Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wonder and gratitude

When you make Michigan your home, you get a lot of practice waiting for spring. The seasons are inexorable, impassive, totally beyond our control. It's why I love this place, why I returned here to live, why the mitten will always be my home. I'm from here—it's inexplicable and deep-rooted, my love and belonging for this place.

The seasons are part of what makes it home, and the thing I've always been most homesick for when I've left. They shape us. The light, the shape of the clouds, the wind—these as much an emotional barometer as they are signals of the season to come.

Late February has finally given way to March, and despite the enduring cold, early light and green sunshine have brought us to the edge of hope. We've entered into the time when we count the signs of spring.

  1. The first robins have appeared, fat and rosy and early morning is filled with the song of birds. Voices I have not heard for months, and had forgotten the smile it brings.
  2. The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming, unexpected splashes of color nestled in the sheltered corners of the yard, half-hidden beneath last fall's leaves. The sedum and tarragon on the porch are beginning to sprout, and the mums and daffodils are starting to come up in the garden. 
  3. The last patches of snow are receding, and we all hope (even though we know better) that we'll not see more ice and snow til next winter. We're tempted to put away our winter coats and boots.
  4. The first seeds are planted and watered, nestled on the back porch and in the dining room. I am dreaming of summer's fragrant herbs, the buzzing of bees, the bursting flavor of the first tomatoes.

It's good to be here. To have made it through the last week's ice and rain that made the body recoil and the mind recede to some dark inner place. To have now seen the other side of March's cruel wind, the snapping of the bare trees, the dripping and freezing. 

Spring is not here yet, but the sun's promise and the stirring of growing things lifts my heart. That I might share that sense of wonder, that my gratitude may be like warm light on the earth.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

No-thank-you helpings: baked beans

My grandfather was not a cook. Grandma was the one who spent Sundays in the kitchen amidst steaming pots and pans, producing the ubiquitous pot roast Sunday dinner. But Grandpa knew how to be an appreciative diner. He knew how to give compliments, and he knew when to get out of the way of a hurried cook. Grandpa would run to the store at least twice a Sunday to pick up things that Grandma thought she had and didn't, or had forgotten in her Saturday shopping.

Every once and a while, Grandpa would venture into the kitchen on his own. He had a small repertoire of things that he made for himself on the in-between times, or when Grandma wasn't home. They were exclusively things that he loved. And one of those things was Boston baked beans.

I thought baked beans were possibly the most disgusting things ever. A vegetarian, and an angst-filled teenager, the cold syrupy consistency of the sauce from the can, with those floating globs of bacon were enough to make my skin crawl and my throat close. I truly abhorred the maple-syrupy smell of them.

Eighteen years later, my grandfather has been gone for a long time now. His honest blue eyes, and his mild pink skin. His heavy glasses, his thin gray hair, his big hands with the gold wedding ring are well-loved memories. His smell of after-shave, Dial soap, and boat engines and lawnmowers lives only in my imagination.

In honor of my Grandpa, and on a whim, I decided yesterday to give one of his favorites a try. I can't stomach the canned variety, but I've got simmering in the oven right now my first pot of Boston beans.

  1. Salt pork, bacon and finely chopped onion in a cast-iron pot over medium heat until the fat is rendered.
  2. Add in a pound of beans (soaked), 2 tbsp of hot and spicy mustard, 1 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/2 c molasses and 9 c of water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, cover and place in a 300-degree oven.
  4. Bake for 2 hours and stir. Bake another 2 hours, or until beans are tender.
  5. Add 1 more tbsp molasses and a dash of cider vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

So far it smells great. Here's to it, Grandpa. Life has taught me to be more charitable. To love even the humble baked bean. Maybe I inherited a bit of your English manners after all.