Mother’s Day Musings

As a child, I was a momma’s boy (and still am, and proud of it). My mom was a huge inspiration and an integral part of shaping me into the person that I am today. I appreciate her now more than ever. And she is continually a muse for my stories.

1st birthday

I celebrated mother’s day with my mom yesterday, instead of today. I took her to lunch and we got cupcakes afterward and did a little window-shopping around town. After returning home, we sat on the living room floor and looked through old photos.

The funny thing about your childhood photos is that you know that that’s you in the picture, but you’ve grown so much that you hardly look like the same kid. And even though my mom has changed her hairstyle several times and has aged a bit, every picture looks exactly like I remember her.

I have a blurry spot in a memory involving Mom and jazzercise. The popular jazzercise took off in the 80’s in Southern California, where I was born. My memory recalls brightly colored, skin-tight spandex and legwarmers. I can actually still smell the combination of synthetic spandex, mixed with sweat and perfume in workout room, watching Mom, who at that time had kept her short haircut that she adopted after three kids, me being the last, all who loved pulling at her long hair.

Short-haired Mom lasted well beyond my toddler years. I remember her big round glasses and magenta housecoat with white frills down the chest. And I remember days on the river, her donning a visor and pink nylon shorts. Those were the days of falling asleep in Mom’s lap. On the couch, at the dinner table, or underneath a table at a restaurant, when I was ready to check out, I did so in the comfort of Mom’s lap. Occasionally Mom recognized my waning attention and sleepy eyes, and invited me to her lap.

Moms have instincts that few other individuals in this world can achieve. Moms have and always will know, since the days of diapers to now. My mom can still tell when I’m tired, not feeling well or hungry. Nothing has changed since I was a babe.

Fam photo

And it’s nice to know that now and then, you can still retreat to her when you need to. There will always be safety and peace in Mom’s arms.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Mom is her love for food. Mom spent countless hours in our garden and kitchen growing up. The culture of good food instilled in her was transferred to me. Her first clue that I would turn into a food lover was when she used to repeatedly catch me breaking things as toddler. I started walking earlier then most children, and often found myself digging into kitchen drawers and cabinets. Around the time that I found what I was searching for, which unfortunately was plates and china and glass serving dishes, Mom was always not far behind, “Aaron! Put that down!” And so I did, on the floor, only now it was in pieces. She quickly learned to place valuables out of reach, and I found new things to terrorize, and other ways to get injured.

And then, I was always tagging along in the garden and the kitchen with Mom. If I wasn’t following close behind her, gathering produce while she watered, I was hanging on her coattails as she made dinner. For those lucky enough to grow their own produce, they know about the magic of food. I’ve grown vegetable gardens almost every year since I was six years old. My mom taught us kids at an early age how and when to plant certain vegetables and how to take care of them throughout the year, tending to their needs for water, space, and sunshine. It’s amazing to watch a seed turn to sprout, turn to stalk, turn to plant, turn to eatable items.

Yesterday at lunch, we both swooned over a perfectly dressed arugula and zucchini salad, and quaffed a delightful strawberry rosé shrub. Shrubs are the perfect drink to made boozy for Mom’s day brunch, or virgin for hot summer days. I’m convinced I’ll find myself sipping on shrubs all summer long, so here’s a recipe so you can too.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Strawberry Shrub Adapted from Food 52 http://food52.com/recipes/12924-strawberry-shrub

Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 pounds fresh strawberries
  • 3 – 3 ½ cups white balsamic
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus additional to taste
  1. Wash strawberries well, and drain well in a colander. Remove stems and slice or quarter the berries, then transfer them to a non-reactive container that can be tightly sealed.
  2. Pour the vinegar over the berries. Seal the container and allow to rest at room temperature (or in refrigerator if leaving things out freaks you out) for 3 days, stirring once to twice daily.
  3. Transfer vinegar and berries to a non-reactive saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, then reduce heat to low. Simmer as gently as possible, uncovered for half an hour, stirring on occasion. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Discard leftover fruit.
  4. Pour a tablespoon or two of the mixture into a glass. Add seltzer water, then taste. Add sugar if desired. Once it is the desired sweetness, for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer liquid to a bottle or glass jar, cool to room temperature, seal, and store in the fridge.

The Sound of Settling

The sound of settling is the rustling of half empty moving boxes, sweeping of floors and heels dragging on hardwood. Its scribbling to-do lists, and unwrapping bubble wrap, and the tapping of hammers upon nails. It’s the rearranging of furniture, and hanging of curtains, and ringing doorbells. The sound of settling is often silence, asleep on the couch or tucked into bed. It’s soft kisses under a new roof, and feet shuffling underneath bedcovers, and slow dances in the living room. The sound of settling is breathing in and breathing out, and the passing cars. It’s the clanking of pans, and whistles of trains on the weekend, and sighs and yawns, and hats being hung.

Amber and I are pretty much all settled in; all but for finding a place for all the shit that you never need, but for some reason can never get rid of. I admittedly have more “shit” than Amber, so for now it’s all in boxes and tucked in the spare bedroom closet/wine cellar. Organized chaos is no way to settle in, so Amber and I labored every day after work, putting plates in cupboards and hanging jackets in linen closets and art from walls.

We’ve had a trial run at this living together thing. Only it was in Amber’s snug, one-bedroom living quarters. We lived just fine together; the only thing that was missing was me. There was her house, her bedroom, her kitchen, her things, and I was merely there as I was with an overnight bag. Now there is settling. There is us.

It’s time to learn the rhythms of each others days and explore our new town by foot and by bike, and drink wine after long days, and order take out, and watch a movie on Saturday night. It’s time for visitors, and happy hours, and lazy afternoons. It’s time for planting herbs and flowers and cooking dinner together. It’s time for the sound of settling to finally settle; and that silence is starting to sound quite nice upon our ears and our hearts.

Occasionally there are moments in the kitchen when you stumble upon something magical. Most recently, it was the world’s best chicken salad. Of course a good chicken salad has to start with a perfectly roasted chicken. Amber swears that this particular chicken salad benefited from the garlic that was in our rub for the chicken (which also included rosemary, Aleppo pepper, salt and pepper). I don’t recall doing anything different from I normally would do when making chicken salad; I chopped up thigh and breast meat; added mayo and Dijon; chopped celery and apple; added some more Aleppo and some dill and seasoned with salt and pepper. We stuffed pita with the chicken salad and topped it with baby arugula and crumbled blue cheese. And it was kind of awesome. We made another batch the next day.

A series of firsts and lasts

Last Friday I drove past my favorite pasture on Adobe Road; a lush grassland with a water trough near the road, where everyday I would see one solitary sheep among a herd of cows. Amber first pointed this out to me months ago, and so every morning and afternoon on my drive, I would look out my window and smile.

My life has shifted about an hour southeast, and the sheep is just one of several things I’ll miss; but for every thing I miss, new things will replace the lost. I’ve probably had my last midnight bike ride with the roommates, and last spontaneous gathering at Sanns Lane, and last Saturday morning at the Flying Goat, but I’ve tried to not get overly upset about the lasts and think more about the firsts.

We as humans measure time by our lives, our moments, by our firsts and lasts. Monumental occurrences in our lives that can only happen once: the first day of school, first kiss, first car, first job. And then conversely, the lasts: last day of school, last love, last day at home, last day of work. Scientifically speaking, the sun, stars, clocks and calendars, measures time, but we are probably the only species to measure time by moments. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” says T.S Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” There’s too much monotony measuring out life with a coffee spoon. What an enormous task when so little is held in a coffee spoon; why not heaping tablespoons, or cupfuls?

A few years ago, the plans that I had then are not the ones I’ve ended up doing. Every day we have moments that are worth seizing, worth remembering, worth measuring – some larger than others, but how boring would life be if we didn’t?

All of the firsts that are ahead of me are because I scooped bucketful’s of opportunities instead of getting stuck chipping away at prospects with a spoon.

I cannot recall what I wore on Tuesday or what I ate on Wednesday, but I can tell you what Amber was wearing when we first met; I can tell you where we shared our first kiss; and I can tell you how it felt to feel love again after years of feeling like I had already experienced my last. And that is memory. Love is memory. The ability to see yourself through the eyes of another, to make memories and know the details that no one else can or ever will know; to smile every time you drive past a pasture and see a single, solitary sheep among a herd of cows. And smile.

**The first meals in a new house are often take-out. Once we got the kitchen in order, it was mostly a put-it-together-with-what-you-got sort of meal. An acorn squash made the move, along with some tortillas, cilantro and a frozen Tupperware of red chile enchilada sauce. Around the corner to the market to get a can of black beans, cheese and an avocado and dinner is on the table in 45 minutes or less. Slice the acorn squash in half, remove seeds and roast at 425 until flesh can be scooped out with a spoon. Using the burner on your oven, lightly scorch each side of the tortillas. Pour a little bit of enchilada sauce into 8×8 pan and one by one, add tortilla and fill with beans, squash and cheese. Sprinkle a little bit of cumin and chili powder and roll. Once all are rolled, pour remaining sauce over enchiladas and top with cheese. Bake at 350 until warmed through. Garnish with cilantro, avocado, chopped green onions or any variety of toppings that made the move with you.**

I’m only moving across the valley my friends; this isn’t goodbye, its just see you later.

I’ve always had a bit of Peter Pan in me. I never wanted to grow up. I resisted the nine-to-five job and grown-up responsibilities as long as I could, but I guess we all have to grow up eventually.

Life often challenges you with “shit or get off the pot” moments. This is one of them. Cohabitation: to live together as or as if a married couple. That means my shoes officially in a closet and my hat hung. The terms “our” and “we” will effortlessly slip into our vocabulary, and my things will mingle with her things, transcending to become “ours.” The long and the short of it, is that Amber and I are moving to a town that is about an hours drive from Healdsburg. And it seems only fitting that we move to the town where we first met. We’ve signed our names to the lease of our “love nest” as Amber has deemed it. I now pronounce us cohabited.

A few weeks ago, Jon and I chatted about what if scenarios. Literally speaking, we all know how we took road A or B and arrived at current place C. My mind has been wandering to the far-off places of what if since we had that conversation. Jon and I have been roommates since 2010. In just a few weeks, we won’t, as I “take the plunge” into cohabitation with Amber. And you know, to live with Amber and build a future will be an awfully big adventure.

The adventure I’ve had getting to this place in life has been awfully big to boot. The big “what if” that Jon presented was, what if Affronti was a successful restaurant? Now, Jon and I can joke about things like this because we put a lot of effort into making a not-so-successful restaurant successful, only to abandon ship after two years before that ship eventually sunk.

Jon and I also used to joke about how we were the founders of our group of friends. Now, there are plenty of scenarios for each person I’ve met over the last four years that could be altered by their – and my decisions; but assuming all permutations stay the same, except for Affronti, things would be quite different for all of us. Laugh and sneer if you want, but it is because of Jon and I that the shapes of things are what they are. Without Jon and I meeting, we don’t live together, which means we don’t become neighbors and friends with Jenny. Maybe we all meet somewhere down the road – because after all, Healdsburg is rather small. But really what if? I probably wouldn’t be working at Wine Spectator because I would have a steady job as wine buyer and assistant manager. I probably would not have met Amber, and Jon and I would probably still be roommates, but living in grander house than the one on Fitch Street that we called home for two years.

Without Affronti, my dear friend, Mark doesn’t meet Jon or myself, or place his wine on the list by the glass. And without Affronti I don’t meet Brittany whose friend, Michelle comes to visit, who meets Andrew, who has a BBQ at his house where we all meet Tej. I can go on and on, but you get the picture. Do you believe yet? Clap if you believe!

Before 2009, I never had the big, tight-knit group of friends that I do now. Our friends plan hiking trips and river days; we get together every Sunday to watch The Walking Dead and share Friendsgiving Dinner together. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; the camaraderie among my group of friends is extraordinary. I guess the hardest part of this move will be putting myself further away from them and the life I’ve built with them over the last four years. That’s why it’s so crazy to think about what if. Would all the faces I’ve met and all the memories I’ve had over the last four years have happened if I didn’t take a job? Would moving across the valley seem so daunting if I weren’t leaving so many friends in Healdsburg?

There are infinite permutations that you can play out, but I played out the game with the cards I had in my hand. And even though some faces have come and gone, and there has been hardship and strife, I wouldn’t change any card that I’ve played. And while I will miss living in Healdsburg and being part of spontaneous adventures, I’m ready to have new adventures in a new town, and make new memories.

Healdsburg was the place where it all started, but we are all growing up, and some of us will inevitably drift away. You can’t be afraid to choose the roads that take you in new directions. Life has a funny way of pushing you in the right directions when you’re ready. If the what if is staring you right in the face, telling you to choose, don’t get lost in Never Never Land. Sometimes the biggest or smallest leaps can make all the difference in the grand scheme of things. The memories we’ve shared and the relationships we’ve made won’t let us forget. So to all my friends that I’m leaving in Healdsburg, in the words of Peter Pan, “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting;” and the memories we have shared are unforgettable. I’m only moving across the valley; this isn’t goodbye, its just see you later.

P.S. We have a spare bedroom for crashing and we’re walking distance of town, so don’t be strangers.

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