AT HOME, CURRENTLY READING OLIVE KITTERIDGE, BY ELIZABETH STROUT
In tidying up piles of paperwork, I ran across a recipe that I intended to preserve to the blog last summer. That it became my favorite summertime meal… should, I suppose, lead to shame in my not sharing it sooner. Especially since my fondness for it grew out-of-bounds, in that I once served it for supper last autumn, too.
But it was during the season of spring that I first tasted something similar to it. A warm spring day in Palacios, Texas, that carried with it a hint of coolness from the nearby ocean. I was part of a group of women on spiritual retreat that day, being treated to a picnic lunch catered by a small but lovely Lake Jackson restaurant, called Cafe Annice. The pasta salad, I remember, was served with slices of crusty French bread with pesto-flavored butter… and for dessert, a Texas-sized brownie.
That picnic reminds me of a packet of letters I feasted upon at the close of the retreat. Some came from friends, a few from co-workers, with most from family. All of them, without fail, expressed gratitude or love for me, in one way or another.
Included in the packet were letters from my parents. One from each. A big deal, since neither was in the habit of writing… or comfortable in expressing love. But write they did. Dad recorded the way he felt on the day I was born, at the moment when I was first placed in his arms. The way he expressed his thoughts on paper… the particular way he told that story… was so uniquely, Dad… that the letter itself helps preserve, for me, the sound of his gravely voice.
Funny how I don’t recall Mom’s message as clearly. Though I do remember how she closed her short note by passing on some bit of by-the-way family or community news that she thought I’d be interested in knowing. Mom avoided mushy. She always said we knew how she felt about us. And since her actions spoke in place in words, I suppose she was right.
I’ve thought about Mom off and on all day. Partly because it snowed and Mom always enjoyed watching a pretty snowfall. But also, because it’s her birthday. Had she lived, she would have been eighty. Which seems impossible… about as impossible as the fact that I possess a letter from her at all, one that I’m fairly certain I was disappointed with because of its brevity when first opened. But today I’m glad. I’m glad that she kept her words short and to the point. Had she done otherwise, that letter wouldn’t feel nearly so true to her spirit.
So tonight, I write in memory of Mom. I write without shame in not sharing this recipe sooner. There is a time for everything… and a season for every activity under the heavens… so the Bible says. In this spirit of wisdom, maybe last year just wasn’t my season for writing. And maybe when my retreat sponsor contacted my mother on the eve of my long ago retreat, that single letter became her season to write one.
Some things, of course, are not bound by a season. God. Love. Wisdom. Small things, too. This simple pasta salad, for one. Cause it may be winter, but it’s on tonight’s menu.
Chicken Caesar Pasta SaladServes 2 1.5 cups of grilled chicken breast, cut in bite-size chunks or strips (grill in advance (freeze and thaw) or purchased grilled chicken strips in freezer section of grocery store) 1.5 cups penne pasta, cooked al dente (about 3 ounces uncooked) 1 cup thinly sliced romaine lettuce 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, bite-size — whole or halved 1/2 cup (or more!) red grapes, sliced in half 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil 1/4 cup chopped green onions 1 small garlic clove, minced 1/4 cup (or more) of Caesar Dressing (I use Marie’s) 1/8 cup fresh parsley 1/4 cup of fresh Parmesan Cheese, grated 1/2 cup of home-made croûtons (see below) Fresh grounded black pepper — to taste
Combined all ingredients in a large bowl — toss well to evenly coat.
2 slices of French bread, cubed
Approx. 2 Tbsp butter
garlic salt to taste
Sauté bread cubes in butter and garlic salt in a skillet over medium heat until toasted.
How wonderful to have your letters from your parents, I am jealous. My mom wasn’t one for the written word either, I think maybe Daddy could have expressed his thoughts on paper but he didn’t. I have learned this last year that his father was a writer, not by trade but he was talented according to my aunt, Daddy’s sister.
The pasta salad sounds and looks good, I never make home-made croutons, do you use home-made bread?
Christi probably told you Jane asked to have the day off President’s Day so hopefully we will get to have our lunch together. I would be happy to drive the three of us to OKC, maybe you could pick a lunch location. Do you like Iron Star or you may have a good idea, it doesn’t matter to me at all.
Lunch on the 17th sounds great. Like you, it doesn’t matter to me where we eat. We shouldn’t have a problem eating at Iron Star without a reservation. Any place else probably requires one…. Cheevers, Cafe 501, Paseo Grill, for starters. Since neither of us care, I’ll touch base with Sis to see what she and Jane prefer…. it that’s okay with you. Thanks for getting us organized.
In response to your question about croûtons, I use French bread from our local bakery. I buy in mass, slice it and keep it in the freezer for sandwiches or whatever… I added the recipe just beneath the salad recipe.
Reading of your aunt’s story about your grandfather and his writing… reminds me of Aunt Carol’s memories of Daddy keeping a journal when he was a young teenager of 15… she remembers he wrote with red ink… and tossed it into a trashcan one day when they were living in KC, MO. What I wouldn’t give for that journal today…. and I know you must feel the same way about anything that your grandfather would have written.
Look forward to seeing you soon. Hope the show goes well this weekend… and that weather doesn’t affect turn-out…
A lovely, touching post. You’re right – there is a season for all things. And how strange it is to realize, just now, that I have not a single letter from my mother. It always was my dad who wrote to me – at camp, in school, in Liberia, during his business travels. It’s become clear to me over the years that despite our bonding and our years together at the end, there was “something” in our relationship that wasn’t right. I haven’t a clue what it might be, but the signs are there in retrospect.
Ah, well. Life does go on, and all was well in those latter years. So, as is my wont, I’ll remember the good and let the not-so-good flow away.
I do love the story of your retreat. Were you at the Luther Hotel, by any chance? I can envision you all out on the pavilion. A lovely place, for sure. I’ve been meaning to get down that way and see if the sandhill cranes are around, before they start their trip north.
The salad looks wonderful. I’m trying to shift myself over to healthier eating, and this will fit right in. I’m entirely too proud of myself for finally giving kale a try. I assumed it would be bitter, for some reason. It was quite good on its own, and I put the leftovers in some sort-of-tortilla-soup. That was good, too.
I just looked at your current conditions and forecast. You have my sympathy. My aunt in Kansas City is ten degrees colder than you are, with 5-7″ in the forecast. There’s a reason I don’t move back north!
Your reflection on your parents sounds as if it has the makings of a good story. It certainly made me curious to know more… But then, your stories about you and your parents are my favorites…
I have such good memories of Palacios, though our accommodations there were spartan… we stayed at a dormitory at the Baptist encampment there. Watching the sunrise burst out of the eastern sea is something I’ll never forget… along with much of that weekend. The Luther Hotel has a nice sound to it….though.
I just re-looked at our 10-day forecast — I must check in 3 or 4 times a day, at least — and all I can say is… Brrrr! We had a cool, wet summer and now we’re in the midst of a very cold, dry winter. Others spots around the city have received more moisture than we have…. The 2-4 inches of snow we were forecasted to get today turned into something less than 1/2 inch I’m guessing. Thank goodness I have an irrigation system — though odd-even rationing and too cool of temperatures makes it a challenge for proper watering!
Maybe the next 10 days forecast will help turn the tide…
Annie McCauley said:
I can understand how precious those letters must be to you now that both your parents have died. I remember your house as a place of refuge for me. Your mom was always so welcoming any time. Taking with on trips to Shawnee to your grandmother and aunts house. You are right I think your dad was definitely the introvert. My mom is 84 and in great health. She walks everyday if it is to cold she walks up and down the steps of her building. She never was one to sit still. My dad died of cancer 18 years ago. He only live 5 weeks after it was found. For him it was a blessing he wasn’t the one who could have been sick for along time. I miss him dearly. Memories are so precious thanks for sharing yours along with the great recipes. I am on a grain free gluten free diet. I’ve been experimenting with new recipes and I will agree with your friend kale is not to bad.
All those nice memories surrounding Mom… she would have been glad to know that you felt that way. I know you were in good company since Mom was the “go-to” Mom of the neighborhood. Not just for kids… but for the other Moms, too. Got a splinter? Go see Carol. Need a tooth pulled. Go see Carol. Want a second opinion from a trust-worthy soul? Go see Carol.
Glad to hear that your Mom is doing so well and staying active. I think you definitely got your “staying active” gene from her… I remember her, well. Give her my regards… next time you talk to her. I still remember that pizza of hers.. I think I’ve already shared how Sis still makes it.
An author of one of the blogs I follow — Red Dirt Ramblings — occasionally posts gluten-free recipes. You may want to check out the site… for a change of pace.
I can see how much parenting can differ from culture to culture, and generation to generation. Don’t think I’ve any letters from my parents. uh… simply put, we just don’t do that, although reading your post makes me long for such kind of a relationship. Now with my son, we do interact much closer, but alas, not with letters. Better than not having any communication at all, I cherish every text message on my smart phone and Google chat online.
As for the culinary treat, I’d never thought of salads are seasonal. Love to have that chicken pasta salad any time. 😉
Yes, communication.. especially with those we love… is a good thing, however and wherever it occurs. Texts. Phone calls. Even exchanges via Facebook. And even if only about the weather.
But, for me… if not by letter or through a face-to-face visit, I feel handicapped when asked to advise on important matters… especially by text. Which, of late in my world, happens more and more. I’ve just chewed a thumb nail this morning over such a stressful series of texts…
Letter writing is important to me… even though it wasn’t for my parents…. and based on the few comments received here from you and others… my parents weren’t alone.. This past Christmas, our children’s gift from my husband and me was accompanied by a letter. Every thank you note presents an opportunity to express love to the giver. All this reminds me how, recently, my youngest daughter shared that she has kept everything I’ve ever written to her. Her confession surprised me. Even now, I can’t even begin to express how loved she made me feel.
Isn’t it amazing how a few symbols on paper… can evoke a world of feeling. There’s something about old-fashioned correspondence that carries with it a sense of intimacy. Of course, weighty words of love or wisdom or faith can also show up on a smart phone screen. Or in an email or blog post or comment. It’s just harder (for me) to be vulnerable in these venues… but maybe… sometimes… it happens.
And all this… because I decided to share a favorite pasta salad recipe. Thanks, Arti, for dropping in.
Oh, Janell……I am so sorry I haven’t been reading your blog! Decided to “catch up” tonight. What memories this one brings! Precious memories for you of your parents, very special memories for me of your retreat, and now, a delicious memory of you every time I make this salad….and I will!!! I love being able to listen to your sweet spirit by reading to your words. Love you, my friend!!!
No apologies needed, Litha. Glad to read that life if full.
It’s funny how one event can lead to memories of others…. cause I’m pretty sure that it was spending time with you last April that reminded me of that other April — sixteen years ago next month — where we and others gathered on the lawn near the sea for my first taste of that unforgettable pasta salad. Though I’d only enjoyed it twice or thrice .. and though I never received the official recipe… spending time with you on the sea inspired me to search the Internet for something close to my memory of that “Walk Picnic Salad.” A few minutes later… and a few tweaks from later servings…I decided it was close enough to publish….
I’ve recently gone on similar hunts to reclaim other lifetime favorites … some delicious beer-flavored ground beef tacos made by my former father-in-law (he guarded the secret recipe for life, never passing it on)… and my mother’s scrumptious coconut cream pie. Now that I have them, I’ll get these recipes added, too. Eventually.
It’s almost spring. In spite of forecast of a snow shower today.