Nowhere is Somewhere

We just passed the 2000 mile mark on our summer road trip, having tearfully hugged our hosts in Ames, Iowa this morning (their pets also warranted long goodbyes from the girls) and pulling away, waving our arms out the windows, slick with rain showers. It stinks to have soul mates scattered around the country where you can’t see them as regularly as you’d like, but it’s beautiful to get to see them at last and well I guess I’ll celebrate the privilege just this minute before lamenting the loss. 

For a few days at least we merged laundry loads and dish duty, doling out popsicles, walking the dog, finding appropriate firefly containers. We took walks and stayed up too late, encouraged by one another’s presence to wend through thorny topics. Grief, career changes, the fog of midlife, parenthood all tumbled over one another. All lightened for being shared. 

Almost two weeks on the road now, away from the pressures of daily routines, and we’ve spent lots of time in the wide open green Midwestern landscape, wading in rivers and riding carousels and picnicking (oh the picnicking!). Lots of time for reflection, it seems, but when I go inward it’s just an echo chamber. Nothing in there. No pressing desire to rub words together or fathom the universe or even draw up plans for a bigger garden. Just nothing. Am I  finding wide open spaces because I have nothing to say, or do I just need a break from saying and doing and listing and thinking? The nothing that is–that’s the gift I’m getting on this trip, though I chafe against it. Standing around holding my white elephant of quiet. 

I feel a little like the tadpoles we caught in Squaw creek–between one thing and another, becoming, but with no idea what to expect from eventual frogginess. 

If you’re going to be wide open, I can heartily recommend bouncing around the Midwest into the arms of family and friends who know you to the core, whose love bears all kinds of shape shifting and reinvention. It’s been wonderful so far, and we’ve got two more stops to go. Flyover country, people call it, but we’re not flying. We’re present for every mile. Maybe all this openness is to remind me that there is no nowhere. Everywhere is somewhere, especially when there’s love there. 

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Hot Days, Cold Noodles

I adore roasted vegetables. My kids like them raw. I love a good one-dish meal and have been known to deposit my eggs over medium directly atop an order of biscuits and gravy just to cut to the yolky chase. My girls? They like things separated out so they can regard each morsel with proper suspicion. More control that way. (Where did they get this control thing? Oh.) It’s August, which means they want to keep slacklining and pouring endless tea parties in the backyard until the moment hunger pangs morph them into hangry zombies and hurl them toward me. By which time the humidity has likely made me drippy and grumpy as well. But this dish—thank heaven!—works for us.

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As an experiment, I made sure to show it to the girls in this form, before we tossed everything together. The crisp and colorful (and easily separated) ingredients overcame their predilection for separateness, and besides, I brought out their chopsticks, so they can still ferret out one favorite bite at a time. And slurp up the tiny rice vermicelli noodles. Permission to slurp! Always a winner.

I love the flexibility, too–almost anything from the week’s farmshare can make its way into this Vietnamese-inspired cold noodle salad, dressed with herbs from the kitchen garden and yesterday’s leftover grilled chicken.


Summer Salad with Rice Vermicelli

Adapted from this recipe for Bun Chay at The Kitchn

8 ounces rice vermicelli

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (2 limes)

1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce

2 cloves minced garlic

2 T sugar

1/4 cup water

1 T toasted sesame oil (optional)

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)

6 cups chopped greens and julienned vegetables: romaine, carrots, cucumbers, daikon or other radishes, hakurei turnips, sugar snap peas, zucchini, celery. Choose a variety of whatever you have on hand, looking for contrasts in texture and flavor.

2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or sliced into strips, OR

1 pound extra firm tofu

1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh herbs: mint, basil, cilantro, torn and/or chopped

1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped

Cook noodles according to package directions (boil 3-5 minutes) and cool thoroughly under running water. Drain well and fluff with tongs to separate.Transfer to a large serving bowl. Whisk lime juice, tamari, garlic, sugar, water, and sesame oil (if using) together and pour over noodles, tossing to combine. Mix in the scallions.

If using tofu, slice into bite-sized strips and press with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Fry in 1/4 cup canola oil in a skillet until golden. Drain on paper towels. I like to drizzle these with a little soy sauce or Memmi.

Pile greens, vegetables, herbs, tofu and/or chicken, and peanuts atop dressed noodles. Toss before serving, with sriracha or gojuchang on the side.

Serves 4-6.