[Near Arch Rock, July 2010.]
OK. It’s pretty cold here. It’s cold and this morning when I went for a pre-7 a.m. run I could see my breath steaming ahead of me in the fog; I shook drops off of my hair at the turnaround. It’s 53 degrees cold, give or take the slight wind chill factor, and I do not mean to complain really just … it’s July 20th. Dreams of true summer tumble through my head: days at the beach, baking out the last vestiges of winter; cherries eaten while lounging in a hammock in the backyard; ice-cold glasses of lemonade; soft-serve ice cream (!). I do not want to do any of these things right now. Right now I am wearing a scarf and a warm sweater.
July in San Francisco makes you question your entire existence and whether or not you truly want to live here — and if you don’t, then who are you (“you” in this case decidedly meaning “me”) anyway, you who profess to love California with every bit of yourself, including but not limited to the city by the bay? Could you really hack the East Coast again (no)? Can’t you just suck it up (yes, but not without a tiny bit of whinging)?
So rather than sink too far down into the existential crisis that this city in summer inevitably engenders, this weekend I got out of town — to West Marin, specifically, where I often bolt to escape the endless grey gloom (truthfully I would like to go there every day but, y’know, work and suchlike). Also there was a dog I needed to see, a few gin and tonics to drink, some bay leaves to crush under my feet. Not to say there isn’t fog out there, too, but somehow it doesn’t feel as desperate. And you’re almost guaranteed to find at least a few hours of sunshine.
[In the woods, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, July 2010.]
Oh and I did chase the sun and it was grand: a 10-mile hike up and down the back trails of the National Seashore (I made sandwiches with lots of cheese and avocado and hummus on Acme’s whole wheat walnut bread) with a wee picnic perched on the rocks near Arch Rock, lots of petting the dog, lots of coffee but perhaps not quite enough tea, homemade granola, the New York Times crossword, watching the mist burn off the ridge from across the bay, a beer on the deck, Limantour just before sunset, the light blue and sweet and perfectly clear — pretty much, the kind of weekend I needed so awfully.
(Again I must reiterate that West Marin has my heart part and parcel and I couldn’t even tell you anymore what it is exactly — just that it is. It is my place.)
August. August and it will be better, I told myself this morning as I do every year, and it’s true and soon I will forget I ever cursed the cold, but darn it right now it is so hard to get out of bed in the morning. I would like to stamp my foot in small protest. And definitely get out of town more often.
Luckily, plums await me on my counter to be folded into a sort of cornmeal-torte-cake to take to a wee dinner party tomorrow. (Though after last month’s massive cake-baking I swore I’d never bake again I find I have done so at least once a week since I got back: a red velvet cake for a friend’s birthday, another 1-2-3-4 cake with coffee butter cream for my coworker’s birthday, dog biscuits, a few batches of oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, a pound cake heavy with butter and run through with plums.) The oven and my wool socks will keep me warm enough.
[Dinner, July 2010.]
Sunday night I cooked, late, after Limantour — the way I often end up doing out there, hungrily and using up whatever I find in the fridge; and often I come with stuff I’d make again and again — with a g&t to tide me through and the fire going in the other room: pasta mixed with sauteed garlic, chopped onion, mushrooms, red pepper, spinach, all swirled with a bit of cream and butter and Parmesan and lots of black pepper. It was quick and easy and delicious and just right for the end of the weekend. I wished I’d made more. Then I helped put the dishes away though I swear I could’ve fallen asleep on my feet right there.
Last night I came home not too late but a bit on the sleepy side after the long work day, and it was still, infernally, grey (we didn’t see the sun once all afternoon). I kept thinking about that dinner. I wanted it again. And I wanted to add peas. So I treated myself: I cooked linguine and while it simmered I chopped a red onion and sauteed it with a good amount of olive oil. I added a few shiitake mushrooms, a chopped red bell pepper, baby spinach, a generous handful of peas. I liberally doused the vegetables with the pasta water (this is a great trick, especially if you’re adding cheese; it serves to bind everything together) and slipped in a bit of milk, a tiny wedge of butter, a good sprinkling of Parmesan. When I added the pasta I turned up the heat and stirred and it all came together to form a sort of ersatz sauce, no tomatoes necessary.
It was just what I wanted.
Dear July, July, 53-degree days and all, I am trying. I am trying to hold on ’til next month when I shall revisit my enduring love affair with San Francisco and spend not a few Saturdays at the beach. I’ll take it all back, I’ll swoon and promise, I’ll eat tomatoes in ridiculous quantities, I’ll do anything.
Meanwhile, this week I have a tiny dinner to plan, a deadline to meet, miles to run, and am fixated on sweet potato fries for some reason, although sweet potatoes are entirely out of season. This fog, I think, does funny things to the brain.
Linguine with Summer Vegetables and Cream
Milk, half-and-half, cream — all would work here. You only want a little bit anyway.
Linguine, for as many as you’re serving
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
8 mushrooms (white, shiitake …), sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 head spinach, washed and roughly chopped
1 cup (or more) English peas
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons cream
1/4 cup Parmesan
salt and black pepper (to taste, but I like a lot of pepper in this)
basil, fresh or dried
Other additions: handful grape or cherry tomatoes, shallots, green beans, pine nuts …
Prepare the pasta.
Meanwhile, sautee the onion and garlic in 2 Tb. of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and a splash of the pasta water and cook until they release their juices. Add the pepper lower the heat; cook for about 5 minutes, adding water as necessary. Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the Parmesan and about 2 Tb. of pasta water, stir well. Add the cream and season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and stir well to combine. Add the basil, as much as you like.
Serve very hot with lots of Parmesan.