« Apricots » she said as she handed me the bulging brown paper bag. I shifted awkwardly, uncomfortably in the much-too narrow bed trying oh-so hard to find a position that wasn’t painful and accepted the gift with pleasure. My mother- and father-in-law had driven all the way across Paris from the suburbs at the diametrically opposite side of the city to see the new baby, their third grandson. And she had brought me a gift of apricots.
Amazement. Those apricots were like none I had ever seen before. They were the size and shape of avocados, of those elegant artichokes the color of jade tinged with aubergine. Apricots the color of bridesmaids gowns, a soft, pale orange of creamsicles. The perfume was exquisite, escaping aromatically from the bag as I peeled back the paper. And the flavor was astonishing. Maybe I in my hazy state, alone in that hospital room with nothing to do all day, for seven days, except watch an angel sleep, maybe I in my bored and bewildered condition maybe the flavor of those apricots was exaggerated in my mind. But I think not. They were ambrosial.
Absurd. My mother-in-law made her pastry from scratch, pushing squishy, damp dough across the glass pie plate with her fingers, pressing it into the corners and up the undulating, fluted sides. Yet she used canned apricots, pouring off the heavy syrup, pressing perfect, regular, homogeneous, identical half apricot rounds into the pastry, hollow side down. Dusting it with crystallized brown sugar and pushing it into the oven, it was the best thing eaten on a Sunday afternoon on the terrace in the country.
Animal crackers in my soup…. Monkies and rabbits loop the loop….
Alphabet Soup Animal Crackers American cheese toasted between two slices of buttered white. A my name is Albert and I live in Alabama, my wife’s name is Alice and we sell Apples. A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. Abracadabra. Alice in Wonderland. Afternoons baking cookies with any adult will do. A child’s life.
How to eat an animal cracker. Head first, body first? Swirl the spoon around the bowl of alphabet soup and pick out the letters (don’t use your fingers the soup’s hot!). J. A. M. I. E. Fish them out only five of them and line them up on the plate to save for last. Floating animal crackers in a bowl of alphabet soup.
Caramel apples Candy apples Bobbing for apples Apple fritters Apple cider
An autumn afternoon. There is autumn in the air although an August afternoon when the days should be arid, fiery and airless. The evenings sultry, sticky, the windows thrown open to catch what breeze a summer night affords. Yet, here it is as autumn, cool and agreeable, luring us outdoors.
I have always loved autumn. It is the sentimental season; we ache for something just out of reach, something illusory, nostalgic. It must be the odd light, unquantifiable, ambiguous, that filters through the trees as they flutter and fade to gold. Autumn is a season both exhilarating and melancholy. And I dream of aspirations, I think of people I have lost. I dream arduous dreams. Angst.
And autumn is the season of abundance. My countertop is piled high with end-of-summer tomatoes of the deepest red streaked with orange, smudged with amber. Zucchini, courgettes, fat and awkward, bundles of green beans, rolled in newspaper are a garden gift from a neighbor. Acts of kindness. A garden a jungle of vines heavy with bunches of green grapes blushing purple, a hint of what’s to come. Tree branches weighted down by kiwis like teardrops. Rows resplendent with tremendous heads of lettuce astounding in size and number! Beds of beans, peppers, eggplant, and cabbage are lined with delicate tendrils of chives, feathery tufts of parsley, clusters of mint, ours for the taking. Pumpkins of varying shades of orange nestled in the green plants lie placidly, growing ever larger, drinking in the sunshine of summer turned autumn much too soon.
Apple pie Apple compote Apple clafoutis Apple tart Baked apples with cinnamon sugar Apple strudel warm from the oven
Some children are born for adventure, have it in their blood, jump into new undertakings with both feet, laughing out loud. My firstborn son was such a child, courageous and curious. Happily dipping into a ditch, river or lake with both hands, a net or a fishing rod, buckets of snails or tadpoles or frogs found their way back home. Ever fearless, he tromped through woods, fields, beaches looking for animals, treasures, mushrooms, waltzed through museums and monuments asking questions, flitted up dizzying tower staircases, boarded airplanes all alone which would take him flying off to far-away lands when he was all but a tot, surrounded by strangers. And at ten, he and his father giddily prepared their backpacks for their newest adventure, a trekking holiday through an African desert.
They spent a glorious week in hiking boots, kicking up sand, days under the burning sun, nights tucked up in sleeping bags under the inky star-lit sky. Huge communal tents were set up for lunches and dinners, two gentlemen preparing tagines and couscous, salads and fruits, fresh breads to see them through the days, son ate greedily, joyfully, and turned nothing down. The boy was in his element, buoyant and excited, rolling down hills, sliding down mountains on the seat of his pants, running instead of walking, always twenty-five paces ahead of his father. Our little explorer could have extended his adventure for an added week and he would not have flinched. He lived every single moment to the fullest in great pleasure and delight.
Two final days in Marrakech, they stayed in tiny hostels, a place to stash their luggage and lay their heads at night. The days were spent exploring the city, the markets, the sights, sounds, odors and flavors of Morocco. For their very first meal in Morocco together alone, an adventurous eater, son ordered a chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives. A big, bold order for such a young man, a meal bursting with flavors, salty, tangy, exciting! But he had always been a bold eater, afraid of nothing. Driven by his passion for eating, an adventurous spirit, his curiosity, he ordered this new dish. And fell in love with it. And for those several days, both before and after the hike, every mealtime found him ordering the same dish, Tagine de Poulet aux Citrons Confits et Olives – Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives. A dish now redolent with nostalgia and adventure.
All grown up, he has traveled far and wide, Asia and Africa, and America, crossing countries on foot, on motor scooters, on wooden flat boats, and public trains and buses. And he has eaten boldly, adventurously, snake and dog and mice, eels, alligator. He has shared meals with groups of strangers on buses and beaches and under tents. But after all, he learned from the best, his parents eating adventurously in Africa, too. Road kill and bowls of warm walnut oil, local dishes and home-cooked dishes, in trains and buses and fields and deserts.
Addicted to Adventure, his bags are packed and off he goes again. Another African Adventure.