I think that might have been a perfect dinner, just now, that thrown-together bunch of salads, that sort-of Maine spring Nicoise. In fact, I almost don’t want to write about it, it was so good, and all the tastes are still lingering on my tongue, garlic and fish and asparagus and potato and capers. But of course the need to write about food, mixed either with memory or desire, is almost as strong as my love of eating, so here goes:
At the local market this morning, after our hike on the Eastern Prom along the blue bay on the green bluffs in the liquid sunlight and dewy air, past blossoming trees and unfurling ferns and lush grass, we bought asparagus and chives, pea shoots and arugula.
We took another hike this afternoon, on another path along another bluff, in more gold liquid sunlight and fresh barely-warm air, past a ruined stone villa in a copse, crumbled forts and batteries, and the oldest lighthouse in Maine, watching small birds ride the swells where the waves crashed into the seaweedy rocky shore, stopping to sit on a stone wall so Dingo could loll in a patch of tender young dandelions like an odalisque, prompting us to call him Dingolion and Dandelingo because we were totally loopy with the beauty of it all, high on it in fact.
Afterwards, at home, while Brendan fed Dingo and opened a bottle of cold Orvieto, I washed four Yukon Gold potatoes and put them on to boil and trimmed this morning’s asparagus and put it on to steam, feeding a few of the ends to Dingo, who considers them delicacies on a par with anything in the world. I chopped the quarter head of radicchio and the endive that were in the fridge and put them into a big salad bowl with a handful each of pea shoots and arugula.
I made a sauce for the asparagus and potatoes: two generous tablespoons of Hain mayonnaise plus the juice of one juicy lemon, a big handful of minced chives, 3 garlic cloves, minced, white wine vinegar, olive oil, and a lot of black pepper.
When the asparagus was just steamed, I cut it coarsely into bite-sized pieces and let them cool on the cutting board. When the potatoes were just tender, I quartered them lengthwise and tossed them in a vinegar bath, equal parts apple cider and white wine, and let them marinate and cool in the fridge, for 15 minutes.
The crisp salad was tossed in the following dressing: olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic, mustard, a few drips of honey, black pepper.
I divided the asparagus between two plates, then opened a can of wild Alaskan pink salmon and divided it likewise, then drizzled the fish and the asparagus in some of the chive-lemon-garlic-mayonnaise dressing. I drained the vinegar-soaked, cooled potatoes and tossed them in the rest of the mayonnaise dressing with two minced celery stalks and dished it out, threw a handful of capers over the potatoes and the fish, dusted the potato salad with smoked paprika, then put the dressed salad alongside everything else.
We sat at the counter, a little sunburned, relaxed from all the exercise in the fresh clean air. We listened to Edith Piaf and ate every scrap of everything while we sipped the crisp, barely-fruity wine. Dingo sprawled at our feet, too sacked out to beg.
It’s so good to be home. I just finished a three-week book tour to promote the paperback of “Blue Plate Special:” airports and airplanes and hotels and cities and taxis and old people I love and new people I love, eating meals on the fly, standing up in front of people and reading and talking, waking up early in the morning. I was thrown off-kilter in the manner of all homebody/introverts taken out of their routine, but I felt exhilarated and grateful and lucky the entire time.
Now that I’m home, I’m writing a new book, and when that’s done, I have two more stacked in the air behind it, waiting to land. The cycle of the writing life, the flushed anxiety of starting something new and the deeply introverted work of getting it out and the nervy excitement of revising and the extroverted pleasure of selling and promoting it and then starting all over again at the very beginning, never ends, if you’re lucky, and nothing is harder or more pleasurable or more meaningful or more scary or more thrilling, and so forth, until you die. If you’re lucky.
Anyway, it was a relief today to let my mind becalm itself as I sat in the sun on the wall leaning against Brendan, Dingo on his back in the dandelions next to us. Across the bay, old summerhouses sat cozily on an island in green scrub atop rocky cliffs. We watched a fishing trawler, a blue, trim, old-style boat with a short mast, chug past the islands to the mouth of the harbor, beyond the lighthouse, out to sea, to catch – what? Smelts? What’s left out there now? We chewed on that for a while.
I awoke early this morning to another cold rainy gray day. As I got out of bed and put on my robe, Dingo came back soaking wet from his walk. While Brendan made coffee, I toweled him off and fed him, and then he sloped off to the couch for a nap while we drank our coffee, holding onto the mugs for warmth.
We’re all craving sun and warmth. Every time I put my coat on yet again to go out, I think, what season is this? Outside, I adjust my expectations, put on my hood, try to convince myself that it’s not late February. The chilly air forces me to stay retracted into myself, like a prolonged inhalation, when I’m jonesing to expand and turn outward and get the stale air out of my lungs. The trees and bushes in this town are just starting to bud, but barely, cautiously; I’m sure they all feel the same way I do, as well as the bulb flowers, which are getting a late start in recently thawed dirt. The ash tree in back always puts out leaves much later than the trees around it. It’s showing no signs of renewed life yet, and I don’t expect anything from it for a while. We’re all walking around hunched into our warm clothes, looking askance at the sky, griping to anyone who will listen, marveling at how disappointed we all are after such a brutal winter to be denied a warm, sunny spring. It feels unnatural and cruel. Our bones are cold and our timbers are shivering, up here in the north.
Rebelling is pointless. Yesterday, at the Japanese place, the waitress was surprised that I wanted cold sake rather than hot. Defiantly, I ordered it, along with a big cold fresh crunchy salad and a summery cucumber-avocado roll. It’s spring, dammit, I thought. But the meal failed to warm my cockles; I stayed chilled. I had to drink a pot of piping-hot tea to recover from it.
This morning after cinnamon French toast with hot maple syrup and blueberries, we took our daily walk on the Eastern Prom, the foghorn lowing, the high tide slapping and sucking against the stone sea wall, the pavement and gravel and grass all sopping wet. It was too foggy to see the bay or islands. The rain slid down, greasy and cold, not a spring rain but a chilly one, with malicious intent. Up on the cliffs, the still-bare branches dripped.
The only people out besides us were two groups of men, none of them up to any good: a couple of wild-eyed hobos drinking hooch and puffing cheap cigars on the stone steps up to the trail (“Happy spring! Beautiful spring day!” they trumpeted at us as we climbed up past them, cackling as if this were the best joke ever made), and then a group of three preppy, athletic-looking teenage boys in blazers and khakis. They ambled by us on the path, not making eye contact, trailing the smell of skunky ganja. They looked like sweet-natured, well-bred high-school seniors cutting school.
“That could have been me fifteen years ago,” said Brendan.
“One of them even looks like you.” I paused. “Ha ha, you were in high school fifteen years ago.”
“I was in high school thirty-five years ago.”
I laughed. “I was in the class of 1980.”
He laughed. “I was in the class of 2000.”
“I’d been married for four years by then. I’d published a novel.”
“You graduated from high school two years before I was born,” he said.
It never fails to amuse and entertain us, our age difference. We never seem to tire of exchanging these facts and marveling at them, holding them up like shiny objects, cocking our heads at them. “You were how old then?” is a question guaranteed to amuse us.
Maybe we’re so fascinated by these things because we’re equals. When we’re alone together, we feel as if we’re the same age. He knows all the old songs, he’s seen all the old movies, he’s read all the books I’ve read. I could never condescend to him or make him feel callow, nor would I. And because he’s emotionally steadier and calmer and more grounded than I am, he never makes me feel hoary or staid. We’ve decided that we’re both around forty. Or maybe I’m a little younger than that. Who knows? What is age, again?
“We were the only ones out today without booze or drugs,” I pointed out as we climbed the steep hill to where we’d parked. “I feel left out.”
“I want some whiskey now,” said Brendan.
“This is a good day for whiskey.”
“Perfect whiskey weather,” said Brendan. “Something peaty and single malty.”
“We have some Laphroaig left from Scotch Club.”
We got into the car, Dingo in the backseat with his wet, dirty underbelly, us humans in front with our wet, muddy shoes. The windshield was soaked with rain. Windshield wipers creaking, we drove slowly along. It was time to discuss the night’s menu.
I decided to forget about rebelling against this damned unnatural weather and try to combat it.
“How about a fish soup, maybe a chowder?” I said. “With hot bubbling melted cheese toast?”
“Yes,” said Brendan. “And whiskey.”
At Whole Foods, we bought Yukon Gold potatoes, a bag of frozen corn, a bunch of parsley, plus frozen fish broth and half a pound each of monkfish, haddock, and sea scallops. We got a chunk of goat gouda for the cheese toast.
We came home and toweled Dingo off. Our house felt chilly. The heat was on, the radiators were doing their best, but lately the air in here seems to be refusing to warm up, as if in protest.
Later on, after our work gets done, we’ll make a batch of cocktails based on something called a Penicillin that Brendan drank in a bar in L.A. once, to cure his cold: Laphroaig, ginger-honey simple syrup, and lemon juice. It’s a cold cocktail, as befits the season, but it ought to warm us up just fine.