Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Things -- And People -- We Count On

The dill I planted eight weeks ago is gone.  Dammit.  Why does this bother me so much?  After all, I didn't expect it to survive.  I even predicted its hasty demise.  I regarded it as $3.48 tossed in the wind.  Instead, when it ended up taking root and flourishing, I came to count on it, stepping outside every few days to snip a handful for baked potatoes or salad or grilled fish or dip.

Then, this morning, when I needed a few fronds for lentil salad, only a few short, stubby stalks remained.  I could've cried.  WTF?

It wasn't a matter of too much water, or a lack thereof.  It wasn't too much sun, or a lack thereof.  It wasn't even the frosty temperatures of a few weeks back.  Nope.  The dill surrendered its greenery to a most ignoble creature:  The slug.  Those fragrant, feathery fronds had been slimed out of existence.  Out of sheer vindictiveness, I rushed inside to grab a salt shaker.  It was too late for the dill, but I was going to make sure those slugs died a horrible, cartoonish death.

I'd come to depend on that dill.  If it had to go, the slugs did, too.

Three years ago, when my son was headed to middle school, the forward-thinking mom of one of his friends suggested that the key to middle school success wasn't necessarily studying, or participating in sports, or polishing up those social skills.  Her theory was far more succinct:  A kid needs to know who has his back.  

Middle school marks the beginning of a lot of changes -- large and then, larger.  They get lockers, they dress out for PE, they go to dances, they change classes.  They face new peer pressures.  And then, embarrassingly, puberty hits them full-force upside the head.  Or more embarrassingly, it doesn't.

My mom friend reasoned that, to make his way through it all, a kid, first and foremost, has to be confident in his peeps.  When he knows he has real friends behind him, he can be confident being himself, regardless of the confusion and conflicts swirling around him.  

We moms would have to help them, of course.  We couldn't rely on their Y-chromosome wiring not to go haywire.  So we regularly made plans for our boys to be together, carpooling to dances, pool parties and football games.   Subtly, we hoped, we helped them remember that they always had each other -- not only each other, but at least each other.  Not coincidentally, we moms got together, too -- just to keep our fingers on the pulse.

Here's the unexpected part of the story.  We moms came to count on each other, too.  We'd talk about our kids, school and sixth grade sports.  Eventually, we counted on each other for advice on weightier concerns -- social dilemmas, sex and substance abuse.  Then, I think we just counted on each other -- whether it had to do with the boys or not.  Or at least, I certainly counted on them.  We comforted each other, we found relief and strength in each other, we learned from each other.  We laughed, we cried, we drank sangria.  

And the boys, each in his own absolutely unique way, successfully made it through middle school.  They picked up new skills and strengths and talents and friends.  We moms did, too.  Next year, the boys will head to high school together.  We moms will still count on each other. 

We got together today for lunch -- kind of an end-of-middle-school wrap-up.  My contributions were quinoa salad and that dill-less lentil salad.  Turns out I can endure the loss of an herb -- as long as I've got these remarkable, insightful, funny, informed women in my life.

Next time we get together, though, instead of "good-for-us" salads, though, I think I'll make a "good-for-us" dessert.  Something like this luscious creme anglaise, that we can pour over fresh berries in some of my favorite stemmed glasses.  And then, a toast to us -- and all the other moms and friends we know we can count on.

Creme Anglaise

Creme anglaise is simply a rich, but thin, custard sauce.  Just be sure to cook it gently, so it doesn't curdle.

1 cup cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon minced candied ginger (optional)

In a small, heavy saucepan, heat cream and vanilla until bubbles form at edges.

In a separate bowl, while cream is heating, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until smooth.  When cream is hot, gradually stir about 1/2 cup of hot cream into egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Gradually stir egg mixture into remaining hot cream, whisking constantly over a low heat.  Continue to cook, gently, until mixture coats back of a spoon.  Stir in ginger, if using, and allow to cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate until needed.  To serve, spoon (generously) over fresh berries in a gorgeous, stemmed glasses.

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