21 July, 2008

when the lights go out... again

Goodness. I know our foremothers lived without electricity (and in turn without ice, or a fan to make white noise to put them to sleep, and without any means to move around hot air, these three being my major requirements for a happy physical existence in summer). But they didn't live without it UNEXPECTEDLY. I am positive I would actually have been a quite happy person without electric lights or refrigerators, were I prepared ahead of time not to have them. To read by candlelight! To await the arrival of the ice man, bringing his great blocks to fill my quaint icebox, giving little slivers of ice to my docile children to suck through pieces of muslin cut from my castoff aprons! I could do it. But suddenly to try to brush one's teeth and there's no water... because there's no electricity... because one's water comes from a well?

It was all downhill from there. One evening had been enough, especially when I knew I caused it myself, running the AC and dryer at the same time, naughty me. But the next day started out horribly, and got worse. Let me explain.

I came downstairs after our lightless night, feeling a bit out of sorts, even cranky, and stepped down the two steps into the kitchen to squash... a mouse. A real MOUSE. Under my foot, shod thank goodness, but still. In disbelief I turned around and lifted up my foot and there it was... still in its death throes. Unfortunately I had screamed when the foot first encountered the thing underneath it, and so poor Avery had to be witness to the snuffing out of a mouse life. She insisted that I get a piece of cardboard and bring the poor thing outside, so I did, and we installed him underneath a little flowering bush. Then there was the mess to clean up, horrible. Where is my vacation? I kept wondering in a pathetically self-absorbed way. Why is every day spent fixing broken things, watching things get broken before my eyes, waaah. I hate being a grownup. The sort of problems one has, I remind myself, when one has no real problems. But still.

The day sort of descended from there into a reasonless gloom. We repaired to the library in a sort of cocoon of sweat, and to the post office and bank and grocery, and to the video store, each time being greeted as we emerged with the SLAP of heavy, humid air. A desultory lunch, and that empty mid-afternoon when you know you're going out to dinner and so there is no food shopping, no food prep, and since it was Saturday, no lovely soaps to watch. We hung out on the terrace feeling at loose ends, and then suddenly the sky that had been blue was white, and the trees that had hung lifeless in the heat were blowing into a frenzy, and the air that had been close and silent was whipped into a sort of frightening gale. It reminded me of my childhood tornado scares, and as such was mildly nostalgic and exciting!

Rain fell in a torrent for perhaps 15 minutes, and I imagined with totally unjustified optimism that the air temperature dropped. It was in this misplaced spirit of hope that I took the photographs of Red Gate Farm in the rain: imagining that we would be in some different state when the storm was over... I ended up conked out for a half hour in a sweaty nap upstairs, to be awoken by Avery bounding up the steps saying, "Dave was here asking if we had lit a fire. He smells smoke..." No, no fire. But an hour later, we realized there was no power, and it was but the work of a moment to investigate up the road and find a fallen live wire, in the road. And no power for any of us. Drat.

We had made plans to meet Jill, Joel and Jane in their little town for dinner at what Jane called adorably, "a Japanese steakhouse." To hear a three and a half year old utter these words, pronounced completely correctly, is really something: you want to make her say them over and over. So we abandoned Dave to his investigations and reportings (I was relieved it wasn't me calling up the power company, after the night before. I could just hear the report: "It's that crank up to Sanford Road again, sir..") We had a completely delicious dinner at "Ichiro," a hibachi and sushi bar," for my first foray into that experience of a dinner cooked with great choreographed panache on a flaming stove, around which we all sat in varying degrees of fear. Joel kept making up newspaper headlines about Avery, "Promising Scholar Escapes Injury by Flames to Eyes by Prescription Lenses at Local Japanese Restaurant..." We had luscious filet mignon and chicken, mixed vegetables, fried rice and noodles, not to mention a thin mushroom broth, and the only bizarre thing: an iceberg lettuce salad to be eaten with... chopsticks! Such is the melting pot that is the United States of America.

Great fun to be together, eat great food all of whose ingredients were obvious, taste a new dipping sauce made with wasabi mustard and, I think, ginger. Next time I will try the sushi, because it looked fabulous: intricate and beautiful. And there was no sushi smell, always a good sign.

We wandered around their darling downtown area, feeling stuffed, and then realized we should let Jane go to bed and also find out if all was well in our neck of the woods. A lovely sunset drive back to the hilarious audiobook by Sharyn McCrumb, "Missing Susan," and down our road, thinking as we approached, "All is well! There are lights across the road!" Only they were... candles. Quaint and lovely, but... not a good sign. We meandered over to find David, Anne and Baby Katie surrounded by candles, with Dave reading aloud from an anthology of ghost stories from the Midwest! And you know what? Why does it take a blackout, a true emergency, for good friends to take the time to sit for two hours and simply... chat? It was LOVELY. No schedule, nothing to anticipate needed to be done, because there was nothing TO be done. We caught up on Katie's achievements (they change quickly between weeks four and six), Avery's school expectations for next year, my writing class, their plans for various house projects, all the leisurely, neighborly, friendly topics that could easily have been pushed to one side all summer, but for an evening with no choice but to hang out. There is a clear lesson to be learned there! But what... Create your own emergency, perhaps, if none is presented to you by Mother Nature.

Finally I felt we were overstaying our welcome with the most relaxed new parents one can imagine, and made noises about leaving. Just then we heard the GLORIOUS sounds and saw the GLORIOUS sights of a lumbering truck with a searchlight, and knew help had come. Dave and I went out to greet the guy, as representatives of our respective needy families, and Dave walked us across the road with his handy-dandy windup flashlight. Avery is NOT keen on the dark, and so I lit candles as fast as I could, and got us upstairs to my bedroom to wait out the repairs. Avery was such a trooper, learning to light candles, finding a truly comforting and familiar book to read... but nothing could disguise the fact that we were SMOTHERING. All those candles, not a breath of air. The hours ticked by. Finally around 12, Avery crawled into her sweltering bed. Then by 1:30 or so, the workers departed and our lights came back on. Sigh. Just air movement with the fan was HEAVEN.

Woke up this morning to a totally different mood! Everything seemed possible and happy, although the day was even warmer, if anything. Did you know about ionisation and moodiness? Neither did I. But apparently some people can be affected by the state of the weather before and during a storm. Certainly I was in a funk all yesterday.

In my funk, and last night during the post-mouse-murder-blackout, I thought of ways to cheer myself up. And don't lots of people say, "When you need to get out of a blue mood, think of someone else instead of yourself"? So I thought of my neighbors across the road, just as hot and sweaty and in the dark as we were, only going through it with a newborn baby. Wouldn't it be nice to feed them? And the result, this evening, was SPECTACULAR! If I say so myself. One of those spontaneous, delicious meals that owes its success as much to the company and the mood of appreciativeness as it does to the food. What is it about friends whose conversation is always intelligent but never tortured, who require only about 5 minutes' catchup after a 6-month separation to feel normal? They are irreplaceable, and magically, this summer there is one more of them. Long live Katie.

But the food was lovely. Very summery and light, and involving almost no last-minute hot stove or oven. You can boil the corn early in the day, and bake the finished corn dish just at the end.

I'm a huge fan of Penzeys spices, and with a shop in my sister and brother in law's hometown, I'm happy to recommend it to you. All in all, a good summer menu for a hot day. And a lot of it you can buy at your local produce stand, which always feels good.

Herbed Grilled Pork Tenderloin
(serves 6 at least)

2 pork tenderloin, membranes and fat removed if you like
Penzeys "Fox Point Seasoning" (shallots, chives and scallions)
Penzeys "Old World Seasoning" (an amazing combination of paprika, salt, sugar, celery, garlic, onion, black pepper, parsley, dill, caraway, turmeric, dill, bay leaf, marjoram, thyme, savory, basil, rosemary!)
juice of 1 lime
splash olive oil

Place tenderloins in a Ziplock freezer bag with all the other ingredients and slosh them around. Let marinate in a cool environment until ready to cook. Prepare grill to 400 degrees and cook on each side for about 10 minutes for medium-ish (pinkish in the middle), or longer if you like. Let rest for a couple of minutes and then slice thick, on the bias.


Another Great Bean Salad
(serves 6)

1 cup shelled cooked edamame (soy beans)
1 soup-size can pinto beans, WELL rinsed and drained
handful sugar snap peas sliced into small bites
1/2 red onion, diced
1 cup cooked drained lentils
2 tbsps wasabi horseradish mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
2 tbsps olive oil

Could it be any easier? Mix everything well, and enjoy. It's got everything to recommend it, this salad: fiber, whatever wonderful things the superfood soy offers, lentils, the crunch of sugar snap peas, the snap of wasabi. Lovely.


Scalloped Corn
(serves 6)

6 ears corn, lightly boiled, kernels cut off
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup light cream
handful grated pecorino or parmesan

Spray a pie plate with nonstick spray. Scatter half the corn and then scatter the garlic, then scatter the rest of the corn. Pour cream over and sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Heavenly aroma!


Marinated Grilled Vegetables
(serves 6)

1 red pepper, 1 orange pepper, 1 yellow pepper, quartered and de-seeded
1 bunch asparagus
2 large flat mushrooms, cut in thick slices
large bunch broccolini
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsps garlic salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Put vegetables into a Ziplock freezer bag with all other ingredients and slosh around, as you did the pork tenderloin, until nicely mixed. Leave in plain sight as you cook everything else and squish the ingredients whenever you pass the bag. Cook at the same temperature but in less time as the pork tenderloin: about 400 degrees for aout 15 minutes. Stir often as they cook.


Well, enjoy your Sunday evening. We are grateful for (in this order): family and friends (absent and present), good healthy food, library books, chipmunks and groundhogs, and... Thomas Edison. That's the guy, isn't it?


payotbb said...

OH, that reminded me of what happened the day we brought my daughter home from the hospital, on the hottest day of that year's summer, and the power went out! That afternoon! I am a little bit ashamed to admit that we immediately decamped to a hotel, because I was not in any shape to handle my life at that point without air conditioning. Well it is glorious weather right now in England. Too bad I have to be in an office. I love bean salads - will be trying one of yours for our next bbq.

Bonnie said...

I'm sorry Kristen, but I had to laugh out loud about the mouse incident. I was seeing such vivid pictures in my head and it was so funny. Thank you for the hilarity. It has been sweltering up here in Northern New York also. Bonnie

Kristen In London said...

Oh, what a memory about your baby daughter! no wonder you caved; I hope you went to a five-star hotel, definitely. Enjoy English summer...

And yes, I can sort of see the funny bits of the Mouse Incident now, but I'm not up for a repeat, so I'm looking carefully where I step.

I think we're about to get a weather-changing rainstorm this evening...

payotbb said...

Unfortunately not many 5-star hotels in the suburbs of Detroit! But I did make sure that I was well-supplied with iced lattes from Starbucks. We had well water in that first house of ours, so in addition to no AC, we had no water (and no flushing of toilets) when the power went out! Re the weather, the radio announcer was warning everyone this morning to be prepared for a "very sticky" night tonight, because the low temperature will "only" go down to 20 degrees (68F). I'm sure we'll survive. One thing I really love here is being able to keep my windows open pretty much throughout the year.

Kristen In London said...

I know exactly what you mean, Payotbb! When it's in the 80s here at night, the weather people are still touting it as a "cooldown" from the day!

I do hate that as wonderful as well-water is, it's dependent on electricity. But the taste is out of this world and ALWAYS cold. One of the very few imperfect things about our house in London is that somewhere along the line, the plumbers got fouled up with the master bath faucet system (pipes too close to one another?) and the cold water is always hot for a very long time before it's even cool. Yuck!

Enjoy that English fresh air. And keep some for me when I get back... please!