In thirteen days, four hours and ten minutes my daughter will head to summer camp, her final year as a camper.
She hasn’t stopped talking about camp since the moment she handed me her overstuffed duffle bags cramped with dirt, mud, mismatched socks and insurmountable memories from her experience last year.
My daughter suffers from Campitis.
She has from the first moment she separated, not from me, but from her camp, eight years ago.
Back then she was a little squirt entering the third grade.
She had learned about her sleepaway camp completely by accident. She and I were running errands and bumped into the mother of a little girl who had attended pre-school class with my daughter years before. Being that it was 91 degrees at 8:15 in the morning and insufferably humid, the topic of summer was hard to ignore, and so I casually asked this woman about her kids and what they were up to over the summer. Her eyes lit up as she dove into telling us they were spending a month at sleepaway camp canoeing and craft making in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She explained how magical this place was, how she had gone as a child, how her husband had as well, and now, their children were proud members of the same camp too. Apparently there were so many alumnae with the same generational track record that the camp had formed a special group for them.
I was pleasant and listened, but completely aloof to the experience, having not wanted to leave my mother’s side until I was old enough to drive.
My daughter, on the other hand, was enraptured.
The minute we parted ways she announced, “I want to go there too.”
I explained that this was an overnight thing. Several over nights. Far away. Not like a playdate with her best friend or a sleepover at her aunt’s house.
“I know,” she replied with unwaivering confidence.
“You won’t be able to call or speak to Mommy or Papi for a while,” I added, noting the fear rising in my voice, maybe hoping I’d scare her a bit too.
“I get it Mom, I want to go.” She rebuttled without even blinking.
“You wouldn’t be able to attend the same session as this lady’s daughter. You won’t know anybody,” I added sneakily, assuming this would be the coup d’état to keeping her home and safe with me. (Sometimes a mother’s will has no limits.)
But my daughter? My daughter who doesn’t think twice about new situations? Who charges through life with enthusiasm and zest and zeal, well, she’s way braver than I ever was and her mind was already made up.
“I don’t care, Mom. I wanna go,” she said resolutely.
If I had my mother’s skirt to cling on, I would have clung.
She left, giddy and excited, and I endured the summer with an increased dosage of Shiraz.
I also attempted to distract myself in the kitchen.
Old, forgotten recipes that had been waiting in the sidelines suddenly became critically important.
Breads that needed kneading. Cakes that required layering. Sauces that begged stirring, all were placed under my constant, vigilant care.
Every afternoon I’d take a break from whatever I was sizzling and run to the mailbox in hopes of a message, even if it would be a quick hello in my daughter’s crooked writing or a standard camp form with an oversized bubble circling the “I’m having fun!” sentence.
I got nothing.
And so the cooking grew more incessant.
I pulled out fancy herbs.
And went to work with the Microplane grater.
I visited musty Indian shops where locals eyed me suspiciously and came out with handfuls of clouded jars holding mysterious powders and curries of all shades and intensities.
I chopped a lot root vegetables with exotic names.
I thought of all those parents who had lied to me, all those parents who had told me I would have the time of my life! Would get to relax! Would finally have a break! Enjoy myself! Be free! And I added more red pepper flakes to my sauces.
I knew little about my daughter’s day-to-day activities except that she would, at some point, ride a horse, sleep in a tent, and sing songs.
I was fearful she wouldn’t fit in.
Cry herself to sleep every night.
Need me and not survive, like, quietly, I realized, I needed her.
But I kept those thoughts to myself.
Shed my tears under the premise of a strong onion or two or three.
Added more olive oil and pounded more scallopini.
The camp counselors called several times. They were bubbly, perky college kids who’d begin each call with “This is not an emergency, Danny is okay,” and I remember feeling stunned, distanced, removed; wondering, “Who is Danny? When did Daniela change her name?”
They called to let me know how great she was doing. They’re lying. How adjusted she was. She must need her mommy. How many friends she already had. That’s code for she’s totally alone. It was hard to hear them over the voice in my head.
I pulled out more curry and became fixated on Chardonnay.
Until finally, dehydrated and oozing garlic, the day came when I picked my daughter up from camp. I walked in the woods amongst the cabins searching for her. I was trying to be cool, forcing myself to practice a casual stride, when I spotted her sitting on a bench with five other girls under a leafy tree. She looked beautiful, even if her hair was matted and her shorts were full of mud. She didn’t see me at first, she was too busy socializing. The girls were all listening to her story. All laughing. All calling her Danny. And my daughter was thriving and happy, doing just fine without her mom.
It was a bittersweet moment for me.
On the one hand, I was so relieved and so proud. She hadn’t broken down without me, in fact, she’d flourished, she’d grown.
On the other hand, she hadn’t broken down without me, in fact, she’d flourished, she’d grown.
See the conundrum? And I didn’t even have my stovetop to work it out over.
“Daniela,” I called, hopeful.
She looked up and her face lit up instantly. “Mommy!” she shouted, melting my heart.
No amount of Chive Blini with Crème Fraiche, Quail Eggs, and Tarragon can match that feeling, I tell you.
We hugged and she quickly introduced me to her new best friends.
She was alive and jittery with excitement. She insisted on giving me a tour of the entire campgrounds, waving and greeting everyone along the way.
Everyone greeted and waved back: “Hey, Danny! What’s up, Danny? That your Mom, Danny?”
This was her turf and I was happy to share a tiny portion of it with her.
When it came time for us to go she hugged her besties and together they all cried. I turned away giving them some privacy while silently wishing I had brought them some food. Maybe that Chicken Curry. That’s always good to share amongst friends. I could picture them with bowls of the stuff, swinging their legs and laughing in between bites.
“See you next summer!” She decreed hopefully.
“Yes! Yes! Next summer!” They all replied in unison.
And so it was written in tears and hugs and the next summer, they all met.
And the next.
And the next.
And so on and so forth it has gone.
I’ve cooled it on the kitchen craziness when my daughter leaves for camp. My son joined her several years back and I’ve actually gotten used to the time alone. Maybe even relish it a teeny tiny bit. Plus, I don’t have to tinker with my sauces anymore, I can make my curry how I like it, extra hot.
Only thirteen days, four hours and six minutes left.
1 tablespoon sweet chutney (honey if you don’t have)
1 chicken, cut in eight pieces
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup water
¼ cup white wine
2 potatoes, peeled and quartered (I prefer Yukon Gold)
½ cup fresh green peas
handful of fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cinnamon, onion, cardamom pods, turmeric and cumin and fry until golden. Add curry powder, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and curry leaves and leave to cook for about 5 minutes.
Add chicken and salt. Sauté until chicken is slightly golden, five minutes per side.
Stir in chutney, water, and wine.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add potatoes and cook another 20 minutes.
Stir in peas and cook another 5 minutes.
Add fresh cilantro, adjust salt.
Alternatively: you can make this dish with chicken breasts, just reduce cooking time of chicken by half.
Summer is almost over, I can tell. It’s not the weather by any means, no, Florida sticks solidly to its high 90’s with heat index pushing it to a proud, stifling 107. Now that’s summer for you. But still, the general laziness that floated through the air is drying up. You see it in stores piled high with notebooks and polo shirts and neon rulers. “Back to school” is retail’s current desperate buzzword.
My summer was a patchwork of ups and downs, including a phenomenal culinary adventure through France, Israel and Spain, some peace from parenting with a child off in sleep-away camp, and then, believe it or not, all the anxiety that actually accompanies the peace from parenting with a child off in camp. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I missed my girl in the most exaggerated sense of the word and didn’t heed the advice all those before me had given: ‘enjoy the time to yourself, enjoy being just with your easy-going son, enjoy this enjoy that, I’ll see life in a whole other way; oh enjoy enjoy enjoy.’
When my melancholic state first absorbed me, friends assured me it was perfectly normal: I had to get used to her being gone. But in truth and quite blatantly, I never, ever did. I missed that annoying-but-loveable-high-maintenance-ten-going-on-forty daughter of mine like crazy and, like an amputee, I felt I’d lost something inherently mine and roamed through my day looking for my newly lost limb.
This longing, I realized soon enough, included my life in the kitchen. Whereas my child will not touch a salad even if it were the only thing left on this planet, she most certainly will direct me on how to make one: the best produce to use, how to add a splash of color to it, give it the right textures, and then, how to photograph it. She is a visual person at heart, like me, and inevitably is enticed and enamored with the world of food. What choice did she have after all? She has eagerly served as my little sweatshop of stirring, measuring, enhancing, and tasting since she was old enough to burp.
So, although I knew she was having a blast at camp, was growing as a person, was making new connections, and all that crap, I was happy as a clam when the day to pick her up arrived. After she had finished spewing all her updates on the past month, she insisted on knowing mine: how was the site doing, what was the latest thing I had cooked, and then proudly informed me she had told ‘some famous person who came to speak at the camp’ to check out my site. I couldn’t really get more information about who this person was, so, for all I know, it could have been the local handyman checking out the plumbing situation, but, just the thought of my ten-year old plugging my site to some stranger in North Carolina made me tear up with happiness and pride.
On our drive back to South Florida we stopped at my best friend’s house near Orlando for a couple of nights. Her kids and my kids consider themselves cousins and immediately set off to play as Beth and I caught up and soon found the conversation turning towards lunch. “I’ve got the perfect summer salad”, she offered, perking my attention instantly. She pulled from the chaos of her fridge a colorful green bean salad that we proceeded to devour ravenously. Crispy sweet green beans nestled with plump plum tomatoes, crunchy almonds and grilled chunks of chicken marinated in a tangy balsamic dressing shouted simplicity and summer in one glorious symphony of taste. My daughter soon heard all the accolades I was throwing at Beth and gravitated towards the kitchen to see what was going on.
“Mom, that is a beautiful salad! You should photograph it!” she urged, her almond-shaped eyes twinkling in the sun.
I don’t know if it was the way her amber hair curled from being in the pool, how tall and even more lovely she had gotten in only one month, or the smooth and sweet taste of summer that still rested happily on my tongue, but the eloquent confidence with which my girl had made her suggestion made me realize this was the perfect ending to my summer. As I held a forkful of Beth’s Green Bean and Chicken Salad and watched Dani rearrange the tomatoes so they’d “pop” in the photograph, I knew instantly and so very gladly that I’d found my other limb.
Ensalada de Judías Verdes Con Pollo: Extrañando Mi Asistente
El verano esta casi por terminar. No es por el clima por ningún medio, Florida sigue firmemente y sofocantemente caliente. Pero de todos modos, la pereza general que flotaba por el aire se ha marchado. Se ve esto en tiendas llenas con cuadernos y camisas de polo y articulos escolares. “De regreso a la escuela” es el cliché desesperado corriente de la venta al por menor.
Mi verano era un remiendo de altibajos, incluso una aventura culinaria fenomenal por Francia, Israel y España, un poco de paz de mi rol de mama con mi hija lejos en el campamento de verano, y luego, la ansiedad que crea, aparentemente la paz de mi rol de mama con mi hija lejos en el campamento de verano. Estoy hasta avergonzada para confesar que eché de menos a mi muchacha en el sentido más exagerado de la palabra y no presté atención al consejo todos me habían dado: ‘disfruta del tiempo, disfrute estar solo con tu hijo, quien es tan tranquilo, disfruta esto disfruta lo otro, veré la vida de otro modo completamente; ah disfruta disfruta disfruta.’
Cuando mi estado melancólico primero me absorbió, los amigos me aseguraron que era absolutamente normal: tuve que acostumbrarme a que no estuviera mi hija. Pero en verdad nunca me acostumbre. Me hacia falta aquella chica adorable pero dificil, una de diez pero de veras una de cuarenta; esa hija mía me hacia falta como loca y, como una persona amputada, sentí que yo había perdido algo intrínsecamente mío y vagada durante mi día buscando mi miembro recién perdido.
Me hacia falta tambien en mi vida en la cocina. Mientras que mi hija no tocará una ensalada aun si esto fuera la única cosa dejada en este planeta, ella más seguramente me dirigirá en como preparar la major ensalada: los mejores productos para usar, como añadirle un chapoteo de color, darle textura y luego, como fotografiarlo. Ella es una persona visual, como yo, e inevitablemente es atraída y enamorada por el mundo de la comida. ¿Qué opción tenía ella después de todo? Ha servido con impaciencia como mi pequeña esclava, o, major dicho, asistente desde que era bebecita.
De este modo, aunque yo supeira que ella la pasó de maravilla en el campamento, que crecío como persona, hizo nuevas amistades, y todo lo de mas, el día mas contento mío era el día que la fuimos a recoger del campamento. Después de que ella había terminado de contar todas sus aventuras durante el mes pasado, ella insistió en saber las mías: como va el website, que era la última cosa que había cocinado, y luego orgullosamente me informó que había contado ‘alguna persona famosa que vino hablar en el campamento’ sobre mi website. Yo realmente no podía conseguir más información sobre quién esta persona era, así que, podría haber sido el plomero local que vino a ver algo de una poseta tapada, pero, sólo el pensar que mi hija le hablara a alguien sobre mi website en las montañas de Carolina del Norte me lleno con felicidad y orgullo.
En nuestro regreso a Florida del Sur paramos en la casa de mi mejor amiga, cerca de Orlando para un par de noches. Sus niños y mis niños se consideran primos e inmediatamente salen para jugar. Beth y yo hablamos hasta que la conversación llegó a lo del almuerzo. “Tengo la ensalada de verano perfecta”, ofreció ella, animando mi atención al instante. Sacó del caos de su nevera una ensalada de judías verdes que nos pusimos a devorar vorazmente. Las judías verdes dulces y crujientes se acomodaron con tomates, almendras crujientes y pedacitos de pollo a la parrilla adobado en una vinagreta sencilla de vinagre balsámico que anunciaba con orgullo los sabores del verano en una
sinfonía gloriosa del gusto. Mi hija pronto oyó todos nuestra bulla y se acercó la cocina para ver lo que ocurría.
¡“Mamá, que ensalada tan hermosa! ¡Deberías fotografiarla!” ella insistió, sus ojos color miel centellaban en el sol.
No sé si era la riza de su pelo al salir de la piscina, o que tal alta y hasta más encantadora se había puesto en sólo un mes, o el sabor delicioso de verano que todavía descansaba felizmente sobre mi lengua, pero la confianza elocuente con la cual mi hija había hecho su sugerencia me hizo realizar que este era el final perfecto a mi verano. Miré Dani reajustar los tomates dentro de la ensalada pra que se viera mas bonita la foto y en ese instante sabía que había encontrado al encontrado esa ausencia que tanta falta me habia hecho.
La Ensalada de Judía Verde Con Pollo de Elizabeth Anderson
Para el adobo:
Taza de 2/3 vinagre balsámico
Taza de 1/3 aceite de oliva
3 cucharones mostaza Dijon
1 cucharón jugo de limón fresco
1 cucharilla de condimento italiano seco
sale pimienta, al gusto
4 pechugas de pollo deshuesadas
Para la ensalada:
1 libra de judías verdes
1 pinta de tomates de ciruelo, partidos por la mitad
1 taza almendras en rebanadas (tostarlas es opcional)
Pollo cocinado en pedazos de 1 pulgada*
Prepáre el adereso:
Añada el vinagre balsámico, la mostaza, el jugo de limón, y el condimento a un tazón de cristal y batidor hasta bien combinado. Lentamente chorrear el aceite de oliva, batiendo constantemente, hasta combinar. Añada la sal y la pimienta.
Reserve la mitad del adobo para usar como vinagreta despues.
*Añada el pollo al adobo restante y cubrir generosamente. Cubrir con plastico y refrigerarlo.
El pollo tiene mas gusto si se remoja durante toda la noche, pero tambien se puede remojar un minimo de dos horas. De le vuelta al pollo varias veces durante el proceso de adobo.
Prepare la ensalada:
*Quite al pollo del adobo.
Calienta una cazuela de parrilla o parrilla al aire libre a calor alto medio y cocine el pollo, aproximadamente 7-10 minutos en cada lado.
Quite de la parrilla y permita que las pechugas de pollo descansen unos 5 minutos.
Mientras tanto, cocine al vapor las judías verdes 4-5 minutos. Quite del vapor y remoje con agua fría.
Pique el pollo en cubos de una pulgada, coloque en un tazón grande y añada la vinagreta restante, mezclando bien hasta que el pollo este bien remojado. Añada judías verdes, tomates y almendras al pollo y mezclar bien.