Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Beginning Of The End.


A few days ago, Julia ran her last high school cross country meet here in Charlotte. And hoo boy, she sure wrapped things up in style. Far and away her best race of the season, Julia's time cemented her spot on the team going to States. In fact, it put her on the school's all-time top 25. As a team captain, she's worked hard -- insanely disciplined with her training, nutrition, sleep, and leadership. The results speak for themselves. I stand in awe.

Friday, she'll run her last race in Hendersonville, NC. And as she crosses that finish line, I'll check one more thing off my "last ever" list.

For better or worse, it's habit. I don't think of myself as particularly sentimental or sappy, but for 17 years, I've mentally noted and lamented the "last" time she rode in an infant car seat, her last day in preschool, the last time she let me to read to her before bed, the last I held her hiked up on my hip, the last time I drove her home from a meet, because she wasn't yet old enough to drive herself.

Now, though, during her senior year, the "lasts" are relentless. I've snapped my last "first day of school" picture. She's pinned on her last homecoming boutonniere. I've attended my last "meet the teachers" evening. She's about to submit her last college application.

I should be happy, but as one "last" after the other slaps me upside the head, I often find myself blinking back tears.

She's my "last" baby. The last one I felt kicking and hiccuping inside of me. The last one I potty-trained (she made it easy). The last one I taught to ride a bike, and then, in a blink, the last one to get a driver's license.

Together, we'll mark a lot of "lasts" as she navigates her final year of high school, not the least of which will be 212 days, 23 hours, and 52 minutes from now, when she'll don a cap and gown, and walk confidently across a stage and into her future.

I want to make it last.

Quinoa Kale Salad
One delightful consequence of cross country training is that we're eating healthier than ever Chez Wiles. This salad is a current favorite.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3-4 cups raw kale, chopped fine
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 cup pinenuts
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons light-tasting vinegar (rice or champagne, for example)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

In a small lidded saucepan, bring quinoa and broth to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until done. (About 15 minutes.) Toss quinoa with kale, and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in chopped bell pepper and pine nuts. In a separate small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients to make a dressing, and stir into quinoa mixture. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Darling Daughter Takes "Some Time To Do The Things We Never Have."

There's been a world between me and my 16-year-old daughter this summer. Literally. Not figuratively. Not metaphorically. Literally.*

She’s been an exchange student in Pietermartizburg, South Africa. 8,472 miles away. It took a full 24 hours for her to travel there. The time difference is six hours. When I wake up in the morning, she’s enjoying lunch. When I sit down for dinner, she’s deep in slumber. She’s seen lions and elephants and cheetahs and rhinos. She’s been welcomed as an ad hoc member of a loving South African family, who in turn, introduced her to loving South African friends. She’s been doing and trying things that I never will. To quote a line from the Toto song, Africa, she took "some time to do the things we never have." 

I have missed her like crazy.

I miss her wit and her insights. I miss her fashion advice and her compassion. I miss the way she adores and understands and makes fun of her brother. I miss the way we can communicate in knowing phrases, abbreviations, and even emojis. I miss her countless bottles of nail polish, cluttering kitchen counters, coffee tables and sofa cushions. And I miss her more when she sends texts like these:

“BTW, I like cabbage now. I really like it.”

“Raw beets are so good.”

“Well now, I’m a fan of eggplant.”

Plainly, the girl knows the way to my heart. I mean really, what greater passions do I have than cooking, grocery shopping, eating, writing recipes, and then, cooking some more?

I’ve got to admit, I was worried in the beginning. It must have been hard to get used to new things, new people, new classes, and new accents. It must have been hard to be away from familiar surroundings and familiar food and beloved things and beloved people. And beloved pets. Particularly beloved pets. But a few days ago, I get this:

“The best graduation gift in the world would be a trip back here.”

Sigh. She's not even home, but she's already planning a visit back.

Tomorrow, however, she’ll board the first of thee planes, and the next day -- 8,472 miles later -- she’ll be back in Charlotte. Different. Wiser. Dazzling. And with an appetite for raw beets.

I can hardly wait. Literally.

* Beloved Son, as an aside, note my use of the word “literally.” Note that I do not write that I “literally” cry myself to sleep while your sister is gone. Because I do not. My pillow is perfectly dry. Nor did I “literally” die when she went away. Were that the case, I would now be either six feet under or a zombie. I am neither. I am alive. Literally.  Julia, however, is still half a world away. Literally.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
I am unreasonably fond of brussels sprouts, although the kids have always shunned them. Is it possible that my 16yo, "cabbage-loving" intrepid traveler might now give them a try? Fingers crossed!

1 pound fresh, cleaned brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss brussels sprouts and garlic in olive oil. Spread evenly on the baking sheet and season well with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until browned and tender. Serve hot -- and eat as a side dish, or cool to room temperature and eat with your fingers!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Sounds Of Silence. For Four More Days.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013. Julia is winding up seven weeks as an exchange student in South Africa. Carter is three weeks into his freshman year at the University of Georgia. DB is working in Raleigh, which is notable only because he usually works where he lives -- in Charleston.

And me? And I am home alone.

Just writing about it makes me take a deep breath. Because I miss them all. I do. But to the consternation of well-intentioned friends, I am actually fine. Peachy. Hunky dorey. A-OK. In other words, don’t hate me because I’m beautiful* (because I am not), hate me because, when I wipe down the kitchen counters in the morning, they’re still clutter-free when I return from work. Hate me because I only do laundry once a week and when I do, the hamper remains empty until I fill it myself – with my own clothes. And that Ben & Jerry ‘s NY Super Fudge Chunk in the freezer? That’s right. It's mine. It will be there whenever I want to dive in. Unless later tonight, I use it to soothe myself in the wake of nightmare involving under-nourished lions, elephants and bulldogs roaming a college campus in search of their Monday morning Afrikaner history class.

No worries, though. Because even if I end up with a self-imposed ice cream headache, that sticky empty container will end up in the trash. See? Now you can hate me. Because while my teenagerse are away, there are no “all-but-empty” pints of ice cream in my freezer. No teaspoonfuls of milk remaining in a gallon jug. No deceptively empty boxes of Nilla Wafers.

Enough gloating. As you can see, I don’t mind being alone. “Lonely” just isn’t part of my vernacular.

But I miss them. Oh, how I miss them.

In all this free time, I’ve put clean sheets on all the beds and clean towels in the bathrooms. I’ve tidied the closets and cleared the desks. I’ve stocked the pantry. True, I haven’t actually sorted through all the old family photos, but I did think about it more than once, and surely deserve some credit for that.

And, inspired by Julia, who sends me regular text messages about all the meals she’s been in enjoying, I’ve been cooking. Julia it seems, has found a new-found appreciation for under-appreciated vegetables like cabbage and squash and legumes. So I’ve been a frequent visitor to our local farmers' market  and dining on lentil salad, black-eyed pea soup,  apple slaw, and cauliflower soup. And, in a nod to Julia, I’ve worked butternut squash into the repertoire, too.

Because in four days, she’ll be home. Carter will be back for a visit. And DB will be with us, too.

So now, I’m not lonely. I'm not. Really. But in four short days -- clean countertops and full freezers be damned -- I won’t be alone, either!

Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Tilapia

I am always a fan of "one dish" meals. This summer, I've enjoyed a number of variations on this particular one, roasting a pair of veggies -- in this instances cauliflower and butternut squash -- until nearly done, and then, adding a piece of fresh fish for the final five minutes.

1 cup of diced butternut squash (per person)
1 cup of cauliflower "florets" (per person)

4 tablespoons good olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
red pepper flakes (to taste)
curry powder
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

1 tilapia filet (per person)
chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss together all ingredients except tilapia and chives. Using a strainer or slotted spoon, move vegetables to a flat baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. In the meantime, marinate tilapia filet in remaining juices. When vegetables are slightly brown and fork tender, add tilapia filet to baking sheet. Bake an additional 5-7 minutes (until fish is done and flakes easily). Remove from oven, garnish with chopped chives and serve!

* Remember that old Pantene commercial?