It was the evergreens that got me when we moved back to the Northwest. I’d step out of my prenatal fitness class and stop on the sidewalk to look up at the high branches. I felt like I was up there too. Floating, giddy – relief rolling through every joint and digit. I am here, I thought. I’m here.
Now, these trees aren’t such an emotional touchstone. They’ve become like the firs on the suburban lot where I grew up; scenery, anchors. When friends come into town and look up with their lips parted, then I stop and look, too. And every time I remember those early moments, after we’d crossed the country and come home.
On Monday we took the kids on a last-of-summer hurrah to a local state park. We waded through seaweed that smelled sharp and new, like a piece of metal between your teeth. The park was busier than I’d ever seen it. But still, there was space. Plenty of room to roam far down the beach, drag our shoes through the algae, and dig in the sand, stirring up brackish smells.
At one point I turned around and saw that my son was the equivalent of a block or so away. I squinted; started off toward him. I took my time, looking down to try and avoid the black sand dollars, the ones that are alive.
I had a straight, clear view so I could observe him from afar. I grinned over the importance of the moment, the way he carried himself as he transferred bundles of seaweed back to the driftwood structure up the beach, a tangle of tree roots that’s always home base for the kids.
It crossed my mind that it was nice not to worry about where he was. The open space was protecting him; the good visibility. I could see him, surrounded by nothing but the briny sea plants on the shore. The expanse was safe and wild.
His world, away from the beach, expanded this week. Yesterday, he started kindergarten. And I won’t have a way to keep visual tabs on him. But he’s hemmed into an open space, a place with good boundaries, encouragement to try, new people to make room for.
His transition makes me wonder what physical memories he’ll have of his first year in school. Will he remember the hill he plays on at recess? The way the railings on the play structure feel under his hands? The sticky side of the nametag he put on his T-shirt? Will he remember the salt on the pretzels at snack time? The smells of paint and pencil shavings?
And I wonder what his anchors will be, like my fir trees.
I’m glad he’s not aware of these things, whatever they are. They’ll have more pull later, when he tastes something as an adult that brings back the waves again, the barnacles, the lichen, the new lunch box, the little leaves on the maple, the sun on the dirt on the play hill at school. The smell and taste of home.
Roasted Okra with Sweet Corn
Some summers when I was growing up, I’d visit my grandparents at their home outside Houston. My grandmother would cook good Southern food, her hands always busy and efficient making my favorites: brisket, creamed corn and, above any other dish, fried okra. She breaded discs of okra in cornmeal and fried them up in vegetable oil until they were browned and crumbly. Chewing them while sitting at their round dinner table is one of my strongest physical memories.
Searching for a way to cook them without too much oil, I found Martha Rose Shulman’s method for roasting okra. I was delighted to discover that, as she notes, okra doesn’t get gooey when roasted. Pairing whole okra pods with corn kernels emulates the classic okra-cornmeal combination. Topped with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch, this dish brings me right back to Houston’s heat, Bermuda grass and one cold drink or another on the back patio.
½ pound fresh okra, stems and tips trimmed
1 ear of sweet corn, kernels sliced from the cob
1 tablespoon grape seed oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds
½ teaspoon paprika
freshly ground pepper
Makes one generous portion or serves two as a side dish.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine pumpkin seeds and paprika in a small skillet. Toast over medium heat, stirring often, until seeds are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Place trimmed okra pods in a medium bowl. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
Line a baking dish or sheet pan with parchment paper. Spread okra pods evenly into pan.
In the bowl, toss corn kernels with oil, salt and pepper.
Line a small baking pan or pie pan with parchment paper. Spread corn kernels evenly into pan.
Place okra on the middle shelf and corn kernels on the upper shelf of the oven.
Roast, removing to toss every five minutes, until corn and okra are browned. The corn for 10-12 minutes, the okra for 12-15 minutes.
While vegetables are roasting, crush toasted pumpkin seeds using a mortar and pestle, a miniature food processor or knife.
Combine okra and corn in a bowl and toss. Top with pumpkin seeds and extra paprika for color.