Spring, grilled cheese, and the birthday ball starts rolling

I have meant to write each of the past two nights, but y'all, my yard. I can't even get out of it because spring has sprung and the sun, it has been a'shining.

Tulips turn their heads to the bright sky every morning and open their arms wide to receive the light and warmth. The phlox perks up and stands at attention, the poor hydrangeas dare to bud for the third time since spring started hinting at its coming, and the hostas start their cheerfully aggressive takeover of valued garden space. 

The chosen ones aren't the only things bursting from torpor to life. The weeds and I have been engaged in a full scale battle for a week now- hairy bittercress, clover, the one I never can identify but which sprouts with wild and initially pleasing abandon. I am quite certain that my neighbors must think me obsessive at best, for there I am again, crouched in a yogic squat and tossing uprooted weeds into Oliver's orange plastic sand pail with glee. 

As always, I commune with the worms and roly polys, welcome the birds into the spray from my hose, attempt to save neighborhood bunnies from Nutmeg's innate predatory instincts, and lose all sense of time and other responsibilities. 

Yesterday was National Grilled Cheese Day, and I took a break from gardening to speak to MacKenzie Smith, sandwich expert for About.com and founder of the blog, Grilled Cheese Social. Sara Lee had asked her to concoct some special sandwiches for the day, and I wanted to ask about her favorite cheese combos that Tom and I may not have yet tried as well as to seek advice about convincing my boys that a good grilled cheese sandwich is hard to beat. So far, they are not fans, and to be honest, I cannot understand. 

Anyway, during our brief chat, MacKenzie shared her favorite grilled cheese trio -young goat cheese, muenster, and taleggio (all of which I bought today)- and we waxed rhapsodic about the importance of using full-fat salty butter liberally on a good grilled cheese. She swears by any salty European butter while I go even more specific and vote for Kerrygold. #ofthegods

MacKenzie's three Bs for a winning sandwich include, of course, butter, but also base (a good, thick bread that can withstand heat and melting cheese; she likes Sara Lee Artesano, and I like brioche) and blend (the best grilled cheeses benefit from a blend of cheeses with varying melt points, salt contents, and flavor profiles). 

I know what I'll be having for lunch tomorrow, thank you!

For lunch today, my dear friend, C, took me to the Iron Gate to get my birthday ball rolling. 41 happens Sunday, y'all. 

It was a beautiful day, and we sat in the courtyard, shaded in a perfectly mottled way by a large canopy of established wisteria. Despite a ludicrous drive downtown which culminated in me climbing a ladder OUT of a parking garage WHILE in heeled sandals and then skirting a delivery truck in the drive pad to exit, it was a perfect, lovely, relaxed date.

Heading into the Iron Gate which is mysterious and charming and I want to go back because the interior spaces are even more inviting than the front.

Heading into the Iron Gate which is mysterious and charming and I want to go back because the interior spaces are even more inviting than the front.

The menu is gorgeous and intensely seasonal. Though I had a hard time choosing, we ultimately shared two dishes -the spring pea bruschetta (OMG) and the beet, black walnut, dill, and yogurt salad- before branching into the gemelli with chiles and swiss chard pesto (C) and the farro, dried cherries, feta, pine nut, and red wine vinaigrette salad for moi. For dessert, lemon curd with meringue two ways, candied almonds, and cardamom ice cream. Perfection!

Happy weekend, friends!

Separating the curds from the whey

This morning, I logged into a private Facebook group and found my first free-write prompt. I'll be doing this every weekday for the next fortnight, and I'm burning with anticipation. I've cleared much of my calendar during this time, so that I can fully immerse myself in this small group session entitled Blossom. 

The name seems so apropos of everything right now. Of the determined flowers budding and blooming despite an elusive spring. Of the clouds of pet hair swirling at my ankles no matter how often I vacuum, winter coats shedding away in preparation of warmer temperatures to come. Of the bubbles of promise I see atop many a vista and even in the challenges that motherhood so often pitches forward.

This time of year is so busy. School is starting to draw to a close -just over a month left!- and it seems we've been celebrating something for weeks now and have weeks of the same ahead. Celebrations are the best sort of living, so I certainly don't begrudge any of that happy goodness, but they do keep the dance card full.

In such a whirlwind, I feel indulgent taking -making!- this time for a pursuit without an end goal, and yet, maybe that's all the more reason to simply say yes to an opportunity that spoke deeply to my soul.

Yesterday, on the way home from the boys' swimming lessons, we tried to visit a farmers market off our usual course. We were foiled from every angle- no parking, a bathroom emergency, two broken ATMs. I gave up and drove us home in a frustrated snit, irritated that something the boys both wanted to do with me was being snatched from reach.

But once home, Jack decided he'd rather go on a bike ride with Tom, and Tom had just gone to the ATM so could give me some money, and Oliver said he really wanted to go back to the farmers market. So we all did all that, each what we wanted, and it was wonderful.

As Oliver and I approached an impressive cheese stall, he said, in between giant bites of croissant, "Let's get a weally stinky cheese here!" Everyone around us smiled and softened, warmed by a little boy loudly crying out for a relatively unusual six-year-old's snack.

I burst with pride, and we tasted with abandon, ultimately buying four hunks of lusciousness with varying degrees of stink.

Last night, I grated some atop a bowl of sauteed greens, warm tomatoes and roasted asparagus just grown and picked at a friend's parents' farm (A of the tubs of tomatoes last summer fame). A and her husband came for dinner Friday night, to talk tomato canning (because how better to deal with a billion pounds of freshly-picked tomatoes) and catch up, and brought with them said asparagus. 

We shared a meal, some wine, stories and tips. I served dessert, her husband the next day left a shade-loving plant on our porch because I'd mentioned our yard was not on the receiving end of rays.

Kindness and connection blossom and spread in the friendliest sort of viral ways. In unexpected ways and in unexpected places. Especially if you let them.

beauty and growth in unexpected places   

beauty and growth in unexpected places


Wiping away the sleep

The end of winter wore hard on me. In the chilly gloom of March, I felt myself withering, drying up, losing elasticity. Like my garden, I need light and warmth to thrive. 

This is just the way I'm built. Some may consider my intolerance of long winters a weakness, as I once did, but as I age, I'm trying to cast off unnecessary self-judgment. It seems reasonable to believe that becoming deeply glum after four months in darkness and cold is not the worst personal flaw. 

See, I'm a bustling, bubbly, merry extrovert but also a sensitive, stormy introvert. I have long walked that line.

I've worked hard to push my innate pessimism to the curb, harder still to quiet the anxieties that cause me to over-think, over-worry, overdo. The oppressive shroud of too-much-winter amplifies the noise from my tumultuous interior and makes tranquility elusive.

I recharge in solitude, in the quiet company of cooking and gardening, ideas and myself. I didn't realize just how true that was until I had children, nor did I understand the ways in which introversion can make being a parent that much more challenging. Especially if your children are not silent wallflowers. Especially when winter persists and solitude and time in the yard are harder to come by.

When darkness falls, outside and in, maintaining stasis in the delightful circus that is parenting my two spirited boys can feel Sisyphean. At times I lose perspective, fail to see their bright inner lights, struggle. The fear of being unable to meet multiple demands correctly and in a timely fashion teases up the anxiety lurking within; the two build on each other into a pulsing swarm.

It is unpleasant, tiring and disappointing, but fortunately, with time and spring, a wave of renewal comes and brings a soft cloth with which I wipe my cloudy eyes.

I spent most of yesterday and much of this morning clearing the detritus from my yard. It's dirty, sweaty work, and I never wish to be anywhere else. Out there, I thought again about what a powerful concept rebirth is. Of how parents sometimes need a reset to see both children and selves clearly. Of how the warm light of spring provides just that.