[Easter dinner table, April 2009.]
My cousin Julie makes the best tomato sauce (and lots of other things, too, I suspect, though I don’t see her nearly enough to get to eat it all). She used to own a small pasta business and turned out the most amazing spinach-and-cheese ravioli, lobster ravioli that I heard was delicious (I don’t eat seafood, being a vegetarian), fresh linguine, wonderful lasagna. Oh, I’m hungry.
But let me back up a moment.
I don’t get to Vermont very often though I love it — the last time I went, in fact, was nearly five years ago this spring. When I was a kid we took an East Coast trip one summer that had us wend our way from a (hot, rainy) Washington, DC, to New Jersey and then all the way up through New York to New England and Barre, where we stayed at my aunt and uncle’s farmhouse perched on the edge of 200+ mostly-forested acres. I met all my cousins for the first time, went swimming in a lake, chased kittens over the splintery wood floors, and wished for a place there of my own.
My dad spent his last year of high school in Vermont and a few summers, too, and he always talked about it as if it were a kind of holy place (or at least that’s how I interpreted it). It is, a bit. When I finally went there myself and saw my extended family — most of them so much older than me — I announced, all of seven years old, that one day I would live there. I loved the rambling green hills, the way summer storms blew up over the trees and subsided so quickly, leaving the grass shimmering with water, the winding roads and houses scattered with so much space in between them. While I still haven’t moved there (and probably won’t; have I mentioned I love California?) I always promise myself I’ll visit as often as possible.
Life and its expenses get in the way all too often, unfortunately. So since I haven’t been there in ages despite all my vows, Vermont decided to come to me.
[Redwood, Armstrong Woods, April 2009.]
All I can really say about my recent long weekend is we feasted. We feasted the first night my aunt and cousin were in town at Chow in the Castro (an iceberg wedge and pesto and vegetables for me; spaghetti and a meatball for my aunt; spinach salad and noodles for my cousin) and the next night sat long around the table drinking wine and eating my mom’s good (spinach-Gruyere and broccoli-cheddar) quiche. Then lemon cake with whipped cream and strawberries. I whispered that I should pace myself but honestly, when everything is that good it’s impossible to refrain from moving the fork from plate to mouth and perhaps even reaching for just a little bit more.
That was just the beginning, too.
Over the course of three days we: wine-tasted and indulged in more stuffing-of-selves at dinner afterward (salads, more pesto for me, various plates of pasta-with-mushrooms, veal manicotti, and did we have dessert that night? Please tell me we didn’t.), champagne-tasted and toasted, ate cheese and good bread (washed down with more champagne, which is really the only way to enjoy a picnic) and potato chips under the redwoods, took photos under the tall trees, spent a sunny, wind-blown afternoon along the Sonoma Coast, and talked and talked
As we lingered around the dinner table or sipped wine (dear g-d, the wine, and all of it from Sonoma County vineyards) or relaxed in the backyard, I realized that a main topic of discussion was food: what we liked to eat, what we liked — or didn’t — when we were kids, what were our favorite dishes to cook, how most of us don’t like goat cheese (ahem), how to grill asparagus … If ever we wandered off into other subjects (past relationships, grandchildren, cousins, Labrador puppies) inevitably we’d return to what was the most important — food, and the cooking of it.
I loved hearing how one of my other cousins, who doesn’t cook too often, occasionally makes the meatballs with mushroom ‘gravy’ dish my dad, who also didn’t cook too often, made when I was growing up and which I swear would almost make me consider eating meat again because it was so good. I loved reminiscing about the meals we ate when we visited that childhood summer (my brother especially requested my aunt’s chicken and dumplings). I loved hearing about my aunt and uncle’s garden, and how they freeze or can most of the vegetables to eat during the long, snowy New England winter. I loved that when I asked my cousin what kind of tomatoes she used in that delicious sauce I remembered and longed for she said they of course came mostly from her parents’ garden (or the farmers’ market; I do think a little bit that we were separated at birth even though she’s older than me).
I loved how we all care so much about this one thing, and how it holds us together even across the wide expanse of the continent.
[Spring, Sonoma, April 2009.]
It was such a nice weekend, even if I’m left feeling as though I should never eat again and was forced to make a light vegetable soup the other night (and which I’ll tell you about soon because it’s that good) to counter all the cheese consumption.
Sonoma County was run through with green, the apple trees just bursting into blossom in time for next weekend’s festival, the vineyards strewn with yellow and wildflowers, clouds gusting over the hills, the Pacific wind-whipped and foaming onto the beach at Goat Rock. Oh spring, you gorgeous thing, you’re here and why do I forget every year how wonderful you are? People always say California doesn’t have its seasons but I know that not to be true; here, spring is wind and sun and scattered rain showers and brilliant green as far you can see in all directions.
It wasn’t Vermont, of course, but maybe if you squinted at the green hills it was close — close enough, anyway, to remind me I have a credit card for a reason, plane tickets are always a necessary expense even when you’re trying to be especially frugal, and to wish my extended family didn’t live quite so far away from here.
They left this morning in a flurry of coffee cups and kisses but I miss them already — and the endless, looping conversation I hope goes on forever.
Anyway, I still need the recipe for that tomato sauce.