[Pears from Gary, August 2008.]
It’s a good thing the Olympics are nearly over, because to be honest, I can’t sustain this lifestyle for too much longer. The other night, I found myself up until nearly midnight watching gymnastics which, let’s face it, is not as exciting as swimming (swooooon!) or even track and field, and really I don’t even think I much like gymnastics (though as a kid taking lessons I loved the uneven bars). Yet there I was, up way past my bedtime watching them leap and fling themselves about, carefully listening to the commentators explain the rules of the tie-break. As I said to my coworker, it’s like an addiction. I clearly can’t help myself.
Fortunately this Olympics-obsession has not translated into my neglecting the kitchen, although I have been eating out a bit lately (a new wine bar on Tuesday night, dinner with my parents at my local Thai restaurant on Wednesday, too many fries and a veggie burger and a gin and tonic last night at a bar on Fillmore with the girls). I’ve made a few good dinners of baked tofu and risotto, pan-fried broccoli and salad, even some baked goods.
Awhile ago I wrote an essay about foraging for blackberries and apples in my parents’ backyard in Sebastopol; I went on (and on) about the pies I make, the jams, the this and that. I should also have mentioned, perhaps, that in addition to the bounty in my own childhood backyard I am often a beneficiary of neighborly generosity — in a recent case, some plums from the neighbors across the street, and a bag-ful of pears and tomatoes from the neighbors right next door.
The tomatoes were ripe and juicy, picked fresh and sweet, but the pears … oh, those pears. They were absolutely beautiful and tasted even better which was unsurprising, really, given that the guy who grew and tended them is pretty much a master gardener (of course he’d deny it, but when I peek through the fence on my visits home, ogling not just the cute dogs but the squash and other vegetables in their field, I know). I cut them up and swirled them through thick yogurt with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon; I ate them out of hand, quickly, with juice running down my arms; I piled thin slices atop chocolate cake; I made a pear-nectarine crumble.
[Before the oven.]
I think pears are perfect for August. They’re also around in the fall, and I’ve made quite a lot of fall-appropriate things with them — an upside-down cake, for example, or tucked into apple pies and strewn through salads — but here are they are in the very latest of late summer, yellow and glorious. As the month stretches and yawns into its final days (I know true summer extends well into September, but after Labor Day it just seems so … over) pears can bridge the gap between late summer and early autumn with their sweet, soft splendor. Lately I’ve been eating just as much as I possibly can.
Tonight I go East, late-night. I haven’t taken the red-eye (thankfully) in quite awhile, but for some reason I’m sort of looking forward to it. There’s something about those mid-night hours on a plane: lights off, most everyone sleeping, the country passing beneath you. If I can’t sleep, I like to think about all those houses, all those other lives in the middle of the night. I’ll look out the window and wonder at all the lights on, the cars moving silently — from my vantage point, at least — along the dark roads. Why are there so many people driving at 3a? Where are they going? Or coming from? Are they, too, unable to sleep even with a glass of milk warmed on the stove (note: this works for me most times)? What are they thinking about as the sun starts spreading its light over the horizon?
So my bags are packed with wee gifties and a good loaf of bread and a pretty dress to wear to a wedding tomorrow; I have a stack of magazines to catch up on; I have warm socks for curling up into on the flight. I hope I resist the allure of JetBlue’s direct tv service and can shut my eyes for a bit so I am not wholly exhausted when I arrive tomorrow morning in Virginia — but isn’t that what coffee is for?
I’ll be sure to tuck a little container of this crumble into my carry-on for the ride, too.
[Pear-nectarine crumble, August 2008.]
Pear-Nectarine Crumble, a loose recipe
3 pears, peeled and sliced
1 nectarine, sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 stick butter
Preheat an oven to 350 F. Cut up the fruit and add 1/4 cup of the sugar. Add the cinnamon.
In a bowl, stir together the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and almonds. Cut in the butter with a fork until the flour mixture resembles coarse meal.
Spread the fruit in a smallish baking dish and cover with the flour mixture. Bake for about a half-hour to 45 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is lightly browned.
Vegans: sub 1/4 cup vegetable oil for the butter