Quinoa, Carrots, and Lady Baby

Lady Baby, in one of her earliest anointments, is likely to make me an MVP – that coveted Alaska Airlines status assuring seats toward the front of the plane. With a different kind of trip looming (more about that soon), I reached the “but if I don’t go now it will be way too long till I see her again” stage. I had no idea (in spite of warnings from friends who achieved grandparenthood ahead of me) that I would care so much about her, about supporting her life.

So I spent an early March week at Downtown Abbey and couldn’t believe the changes I found! Lady Baby’s first moments of interest in images turned into full on curiosity at the beginning of my visit – and progressed to holding our fingers, clearly thinking about her toes when they are in sight, reaching and even grabbing by the end.

Lady Baby is fully in the world now. You wonder what she’s thinking as she lies on her back and kicks legs and arms and encounters the dangling objects of her “baby gym,” making them clatter. She can hold the attached tiny wooden balls on strings that just fit in her little fist. All this is so wonderfully predictable and normal – the whole week seemed a good life, routine and quiet with a happy Lady Baby.

And eating matters – food for the staff! In spite of the dearth of recipes here lately, life has not been without cooking – and cooking in Hawaii and at Downtown Abbey is cooperative and pleasurable. As the long days of Alaska March sunshine, so bright on the snow, fill the house with light, Downtown Abbey’s kitchen is a cheerful spot.

Lady Baby’s mama and I explored a new cookbook on this trip, Lukas Volger’s “Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry” – we made his “Quinoa and Carrot Cakes.” I began, the head housekeeper finished up.

The recipe begins with one cup of rinsed quinoa cooked in two cups of water till the water is absorbed (10 or 15 minutes). Sauté two chopped shallots (we only had onions – and mincing them helps the texture of the cakes), and add eight ounces of grated carrots (we used up the carrots we had – a little more than a cup). Sauté till onions tender and carrots still “a bit crunchy.” Volger calls for a tablespoon of sherry vinegar in the pan to help gather browned bits (we used red wine vinegar).

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl – the quinoa and carrot mix, dill (fresh called for but we used dried). Stir in two beaten eggs, a half-teaspoon salt and a quarter-teaspoon pepper.

The mix forms easily into patties – making 10 about an inch thick. They get baked at 375° for 10 or 15 minutes until “crisp on the exterior and firm to the touch.” We served them hot (in shifts). Tasty! (And good in a sandwich a couple of days later.)

It was a most valuable week!

Reading and Sympathy

On the plane ride back to the mainland, I read a Jonathan Franzen article in the New Yorker about Edith Wharton – it’s also about reading. Franzen writes that he suspects “sympathy, or its absence, is involved in almost every reader’s literary judgments. Without sympathy, whether for the writer or for the fictional characters, a work of fiction has a very hard time mattering.” It’s an interesting article, particularly Franzen’s exploration of our often puzzling attraction to unlikeable protagonists, and I thought about the books I’d read on the trip.

In Penelope Lively’s “How It All Began: A Novel,” a mugger and a broken hip set up ripples of reaction tangling all the characters in the book. We learn about them in part by the books they read. The main character, Charlotte, teaches adult literacy, children’s books help her Iranian student to learn English, and characters who read “The DaVinci Code” are distinguished from those who do not.

It’s easy to identify with Lively’s heroine: “She is as much a product of what she has read as of the way in which she has lived; she is like millions of others built by books, for whom books are an essential foodstuff, who could starve without.” I definitely rooted for Charlotte!

And now a confession: I also read an appalling number of pages in the first book of the George R.R. Martin fantasy series “A Game of Thrones.” It’s a huge sink into book with an almost recognizable landscape and time much like medieval England, a coming winter that might last for decades, and castles full of characters – sympathetic and un – royals, commoners, “direwolves,” and “Others.” Engrossed, I ignored or accepted a lot of violence. I read while holding the firstborn child of my firstborn (you begin to think in the language of the book).

The series appears never-ending, and is beloved by many people and by certain members of my family. It’s fun to share the experience – to surface from the page and ask about an improbable event or person. (And ignore the ridicule of other family members.) Lively writes: “Thus has reading wound into living, each a complement to the other.”

The night we came home I went back to “Middlemarch” – on my bedside table for months as I’ve read a bit each night – glad to encounter Dorothea, irritating but very sympathetic.

Reading – such a privilege – an opportunity to pay attention, to enjoy as Lively says “this good life with all its grits and graces.”

Pictures and Stories in Paradise

Henry Evans made elegant, colorful woodblock prints of plants, and I took a book about his work, “With Excerpts from the Artist’s Notebooks” to Hawaii. His notes reveal the way he approached printmaking – and drawing. He writes: “The main question in plant portraiture is not how to portray enough detail to make the plant identifiable to genus or to species, but rather how to know what to include and what to leave out to achieve both the right feeling and a believable image.”

I thought about Evans while I made my morning rounds of condominium art with the Lady Baby. We stopped in front of each piece  – a mix of botanical paintings of Hawaiian flowers and birds, beach scenes with outrigger canoes, and a large print of a colorful kimono. It was interesting to see which framed objects captured her fancy enough for a lengthy stare. (She looks with long, unmistakably adoring gazes into her mother’s eyes.)

In Anchorage, at Downtown Abbey, a first favorite thing was a small red fire extinguisher. In Hawaii, artificial torch ginger in an orangey-red vase often stopped us for a good look. One morning, I picked up the pack of cards, “Go Fish,” our niece gave us as we left on the trip, with illustrations of tropical fish.

An immediate hit – some fish more than others – the black and red “Achilles Tang” and “Snowflake Moray” being most popular. Showing the cards and saying the names of the fish entertained us both!

The experience made me think about words and images, and then to make cards she might like – ones that could prompt words from us. I painted a clock with the hands at three, and a blue and white cup in time for tea. A puffer fish, a palm tree. A spotty fish, the sun and stars. An orange cat and a baseball hat.

You think you can see her trying out sounds and her vocalizations led me to remember song words I hadn’t thought of in years – variations on a bicycle built for two, “doe a deer,” the Sesame Street alphabet song. Alaskans discover their toes in Hawaii, leading obviously to “this little piggy.” She and I reserved “the wheels on the bus” for the end when sleep was near. A little walk around humming that, and I’d be back to reading my book or watching waves roll in.

I so loved watching the sky while she slept – a quick rainstorm meant an excuse to paint a rainbow – striving for “the right feeling and a believable image!”

Everyday Paradise

Mornings on Kauai mean fresh air through open doors, sunshine, birdsong, and big rumbling breakers – some days muddy from rain in the night, most days crystal, tropical blue. One morning my phone rang – an old friend, calling from snowbound Alaska. Hearing where we were, she said, “Oh I’m such a nester, I love to be in a familiar place – and that must happen if you go back to the same place for many years!”

When we first came to Kauai, more than 30 years ago, we stayed down south, at the Garden Isle Beach Apartments. The little cabins had limited hot water, an outdoor telephone on a pole under a thatched roof, and scuttling things I never wanted to see too clearly in the chest of drawers. Sometimes we stayed in a building that jutted into the sea – other times in the jungle across the narrow road from tiny Baby Beach. We thought it was heaven!

We were sad when those buildings blew away in a hurricane, and began to come to Lae Nani, a condominium complex on the East Coast of Kauai. Lae Nani means “beautiful point of land” in Hawaiian, and nearby is a sacred and protected promontory.

Hawaii is directly south and temptingly close to Alaska, and winter breaks to Kauai traced the growing up of our children. The year our younger son was four (chicken pox and all the Oz books). The year a grandfather came from Kansas. Years of high school homework and college Christmas breaks. Trips were always flavored by palms and papaya and changing tastes in evening entertainments – one year all the Godfather movies, this year the Downton Abbey finale. On this trip our Alaska daughter-in-law said now she begins to measure her life changes by Kauai visits – from before wife to new mother.

A monk seal, another returnee, frequently hauls up on the beach after a long night. It lies in the sunshine, secure behind yellow tape keeping people away, volunteer watchers standing guard. This year the seal lay in the sand in the sunshine, its face toward the water, a few waves bobbling its head as the tide came in. In spite all the differences, it reminded me of Lady Baby snoozing. It’s always tender to watch the up and down of a sleeping creature’s chest.

Others surf and body surf, hike through old water tunnels, play tennis or golf – I am easily pleased by the farmers’ market and grocery store, daily walks, hours and hours of reading, and one trip north and one south to sit on the beach and watch the surfer.

But the best this year was being with Lady Baby as she, like me, savored everyday life in a warm (no mittens, no hats, no socks – no sleeves!) and welcoming place.

Return from Paradise

Some of us for longer than others but for most of two weeks in February, our whole family (including the staff of Downtown Abbey and the Lady Baby herself) spent time on Kauai. My mind is still there!

Signs of spring appear here – in the garden hellebore stand tall, looking beautiful, brave, and full of blossom, and scores of budded daffodils try to triumph over popweed – but our first morning back we woke to snow and rain slanting on a stiff wind.

So, while we wait for spring, “Her spirits rose…” will revisit Kauai!