Sunday, May 20, 2012

Brunch, Blooms, and Boules: Some Thoughts on Mother's Day

I’ve been a mother now for almost seventeen years. During my first pregnancy with Isabel, I remember feeling as if I was about to jump into an abyss. Looking back after all these years, my feelings were accurate. It has been an abyss, but the most joyous and fulfilling kind. Motherhood is a hotly debated topic these days, and women are quick to judge each other about the kinds of parents they choose to be. All I know is that I’ve made the right choice for me and my family and that I’m grateful to have been able to make that choice.

To celebrate the day, we went out to brunch like we usually do. It was the morning after the prom, so we picked Isabel up at her friend’s house and drove a few miles down the road to Tourterelle. A country inn and French restaurant, Tourterelle fuses classic French cuisine with local products to create a winning combination.

I had the garlic sausage frittata, which was light but satisfying. I’m not a big egg eater and only care for them in omelets and frittatas, when the egginess is balanced out with cheese and vegetables and, in this case, tasty garlic sausage. The frittata was also dotted with potatoes and peppers and accompanied by mixed greens. I really wish I had snapped a photo of it, but again I got caught up in the conversation (a colorful recount of prom festivities) and forgot. Not a good habit for a blogger.

Chris enjoyed his scrambled eggs with leg of lamb, Faye devoured her steak and eggs, and the strawberry pancakes were just what Isabel needed to recharge. As we ate and laughed, I recalled how we held a celebratory meal at this same restaurant (then under different ownership and name) following Isabel’s Welcoming Ceremony when she was a baby.  It hit me that this year I’ve begun to say goodbye. Isn’t the college visiting ritual, which we’re in the midst of, the real beginning of this 

Following brunch, we headed up to Essex for Faye’s soccer game. For the past several Mother’s Days she’s had a soccer game in the afternoon, so it now feels like part of our family tradition. Watching her run down the field and fiercely defend the goal, my heart swelled with pride and thanks for strong, healthy kids.

Back in Bristol we stopped at Rocky Dale Gardens, a lush, green paradise just outside of town.

People come from all over New England to stroll the gardens and purchase plants from their vast selection of unusual varieties. Our yard has many a plant from Rocky Dale, and I’ve gotten a lot of my gardening inspiration from strolling these artistically designed grounds.

I went over to Rocky Dale a lot when the girls were young and loved watching them skip down the paths in their little Keds, exploring hidden niches. I remember one time in particular, when I was hugely pregnant with Faye and lumbering behind Isabel. I wasn’t one of those women who reveled in being pregnant. I was anxious and uncomfortable, worried about every strange symptom and the world that I was bringing children into. But Isabel’s delight in the flowers and bees and the imaginary tale she was telling me as I struggled to keep up brought me out of my funk.

Back at home before dinner, while waiting for the pasta water to boil, we indulged in another family tradition: boules. Boules (or pétanque, as it’s called in the South of France) is an outdoor game that’s very common in France. It involves throwing metal balls in an effort to get your ball closest to a small red ball, known as the cochonet or piglet.

It’s taken pretty seriously in France, especially by older men who play in clubs on special gravel courts called boulodromes.

We just play in our back yard on the grass, surrounded by trees, and shrubs, and perennials we’ve added to our yard over the years: the blueberry bush we planted when Isabel was born, the apple tree for Faye, the high bush cranberry in honor of my dad after he passed away, the raspberries from the gardens my mom created and tended while I was growing up, the lilac that Chris’s sister Leanne gave us as a housewarming gift, and the perennials and herbs divided from the gardens of many friends. We’ll add to this the azalea we bought at Rocky Dale for this year’s Mother’s Day.

I’m the reigning boules champion in our family, which is a big deal because I’m usually abysmal at games that demand hand/eye coordination. On this particular evening, though, Chris won. I chalked it up to being out of shape at the beginning of boules season.

For dinner we had one of our family favorites, pesto pasta. I always make a big batch of pesto at the end of the summer, when the plants are at their leafiest, and freeze it in plastic containers. I usually end up freezing enough for about eight meals. We ration it throughout the winter and spring, savoring it once or twice a month until basil season comes around again. I had one batch left, and the boules kickoff seemed like the ideal occasion to finish it off. Plus it’s simple to prepare since you do all the work before freezing it, so a perfect meal to cap off a full day.

The paste is denser than it would be if I were making it fresh, since I purposely don’t put in as much olive oil before freezing it.

To get the right consistency, I add in about 3 more tablespoons of olive oil and a quarter of a cup of the pasta water toward the end of the cooking time. After mixing in the pasta, I top each portion with freshly ground pepper and grated Parmesan, and some tamari roasted pumpkin seeds.

It was indeed a very happy Mother’s Day. I hope yours was too.

Here’s a recipe for basic pesto, adjusted for freezing and for garlic lovers:

Pesto (adapted from Ina Garten)

 ½ cup pine nuts or walnuts (or mix of both)
 10 large cloves chopped garlic
 5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 1 ½ cups good olive oil (or 1 ¼ if freezing)
 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place the walnuts/pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process for 15 seconds using a steel blade. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, pour the olive oil in through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for one more minute. Use right away or store in the freezer with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly on top.