The mania of spring is infecting our hermetic little threesome. Dingo has been bounding around outside all day like a humpy rabbit, barking at snow drip-melting off the roof and fluffing his suddenly-shedding fur in the breeze and sunlight. After an uncharacteristically studious, intent winter of hard work and concentration, Brendan and I have reverted to our punchy and goofy and amorous selves. I’m scattershot and addlepated with unfocused disorganization: what am I working on, again? Eight different things, it turns out.
All night last night, the full moon blazed in through the bedroom window and lit up the long fields of snow and dark, shaggy woods with its silver, dramatic glow. The fact that wild solar flares were hitting Earth made sense; my dreams were absurd and rich with peril, upside-down logic, and Loki hilarity. And this morning, the air had turned suddenly warm, up here in the frozen north.
I woke up very early, let Dingo out into the sunny snow-blind morning, and fed him. While I drank an enormous cup of strong coffee, I sat blinking over my correspondence, unable to write anything coherent to anyone. Later, I made custardy, fluffy French toast — Rudi’s gluten-free multigrain bread soaked in beaten eggs, cinnamon, and light cream, slowly fried in butter till it was crisp and tender, then drenched in puddles of New Hampshire maple syrup.
At 11:00, creatures of clockwork habit, we three took our usual 4-mile fast walk up and down the hilly dirt road, which today was melting, streaming with runoff, muddy. We came home with wet feet; Dingo’s entire undercarriage had to be toweled off. While I rubbed the grit and sand and snowmelt from his stomach and legs and hindquarters, he smiled goofily at me and panted in my ear and leaned against my shoulder in a manner I can only describe as flirtatious. (It has occurred to me to adopt a female dog to be his companion, but that’s as far as I’ve ever gotten with that plan.)
For much of the morning, I went back and forth with a friend who’d sent off a message far and wide that he would mail packages of freshly gathered Cape Cod oysters to anyone who could offer a good trade. Within seconds of seeing this, I leapt, ponying up a signed copy of “The Epicure’s Lament,” since I don’t jar pickles or grow fresh herbs or grind my own sausages. My friend Beau agreed, then added slyly that delicious wild mushrooms grow in the White Mountains. Suddenly part of the bargain were the mushrooms I now evidently intend to gather this spring.
I reclined in the sun on the porch with Brendan and Dingo for a while, then came inside and wrote down all the things I didn’t seem to be working on today. Seeing the list made me feel paradoxically better. With so much work to do, how could I be expected to accomplish any of it? I ask you. It was now 2:00. I looked over my ludicrously long list and recognized that there was nothing for it but to open a cold bottle of pinot grigio and slice some strong white cheddar and call it a day.
Every year when spring comes, I go through a similar period of adjustment. Sometimes it’s traumatic, sometimes it’s euphoric, sometimes a little of both. The best thing to do in these transitional seasons is to give in to animal instinct. This means acquiescing to any and all seductive urges, sleeping a lot, drinking all the wine you want and plenty of water, and going outside into the sunlight in short sleeves and moving around. It’s good to eat lightly but decadently, food that’s good for you (because the change of seasons is a shock to the system) but which also satisfies a sudden intense itch for variety, change, novelty, adventure.
Instead of deeply flavored stews, root vegetables, and potato-based fry-ups, my appetite is suddenly laser-focused on ruffled fresh green lettuces and – it pains me to say this out of compassion for my vegetarian friends – baby lamb. It’s a frank hunger for the sweetness of new life — little leaves shaking off dew and standing upright, the tender savory flesh of very young animals.
Popcorn Cockles with Asparagus with Fenugreek Sauce and Mango Salsa
This is another made-up recipe from “The Great Man” that looked so good on paper, I had to try it in real life. It turned out to be better than I’d imagined. And it is the perfect antidote and accompaniment to spring fever.
Cockles are better than clams for this dish, but very small, tender clams will do if no cockles are available.
Steam 20 young asparagus spears until just soft. Plunge into ice water, remove, and pat dry. Drizzle with the following mixture: 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1/8 teaspoon ground fenugreek.
Steam 3 dozen very fresh cockles in their shells just until they open. Remove the cockles from their shells (they will be wet with their own liquor) and immediately coat them in finely ground cornmeal. Heat 1 inch of peanut oil in a skillet until it spits when you flick a drop of water at it. In batches that just cover the bottom of the pan, fry the cockles, covered to minimize spatter, for several minutes, till their crusts are golden. Remove and arrange alongside the asparagus. On the other side of the cockles goes a mango salsa:
In a bowl, mix1 ripe mango, chopped small, 1-2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 minced medium or large garlic clove, and 1-2 jalapeno peppers (depending on how hot you want it), minced.
This recipe serves 4 as an appetizer, in theory, but has been known to serve 2, just barely.