and I know it’s very inexpensive to buy at the store (I want to say it was $0.99 for a bundle in November Wisconsin, which, when you think about it, is kind of amazing).

But when I saw the fat package of it in my CSA box, I figured I may as well give this formerly-only-of-the-holidays herb a chance to stand on its own, a chance for us to get to know each other in a new context.

Enter this Lemon-Rice Parsley Salad adapted from Food + Wine.

sweet pepper

Besides the fact that this recipe calls for a full cup of packed, chopped parsley (exactly how much I had! do you believe in fate?), it also requires half a sweet pepper, which was a bonus in my learning-to-use-vegetables plan.

half a sweet pepper

Now, as far as getting out of my comfort zone, I cheated a little with this one, since I already knew I’d like it when I saw the olive oil and lemon juice, which, between us, can usually make me like just about anything. (I read an article once about a famous chef I can’t recall the name of now, who said everything is improved with a little lemon on top. Amen.)

lemons

rice and olive oil

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never need to go back

orange sherbet

When you tell people you spent your freshman year—and only your freshman year—in Florida, at a small school in Clearwater just a quick drive from white, sandy beaches and surrounded by year-long sunshine, the most typical response is confusion, especially when they find out you later transferred to the northern woods of Wisconsin, just a half hour from the U.P.

What can I say? The truth is, Florida and I never quite hit it off: first, there was the intense heat when I arrived in August, with humidity that made my hair frizz any time I stepped out the door. Then there were the bed bugs, the failed French test, the homesickness and the time I passed out, trying to give blood. Mostly, there was Christmastime, and while I loved the beach on spring break in high school, it was an entirely different thing in December, when white twinkling lights and waving Santas dotted yards of palm trees and colorful flowers, and we still didn’t need coats.

One thing I will say for Florida though, and this is something important: it makes a good orange. More times than I should admit, my friend Liz and I hopped in her bright yellow Volkswagen bug, the one with daisies propped up in the console, headed to the retail shop for a local orange grove. I guess some people would make the trip for the oranges, or the juice maybe. Us? We went for the ice cream.

orange slices

Orange Blossom Groves in Clearwater, at least in the 2000-2001 school year, made the most amazing orange soft serve ice cream, totally worth our driving over in the middle of the day, even more than once a week. That soft serve was perfection: silky, creamy, icy cold, incredibly fresh. Of course the entire place smelled like citrus—the way your hands do when you peel one and the fragrance sticks to your fingers, your palms, the knife you cut it with—but the ice cream’s taste was the smell times ten. You know that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where they’re in Italy and Robert gets the peach gelato and says it’s like he’s never tasted a peach before? That was what this soft serve was like, only orange.

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take it with you

pretty and pink

At the end of some weeks, what you really need is a pretty pink drink, you know?

It’s not that this past one hasn’t been good—filled with kind people, strangers who felt like friends, unexpected work and unexpected rest—it has. In fact, like I could tell you about most of my life, it’s been filled with grace—that which I don’t deserve but which finds me, when I need it, when my strength is not enough, sent in the form of family who comes when you need them, people who pray, phone calls with old friends and, candied sweet potatoes from Boston Market late at night.

But it’s also been a little harder than I’d expected say, Monday afternoon, when I’d jotted down my to-do list of tasks for the night, none of which would end up being accomplished. So, just between us, I’m glad it’s Friday again, I’m glad I’ve cleared my schedule for tomorrow and, you know, I’m glad I have something pretty and pink to hold in my hand.

This simple spritzer is a blend of pomegranate and lemon juices, mixed with sugar and made fizzy with club soda. The carbonation is important—it reminds me of the to-die-for sparkle tea I had last summer, when Sonja and I sweated through Lincoln Park on a hot July afternoon, and Argo Tea lured us inside with a free sample—it really ups the refreshment factor. In this drink, you blend everything, pour it all on top of ice and garnish with mint leaves, and voila: instant luxury.

And on the topic of things pretty and pink, I should tell you this recipe originates from Mia King, as published in her soon-to-be-released book, Table Manners, which not only sports a pink cover but is the literary version of a romantic comedy and an incredibly easy companion.

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This is the good stuff.

crumb of lemon yogurt cake

I don’t know where you sit today, but I hope your view is as nice as mine, where the air smells sweet and the sun is high. Charcoal grills send smoke through my windows, green grass surrounds blooming tulips and daffodils, restaurants open their walls so we can dine al fresco as the sun sets.

I’ve realized as much as I hate Chicago winter, I love it for this: what else could make me so aware of the beauty of Chicago spring? And as spring turns to summer and summer to fall, I will keep enjoying the beauty of seasons, the joy of watching change unfold around you, irrespective of you and what you want. It’s nice to be a part of that.

I guess what I’m saying is that these almost-summer afternoons are the good stuff, what we’ve been waiting for, so maybe you’ll understand why it’s hard to resist all they tempt me towards? Things like a sunny weekend game at Wrigley Field, hours antiquing in northern Illinois, long walks on tree-lined streets of ivy-colored brick buildings.

lemon yogurt cake, close

Last week, I met a three-year-old girl with an easy smile, while we walked down creaky steps in a vintage building near a Metra station, surrounded by trees with blossoms as big as my hands. Saturday, after lunching at one my favorite places with an old blogging friend, I strolled along Clark to Broadway, passing bakeries and restaurants and adorable little shops. And this week, after work each day, I’ll come home with no plans but to be outside, watching the tomato plants grow and ready for the sky to turn orange and crimson before I pillow my head.

Also last week, because I wasn’t done with Oikos Greek yogurt yet, I made this cake.

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