Summertime craziness

To understand the deepness of winter in North America, you must also understand the intensity of summer, as the two are always in tension:

For example, this weekend, we have the farmer’s market Friday evening, then we’re hosting a gig and party at our house. Saturday we have a picnic for the annual general meeting of a local non-profit. Sunday friends are arriving, and we already have my mum and another Aussie friend, Michael, visiting.

Just a normal, busy weekend, right? But every single weekend from June- August looks like that. And it’s in stark contrast to a grey, snowy weekend in late January when I am literally pacing our house, wondering if I should sort through our clothes again.

It’s not that you can’t do social things in winter.

It’s just that it’s dark at 4 pm and even if the day has been sunny, if it’s wet at all, the roads start to ice up as soon as darkness falls. Going out for a drink starts to look like less fun when you imagine the slow, nerve-wracking drive home, with a possible detour into a snow bank.

And so all of the big ticket social occasions happen in summer – weddings, family reunions, graduations: even funerals are sometimes put off until the spring for the convenience of travellers.

There’s a wild berry bush here known as serviceberry, which flowers early in the spring and then produces rather tasteless and mealy blue berries, loved by bears but not often eaten by humans.

Apparently, the reason for the name is that the bush flowers when the funeral services are held – when the ground was soft enough to bury those who had died over the winter and were kept frozen in the wash-house until the time came.

Because of the length and depth of winter, there is no growth for six months of the year. None. And so all the growing must happen in summer, and growth is fast, thick and incredibly verdant once it gets going.

Today, the first light was at 5:02 am and last light will be at 10:21 pm. 15 hours of grow time for my baby plants – no wonder the beans will seem to grow an inch overnight.

Three months is not long to fit in all the camping, hiking, gardening, food production, and outdoor projects in our lives, and the end result is a kind of frenetic breathlessness as we cram our days with tasks and try to sit out the yard with a beer at the end of the day as well.

Summer days here are stunning – beginning with cool [no, cold. It was 40 degrees Fahrenheit this morning, which is 4 degrees Celcius!] mornings with the incredible damp smell of cottonwood buds, reaching 80- 100 degrees and ending 15 hours later with the pink glow of sunset on the still snow covered mountains.

We are a few weeks away from summer heaven – when strawberries are still falling from bushes, cherries are reddening on trees and raspberries are abundant. This kind of luxurious, un-netted fruit harvest makes me realize the scale of Australian birds. I miss the noise of Aussie birds, so coarse and constant when I’m in Montana, but what a fight to harvest a berry!

In late August, we will be in full harvest in the garden, but simultaneously start watching the forecast for a frost and scurry around with frost cloth, hoping to ripen just one more pepper on the bush.

Then one day – bam! it’s over.

There’s a line in a Waif’s song [Vermillion] that I always think about at the end of summer: “She got old, she got idle as a picture/she died with the flowers in the fall.”

Seeing bright zinnias in their prime knocked down by an early frost is always sad. This year we’ll leave – maybe before that frost – and head straight into an Aussie summer.

It’s no secret that I don’t love winter in North America, but there is something wonderful about collapsing into a routine of cosy indoor time after a hard working, hot, activity-packed summer.

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Food memories

My mum is quietly obsessed with food. Mostly just the having of it, not particularly the quality, although she is also an artist of simple, amazing home cooking.

I often got home from school and found soup on the wood stove, red from her tomatoes with tiny cut up pieces of sweet carrot and zucchini and round slivers of leek.

Mum’s obsession stems at least partly from her mothers’ experience of food shortages during the second world war in the Netherlands. That anxiety about food has traveled through generations, morphing along the way.

Now it’s something we give her shit about because she always remembers events based on what we ate. She’ll say to dad: “remember, I made the lamb roast and Sandy made the cheesecake,” or “no, it wasn’t that weekend, it was the trip we took when we stopped at the fish and chip place and you had steak,” and he will smile at her blankly.

I have my own host of food memories, not just from childhood, but from the process of coming into myself as a cook.

I’m grateful to all those who cooked for me and with me and made me slowly aware of the power of being able to create good food first for myself [thin salty slivers of toasted sourdough bread with sesame seeds topped with pools of melting butter and chunks of avocado] and then for others.

There were hits, and there were definitely misses. I remember passing bowls of melting vanilla ice cream and stringy, overcooked rhubarb at midnight after the kind of house party where everyone sits around on the carpet drinking beer out of bottles and loudly taking politics.

I ate my first pomegranate around the same era while chatting to a friend on the phone for hours. When I stood up, I saw the white wall around my head was splattered with blood-red juice.

The kidney beans I did not soak, which I later threw up [kidney beans are mildly poisonous until properly cooked]. The dear friend who kindly requested I cut the onions finer for the pea risotto.

The discovery of salt and olive oil glugged in quantity over pumpkin for roasting when I lived in Melbourne and had access to cheap bulk oil.

When I was twelve, a friend’s dad took us out to lunch in Canberra and we had laksa – it was so, so fiery hot to my palate and I loved every painful slurp.

There is so much still to discover and learn. Now, in early spring, I’m watching the first tips of white asparagus emerge from the soil in my first ever asparagus bed. I know the spears will be so sweet we’ll eat them raw at first.

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I’m longing to eat from my garden – tiny Lebanese cucumbers tossed with cherry tomatoes, basil, oil, red onion and feta in a quasi Greek salad. After a long winter of cabbage and bitter store bought carrots, it will taste even more amazing!

I spend a lot of time making food and growing food for our family – I want my kids to be passionate about food and able to make themselves good food.

Last night I was calmly making dinner [crispy roast potatoes, salad and three rainbow trout Atticus had caught on the weekend] and suddenly the floor was alive with wet, fighting, screaming children, straight out of the bath.

As I flung wet towels and children out of my way, I thought but did not say:

“Get out of my kitchen, you fuckers! I’m making you food memories.”