we are definitely turning the page here at this old shingled house. the bespectacled architecture critic no longer calls me from the office at 8 at night, saying he’ll be stuck writing for a few more hours. there are no carpools to coordinate, no getting up at 5 in the morning for soccer matches in kingdom come. i’ve gotten used to the new geographies in my head, the ones that have me simultaneously keeping track of news, weather, and covid in new york city and the middlelands of ohio, the current turfs of both of our birthlings.
somehow, without notice, without even a sign posting the warning, we’ve moved into the loveliest calmest quietest chapter of our married life that ever there was. (do not think of even uttering a syllable of the R word, the one synonymous with hanging up one’s professional hat; one of us has no intention of putting away the keyboard and the other seems to have taken up full-time swimming, biking, and running across finish lines). underscoring the shift, this year we’ll be racking up plenty of lasts in the kid department: the last college drop off. last parents weekend. last winter and spring breaks. last graduation. last packing up the dorm room. last whopping tuition bill.
we are, very much so, on the final verge of true empty nesting.
it’s a mix tinged with poignancy, and a good measure of disbelief. time passes so swiftly, you suddenly realize. after years and years of thinking the routines will never be broken. poof, and they’re gone!
we’re late to this party, only because i found myself in a delivery room when others i knew were there awaiting their grandbabies, but i was there because of what felt and always will feel like i somehow squeaked through the maternity ward as the very last egg was being cleared from the deck. and, as with so much in my life, i’ve been soaking it in from every which angle, taking none of it lightly, extracting as much as i possibly could at every twist, turn, and trial along the way.
ours, these days, is a quiet life by choice. my favorite hours are nestled in books and on my knees in the garden, over coffees with people i love, and the dinners at the end of the day when we weave together the threads we’ve both followed all through the day. i know full well that every drop of it is pure blessing, a benevolence no one deserves, for life is not doled out in rewards and punishments. we just get what we get, and it’s ours to savor or squander. i’ve had more than enough hours staring into the shadowed abyss, imagining sudden endings, to perk up my relishing gears. (the bright side of being a doomsayer is that any and every happy ending is reason for rousing hallelujah. don’t mind my scrambled up wiring. seven decades in, it works for me just as it is.)
anyway, this weekend’s the last-ever parents weekend, that glorious mix of scintillating speakers and professorial panels, long strolls across a campus straight out of the picture books, and delivering a pile of groceries and pies and blankets and boots only a college kid’s idiosyncratic tastes would relish or request (who else would send a middle-of-the-night text asking for portwine spread cheese, rubber-soled boots, and someplace good to go out for dinner?). i plan to savor every sweet drop, knowing not long from now i’ll pine for the chance to make-believe i’m a kid savoring college. (as long as i don’t peek in the mirror, and wonder who in the world is the one with the locks now the color of silvery moon.)
i know, because life has taught me over and over, whole new adventures await, and none of this will ever get dull. but i’ve loved this part where you hover fairly closely over the shoulder of the kids you’ve brought into the world, and feel your heart grow by the week and the month and the year. i know, because life is already teaching me, each of their new adventures becomes vicariously mine, and therein lies a whole nother joy. but now, here i am at the precipice looking both ways. and mostly i’m grateful for this heart that finds it hard to let go….
because we’re motoring back and forth in three short days (the weekend cut short by a work trip to houston for the one more apt to be running or riding these days), i’m keeping this short, and will leave you instead with two little morsels: a peek inside the little book that landed on my stoop the other night, and a soup i plan to make on one of the autumnal days next week when the critic is chowing down on texas barbecue. slow cooking is in sync with my slow, savoring ways.
first, a peek at the Advanced Reading Copy of The Book of Nature, with a look at the cover, the table of contents, and the first page of the foreword.
Creamy Cauliflower Soup With Harissa Tomatoes
By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Yield: 6 servings
1 large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds), trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets (about 12 cups)
Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper
1-1⁄4 teaspoons ground coriander
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 small bunch thyme (about 10 sprigs)
1 pound plum tomatoes, halved, seeds scooped out
2 to 4 tablespoons harissa paste
3 large bunches scallions, whites and greens thinly sliced (about 21⁄2 cups)
1 jalapeño, seeded (if desired) and coarsely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 cups vegetable stock
3⁄4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for optional garnish
Heat oven to 425 degrees and line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine cauliflower, 1 teaspoon salt, a large pinch of black pepper, 3⁄4 teaspoon ground coriander, 3 tablespoons oil and half the thyme sprigs, tossing everything until well coated. Spread the cauliflower evenly across one of the prepared pans.
Using the same bowl (no need to wash it first), combine halved tomatoes, 1 to 2 tablespoons of harissa (depending on how spicy your harissa is; taste it first), 2 tablespoons olive oil, a large pinch of salt and the remaining thyme sprigs, and toss gently until the tomatoes are well coated. Spread tomatoes on the other baking sheet, cut-side up.
Place both sheet pans in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then stir the cauliflower but not the tomatoes. Continue to roast until cauliflower is golden brown and tender, 15 to 20 minutes longer (35 to 40 minutes total roasting time). Transfer cauliflower pan to a rack, and discard thyme sprigs.
Using tongs, gently flip tomatoes over so their cut sides are down. Using the tongs, pinch off the tomato skins – they should slip right off – and discard. Brush 1 to 2 more tablespoons of harissa onto tomatoes and continue to roast until shriveled and condensed, about 15 to 25 minutes (35 to 45 minutes total roasting time).
While tomatoes are roasting, make the soup: In a large pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium. Add scallions (saving 1⁄4 cup scallions for serving) and jalapeño, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly colored, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add another 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt, black pepper to taste, cumin and tomato paste, and cook until tomato paste darkens and caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in roasted cauliflower and stock, and bring to a simmer. Cook, partly covered, over medium-low heat until all vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. (Alternatively, you can purée it in batches in a food processor or blender.)
Transfer the roasted tomatoes into a mixing bowl and add cilantro. Using a Microplane or other fine grater, grate zest from about half the lemon into the bowl, then stir in 1⁄2 teaspoon coriander and reserved scallions.
Using a fork or spoon, break up some of the tomatoes as you combine everything. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze a little into the tomatoes, then taste and add more salt and lemon juice as needed. It should taste well seasoned and a little tangy.
To serve, squeeze in the juice from half the lemon. Taste and add salt, pepper and lemon if needed. Ladle soup into individual bowls and dollop harissa tomatoes on top; top with olive oil and more cilantro, if you like.
how do you savor the most succulent parts of your life? and do you, like me, find turning the page a bit of a tug and a pull?