Photo: ©2011 Sally Vargas
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SALLY VARGAS
A glorious season is about to unfold and with it: Summer Vacation!
Let me make it clear, I loved you to the end and with all my heart. This is simply to explain why, after last month, you were never again able to suck me into another gay, carefree vacation with the family, may God bless and keep every one of them individually.
These are the words spoken by James Stewart in the opening scene of Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation as he dictates a letter to his secretary on his first day back from vacation, intended to be read by his wife Peggy (Maureen O’Hara) once he is safely in the grave. As the story progresses, we see the Hobbs family, replete with married daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, unmarried children, neighbors and unexpected guests enacting familiar scenes to anyone who has experienced the gay, carefree summertime rite called The Family Vacation. The dilapidated house, the saggy beds, the family dynamics, the dramas that arise and ebb just like the waves on the Jersey shore.
Yes, folks, let the good times roll!
I have come to understand that the problem with vacation, family or otherwise, is that
I have to take myself with me. I cannot easily extricate myself from the “me” with to-do lists, agendas, irritations and expectations. In other words, the rat race of my mind. But that’s what I want to escape from! Isn’t that what vacations are for? Isn’t that what everyone wants?
Sit on a beach for fifteen minutes and you will notice that nobody is living the fantasy they imagined when they rented the cottage. The kids are squabbling, or hungry, or thirsty. Sooner rather than later they will need something that will pull their mother out of her beach chair just as she settles in with a good book. The lady with the big hat can’t quite reach her back with the sunscreen. The children by the edge of the shore have mostly got it right. They are fully absorbed in building a castle and watch with delight as the waves wash it away.
Wash it away, wash it away.
When we dream of vacations, we dream of a perfect setting, but what we really dream of is peace, joy, spaciousness, and a release from the story of our lives. We may not be able to escape from the “me” immersed in that story, but a vacation can allow us to commune with nature and connect to a deeper self that goes beyond the all-engaging noise in our head. When the light fades and the children settle down, we can breathe and sigh and take in the serenity of a summer evening, no matter what kind of day it’s been.
I probably won’t take a vacation this year, so I ask myself: what is a vacation, after all, other than a string of moments? When I go away, I look forward to a new vantage point from which to notice and savor those moments. Yet I can have them at home, too.
So I will leave the laundry and the dirty dishes, the bills and the phone calls behind and walk the fifty feet out my back door to a small table on the patio. I’ll make a promise to ignore the weeds in the garden, too, and sit down with a friend, a cup of tea and a beautiful homemade rhubarb crumble. I will enjoy it completely and without guilt.
Summer is calling.
Serves 4 to 6
Cooking rhubarb has an unpredictable side. How will it turn out? Will it be as beautiful as a bowl of rubies, or a disappointing gingery brown? To preserve that yearned-for red color, I’ve tried the following method that works about seventy percent of the time. Darned if I can figure out why, and believe me, I’ve tried. First, cook the rhubarb very briefly in a wide pan to facilitate evaporation of the juices, which may contribute to the dilution of the color (best guess.) Then immediately transfer it to a baking dish, top it with the crumble and bake.
For the topping
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch fine salt
Pinch of baking powder
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in thin slices
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process with a series of short bursts until the mixture looks crumbly and is the color of cinnamon toast. It should not look at all floury. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the nuts.
(To make by hand, stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter and use your fingers, a pastry cutter, or a wire whisk to break up the butter into pea-size pieces. Continue to work the mixture until it looks crumbly and is the color of cinnamon toast. Stir in the nuts.)
For the rhubarb crumble
1 cup organic cane sugar or white sugar
1 small orange
2 pounds rhubarb, cut in 1-inch lengths (to make about 6 cups)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Set a 10-inch by 2-inch round baking dish next to the stove. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Measure the sugar into a wide (12-inch), deep sauté pan. Finely grate the zest of the orange over the sugar. Halve the orange, extract the juice and add it to the pan. Stir the mixture over high heat until the sugar liquefies and the mixture comes to a boil.
Add the rhubarb to the pan and stir just until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook the rhubarb, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until it begins to soften but does not yet fall apart. Stir in the vanilla.
Immediately pour the rhubarb into the baking dish. Let cool for 10 minutes. Cover the rhubarb with the crumble topping and bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is browned. Serve warm.
Boston Globe writer Sally Vargas runs a Zen kitchen. “Cooking, it turns out, is a fantastic way of cultivating awareness and presence and somehow the two seemed to stick with me.” Cook with Sally here in her monthly column for The Magazine of Yoga, and make yourself at home on her blog Cooking Lessons.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.