Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring (finally) Breaks

A perfectly-timed spring break is upon us, and as I face down a bleak forecast of gloomy rain, and our Santa Barbara camping trip threatens to become a Half Moon Bay hostel over-nighter, I reflect on some of my more memorable spring breaks:

1. Nothing like March in New England to make California rain seem like a holy benediction. Freshman year of college I desperately needed to earn some dough for my upcoming summer backpacking trip to Europe. Why else would I have agreed to alphabetize and label my dad's cavernous wine cellar? A perpetual fifty degrees inside, dirty rotten snow outside, bright fluorescent boredom, and a never-ending cavalcade of Merlot at eight bucks an hour. Of course, I realize now (despite the dingy memories) how very privileged I was.

2. By senior year of college I'd seen the light of Alternative Spring Break, the civic-minded undergrad's antidote to tequila-soaked foam parties in Cancun. So together with a dozen other rosy-cheeked college kids, I headed south in a giant conversion van thick with the smell of Doritos and expectation. We spent the week hammering houses into being with Habitat for Humanity in beautiful Almost Heaven, West Virginia. I remember the monotony of the work sometimes broken by jokes and stories and local kids. It's those moments of young-adult bonding--Audrey and I performing a dance routine for the talent show, the video we all made using kitchen utensils and food scraps late one night--that still burn brightest in the sanctuary of my memory.

3. There was that time I went to Vero Beach, Florida, with my first serious boyfriend who played golf every day while I swam and jogged the flat beaches and got the worst haircut I've ever had (and which still elicits horrified laughter from my sisters who were later charged with the task of chopping down the mushroom that had grown atop my head). What can I say? I was 23, making Kraft mac and cheese for dinner, and reading 'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.' Some things, thankfully, really do change.

4. I've spent a couple of spring breaks down in Louisiana, where Easter looms large, warm, and eternally sunny. Eggs are boiled, dyed, and pock-pocked (which means they are knocked together to see which one breaks first), and sometimes eaten. And then there's the annual crawfish boil (solid proof of my Cajun roots). The whole family sitting outside around newspaper-covered tables heaped high with steaming red boiled crawfish and corn-on-the-cob will always and forever mean spring to me. Ditto Mom's sumptuous calla-lilies unfurling dramatically all over the yard.

5. The last two years M and I have taken to the road with a car full of camping gear, books, maps, and vague plans. Each time we found adventure: old saloon towns, windy cliffs, salt flats, LA hot tubs, occasional fast food, and glorious desert. This year, armed with home-baked calzone and 'Madame Bovary', who knows what we'll do?

Last night the storm clouds obscured the biggest-in-18-years 'super' moon as Nonesuch rocked a sold-out benefit featuring David Grisman and the haunts of my boyfriends past. I had so much fun joking around the silent auction tables with the co-workers, students, and parents I've done this with for years, who have seen me grow into a married woman, who have become my community. I had so much fun taking tickets at the door, swaying to a legendary mandolin player, eating cake, and amusing the kids with my (wine-loosened:) southern accent.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ten Year-Old Tomfoolery

There's a little boy on a bike at the stoplight. He can't be more than nine years old, maybe ten. I pull up behind him in my car--three hours of Saturday country driving and I'm hungry, ready to get home.

The light is taking its sweet time, so I notice a few things: he's wearing glasses, thin-rimmed it seems, and he's got ear-buds in both ears. No helmet. Khaki pants, short-sleeves, fat mountain bike tires. He's so small! Do his parents know he's cruising the busy Rosa streets, sans helmet? How can he possibly hear the bleat of a horn?

Green, finally. His front tire goes wobbly as he rises on his pedals. We each give a cursory glance as I drive past him. Just a little boy. In the rear-view I see him gaining momentum, pumping fast. Charming. I ease over and shift into reverse, the perfect parking spot. M and I are worried, about his safety, his hearing, his (lack of?) parental guidance.

But just as I turn off the ignition with an afternoon sigh, he comes sailing past, hands behind his head, feet propped on the handlebars, steering. A daredevil on wheels; the freedom of a Saturday afternoon. We laugh so hard we tear up.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Today M turned 42. We kept things mellow, but sweet.

A couple of walks that turned rainy--one to Safeway for powdered sugar, another just for the heck of it, through our neighborhood alleys. We learned how to play Peaceful Easy Feeling on the piano. Games and wine and coziness.

He played loud bass; I bought fresh daisies, crafted a card, and made my famous chocolate cake with vanilla butter-cream frosting. Everyone should make this cake, from the Moosewood cookbook, which you can mix directly in the pan, and which you would never, ever guess is vegan.

Here's how:

1. preheat oven to 375 degrees

2. Sift together: 1.5 cups white flour, 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, directly into an un-greased 8 or 9 inch baking pan.

3. Mix together: 1 cup of cold coffee, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Then pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork.

4. When the batter is smooth, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar (yes, vinegar; apple cider works great). The reaction of the baking soda and vinegar will make pale swirls in the batter. Stir until the vinegar is just evenly distributed.

5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to let cool.

You can eat it plain and still taste heaven. But you can also top with slices of fruit, whipped cream, ice cream, etc. I like to whip up a butter-cream frosting that is to die for, and certainly not vegan.

It's so easy: just cream half a stick of butter (softened), then, using an electric mixer, slowly beat in 2 cups of powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of cream, alternating between the two. Beat in a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Apply liberally to the cooled cake, and taste immediately.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Snow Trip

Night has fallen here in Tahoe, a hidden moon, an abundance of snow-light.

Sitting on a couch over-run with pillows, blankets, and exhausted teens, cozy in their post-dinner respite. One is reading, some look comatose, most are flocked around the pool table, shouting alliances and antagonisms. It's the third and final night of our annual snow trip. Everything's a mess, and no one cares.

Yesterday I skied a black diamond for the first time. The snow fell thick, my thighs burned, and my heart pumped me full of warmth as I struggled down the steepest slope I'd ever conquered. Afterwards, I went back to soaring down the blue runs, faster and faster, wetter and wetter.

Two hours ago I romped through the deep, thick powder on snow-shoes I hadn't worn since I lived in Vermont, nearly eight years ago.

Picture it: a forest of pines heavy with fresh snow, the last of the sun pinking a few wispy clouds, five of us huffing and stomping ungracefully up a hill to the most magnificent view of the stony lake. We stopped. We sent snow balls and discs rolling down the slant and watched the waves grow rough and dark. For those few moments, all we could hear was the crunch of the snow and the holler of our laughter.