I begin by pulling wild weeds and raking fallen leaves. I whisk a winter’s-full of caked loam from stone steps. The dirt provides my manicure and the sun warms and massages my stiff back. A deep breath, the first in many months, hands me softly-scented sweet air. My mind shifts. I step back from task complete, into stillness and contentment.
This morning’s downpour washed away my plans to stroll the stalls of the farmer’s market. I’m ready to sample the tastes of pre-spring. It’s time for winter to be over. This morning, the herd of grey clouds moved slowly across the prairie of sky. Brief respites of pale sun and blue gave me hope that I could wander outside. I watched my waking garden from the windows. The nectarine is flowering again – a bittersweet remembrance. The pink jasmine is in bloom – months earlier than last year. I braved the rain, snipping small sprays to scent the house. My baby pomegranate is beginning to sprout green as well. Is this the year I see fruit? The tender twigs would never hold the swollen orbs.
I found a recipe for shrimp etouffee today. I think perhaps tomorrow for dinner it will be on the menu. Tonight, I made a dessert etouffee, of sorts – an amalgamation of brunoise apples sautéed in butter with apple juice, lemon zest, raisins and brown sugar. I spiced it with Chinese five spice, cinnamon and allspice and finished it with a flambé of brandy. I served it over a creamy bed of warm rice pudding – arborio rice slowly cooked with whole milk, sugar and a bit of butter, salt and vanilla. I seasoned the creamy pudding with a bit more cinnamon and allspice.
It was the perfect antidote for another rainy day – warm unctuous vanilla-cinnamon goodness nestled under a spicy apple compote. Today was a lazy day. Tomorrow, no work. I hope I see the sun.
There are a few pink cotton-candy kisses of buds on the nectarine tree – promises of a Spring to come. Each year when they appear, my thoughts return to a late winter’s night in 2004. I remember arriving home, stepping from the car and being astonished that the tree had blossomed. A quarter-moon bright above me, I perched on the brick wall, shivered from the crisp air, and inhaled the delicate scent. Before that moment, I was oblivious to this beauty bursting forth around me; focused instead on my father slowly relinquishing life a few miles away. I was dizzy from the incongruity. His passing came a few days later, just past his 88th birthday. I cannot see the blooms without remembering that night and thinking of him.