Silvia and Rocco and aging mugs

It is so lovely that so many of you have checked in on me because I've not posted in a few days. Thank you! All is well; I'm just busy busy. Two classes, volunteer stuff at school, a bridal shower I'm co-hosting coming soon so I'm cooking like crazy. And, my fifth grader told me that he "loves homework" so I'm recovering from a mild cardiac infarct. 

What I really want to tell you about today, though, is a gift Tom and I received for our wedding, twelve years ago.

When my sister, Elia, was 4 she met a girl named Emily. They immediately became best friends and still are, more than three decades later. As it turns out, Emily's family is deeply wonderful, and the four of them became an extended family for four of us. And vice versa.

Weddings, new children, losses, retirement parties, relocations, Thanksgivings ("a pie a person plus more the next day" is our motto)...we've shared so many of each of those things together over the years, each experience cementing another star into the Hollywood boulevard of family memory.

Jim and Marjorie, Emily's parents are accomplished artists (sculpture, pottery, painting, wine-making), and for our wedding gift made Tom and me a set of five mugs. The glaze is an inviting bluish green -think celadon + seafoam- with a hint of red in spots near the mugs' rim. Each cup is unique but thematically on point.

For more than twelve years now, we have cherished these mugs. Tom's first gift to me, not eight months after meeting, was a superbly crafted espresso maker and coffee bean grinder, Silvia and Rocco. 

"I hoped and thought we'd end up together so bought a present for both of us," he later told me. I lived in New York then, and Tom in DC. We were in NY a day after Christmas as we were set to fly to Italy to meet my sister and her then-boyfriend in Florence for New Year's.

My apartment was a 51%-of-my-income, fifth-floor-walk-up studio, but I loved it because it was all mine. I set the Silvia up on an old dining chair my parents bought when they were poor newlyweds. That chair served as a catch-all shelf next to my wine cabinet which was a metal thing with one glass shelf that I'd proudly bought from Crate & Barrel. 

I plugged Rocco into a nearby outlet, and top-shelf coffee that I didn't need to go out for soon became my norm.

Once married, Tom and I moved Silvia and Rocco to Boston, Reston, VA, DC, and now MD. Each move has also found us carefully bubble-wrapping each Jim-and-Mawj mug, cherished treasures that we always move ourselves with our art and other beloved things. We'd never leave them with even the best movers. They are stars on our own Hollywood boulevard.

We've drunk wonderful joe, often with barista-quality latte art atop, for years now, both when apart and together. In the frenetic mornings that have characterized the time since Jack and then Oliver were born, mugs of coffee have served as our morning communion, a bit of pleasure and deep appreciation that we share even if only in passed cups and briefly locked eyes. 

More often than not, Tom acts as barista while I make breakfast or sleep in. He passes me a mug with just the right proportion of coffee to milk, a gift of love, a tribute to and vial of strength for the day ahead.

When we travel, we explore by way of hopscotching from coffee shop to coffee shop. We've always done this and I imagine we'll never stop.

Ooh, that place is known for its proprietary roast, that one for its cortado, the next for its cold brew. In Rome we discovered Brassai on our first or second morning and proceeded to return every morning of our trip. We came to know the owner and one waitress, we saw what a place can mean to the regulars who haunt its eaves, we, for an ephemeral week, felt what it might be to be a regular and to partake in a communal tradition. The boys felt and understood it.

One of the common denominators of all this Life With Coffee is this set of mugs which have come along with us for the ride. For years I handwashed them, scared of and thus unwillingness to risk what might happen if I put them in an unfeeling dishwasher. Circumstances have changed, and although I loathe our present dishwasher, I entrust to it our treasured grails because I recognize that time is not the only fleeting commodity; so too are possessions, the things that seem crucial but ultimately probably aren't.

That said, the mugs Jim and Marjorie made remain in perfect condition. Not a one has been lost or broken. Not a one suffers even a chip. They are pristine and sit proudly and usefully in their fourth kitchen cabinet, the one under which Silvia and Rocco are tucked, our dutiful morning soldiers who make the early day possible and lovely.

When marriage feels tough, as it is sometimes wont to do, I look at those unmarred yet well-worn mugs, and I am hopeful. Things crafted from work and love tend to stand strong against the tests of time. For these precious totems I am thankful. 

Em-i-lis gorgeously featured on Food52

I awoke this morning with a sore back (too much garden) and a stopped-up nose (damn cold) but otherwise feeling quite good.

Then I saw this gorgeous story on Food52 highlighting a salad of mine of which I'm quite fond. Not only do I now have another photo of a dish of mine by the insanely talented food photographer, James Ransom, but also I'm so touched by the generous sentiments and tone in the article itself (written by another terrifically talented individual, Lindsay-Jean Hard).

She picks up on some of the things I most enjoy about cooking-combining ingredients not often thought of as friends- and on my effort to avoid food waste by finding new uses for bits and parts often tossed. 

It's a lovely surprise when you feel that quiet elements, things you take pride in, of your being are noticed and appreciated. What a Sunday surprise. 

PS- Nigella wants to eat it too! Lawd a'mercy! 

Gardening saves the damn day. Also, tucking in and then cooking a squash.

I awoke with a vise-like headache and the familiar achiness of a cruddy cold coming on. My body felt stuffed with cotton, my humours peevish and off. Tom was sneezing and sounds raspy. The boys had circles under their eyes and were both listing toward the wrong side of behaved.

One slammed my bedroom door and stalked off to nowhere. I don't know why. The other set up an enormous fake-food snack bar called Buttville on the floor next to my bed. He forced me to buy pizzas and sandwiches and to consider making something with his blender. 

There were moments of promise. Ol decided that I should have a real breakfast in bed, demanded I stay put, and asked Tom to make coffee and chocolate chip pancakes. He made place cards, brought up TV trays and joined me to dine. We are "table 40" because "you're 40, Mom." Indeed.

But there was also world war level bickering, and at some point, we all blew. I grabbed Oliver and desperately zoomed to the nursery. 

I off-gassed for the entire drive, fuming silently about how damn hard it is, more than ten years in, to complete a newspaper article or two on a weekend morning, steaming about just how stupid (and therefore even more irritating) sibling squabbles can be.

As we turned into the nursery's parking lot, I felt my blood pressure start to drop. We chose a cart and hurried through Annuals, slowed momentarily in herbs and veggies, and then regained focus: Perennials. 

It is still quite hot here, but a definite tinge of fall is in the air.

I sense the awakening of my acute need to roast and eat huge quantities of root vegetables and their kin. This happens every year, and I always go big before gastric distress reins me in to reasonable quantities. For christ's sakes, I roasted a huge butternut squash last night (try this recipe!)and almost finished it at lunch today. (As an aside Oliver had become very attached to this squash and actually shed a few tears when I cooked it which I only did because he'd been carrying it around for days [we even tucked it in next to his bed one night; not even joking; WTF?] and dropped it several times and it had a small crack which would have turned into rotting nastiness and so duh, I cooked it.)

Heirloom pumpkins, decorative gourds, and to-be-Jack-o'-lanterns spill from bins and tables. Halloween decorations seem to have bred overnight; ghouls and ghosts and gravestones beckon from every variety store in town. And with it all come new plants, bulbs, grass seed, and towers of folded leaf bags. 

It's all very exciting in some way, and I felt my heart skip a beat with anticipation. (Then I blew my nose for the 93rd time. Damnit.)

Long story short: perennials, dirt, composted leaves, a white pumpkin, renewed spirits, an absence of inane anything, and we returned home.

Several hours in, Tom called from the front door: "Don't you think you're overdoing it a bit out there, Em? You have a cold. Drink some water."

I gave him the hairy eyeball from behind the enormous, gas-powered saw I had vrooming, vroomed it with gusto, and returned to the hedges and trees like Sweeney fucking Todd on speed.

"Honey, you've really been out here for quite a while," he called another hour later.

"Help me put on this backpack leaf blower thing, man."

"Mom, can I stuff Pop-Its in my Nerf gun and fire it and see what happens?" Jack asked. "Sure, hon." I replied. "Just stay over there in the median."

I really think that kid was working off some negative energy today. 

I blew and raked and dug and planted. Two neighbors drove by slowly and said, "Do you know your children are in the trunk of your car?"

"Yes, thank you."

The neighbors looked a bit confused.

"They'll be fine. I'm over it!" I said in a tone that I now believe sounded slightly insane.

They drove away.

I shoveled and hacked and fertilized (organic, natch) and mulched.

A couple walked past. "Say, aren't you flexible! Those knees!"

"Thank you." Lovely and a bit odd.

When my arms started shaking and I ran out of mulch, I considered it might be time to go in. Turns out it was 5:30pm.

Mother of god. I think I had some negative energy to work off today. Thank god the soil is such a generous taker. I don't know who or what I'd be without land to work.

I showered, sat on my bed, blew my nose for the 154th time, realized I couldn't quite get up because my legs felt wobbly, and so ordered a side table. You'd have done the same.

And now, a couple hours later, I'm back in bed, this time with Tom, Oliver and Nutmeg too. Ridiculous, sweaty, and slightly delightful. Just like today. 

**Bonus pics.

Waiting for the birds.

Waiting for the birds.

Celery, fennel and apple salad; bacon chicken done in a cast iron pan; lightly creamed kale with toasted breadcrumbs.