“Roots and wings,” my mother said at least 4,000 times when Margaret and I were growing up (and by “growing up” I mean our entire lives). The wings part was always directed toward me, as I was apparently timid and lacking independence in my early years (swear to God). Roots was aimed at my sister, who routinely ran stark naked out the front door when she was a toddler.
Roots and wings let me ride my bike, alone, to the McDonald’s on Summer Avenue when I was 10. It was the parting comment when my mother dropped me off at college, when I bought a house of my own, when she waved goodbye as I drove, alone, to Boston, Wyoming and Omaha. She always said it with a sniffle that she tried to brush off as allergies.
I thought it was ridiculous, a catch phrase from a self-help book that conveniently summed up qualities innate. Maybe I wouldn’t walk up to the cookie counter by myself when I was three, but I was nothing if not grounded, and I never once felt homesick or worried about my own welfare when away from home. Not the three weeks at my grandparents’ the summer before 5th grade. Not the weekends at Pickwick in high school. Not in college. Not afterward. Not once.
I was oblivious to the burden my mother carried in the process. It was a burden of her choosing, to be sure, but a sometimes heavy one nonetheless. And that, I know now, is the way roots and wings has to work.
My daughter went away for a couple of weeks recently, rolling her eyes as I forced a goodbye hug on her. She was in the excellent hands of adults I know and trust. She gave scarcely a parting glance as they drove away down the street. I received one text message, a picture of girls having a wonderful time, from the trusted adult in charge. I heard directly from my daughter not once.
When she came home, she gave Bernard and me a brief hug, tossed “hello” to her brother, told the dogs she’d missed them, and then asked what we were having for dinner. As if she’d never been away.
“What did you do at the lake?” I asked, trying to sound cool and casual, dying to hear every minute detail.
“Arghh. You know I hate answering questions,” came an echo of my own voice across the decades.
Roots and wings are hungry words, quick to gain weight when you feed them. But the pilot doesn’t ever feel their heft, because carrying the load is air traffic control’s job. The load is light enough on tethered test runs, when the flight plan extends only to the end of the block. Over time it bulks up, a constant test of structural integrity.
She’s heading out for another trip soon, my daughter, and her brother will be going off to camp. It’s possible they may send home postcards but just as likely they won’t. I’ll try to hide my relief when they come back home.
I, the once fearless aviator, am now the air traffic controller. I am no longer anyone’s baby bird, landing occasionally in the boughs of a deep and sturdy tree as if I’d never flown away. That work belongs to my children. My work is to give them freedom and sanctuary, to bestow the spirit of those mighty words, roots and wings, that once felt light as a feather.
Food | Week of June 9, 2014
It’s important to note that when my daughter asked “what’s for dinner?” the most agreeable answer would have been “hotdogs.” And since it’s summer and baseball season, well, “hotdogs” it is one night this week. To balance it out we’ll have plenty of the season’s best fruits and vegetables.
Chili Dogs | Cole Slaw | Blueberries
Before you run screaming away from this scary-sounding meal, give it a chance. Your options are wide and considerable, ranging from King Cotton hotdogs with a can of Wolf brand chili, all the way to artisan, nitrate-free dogs with a dollop of slow-roasted chili you make at home. In either case, it’s a fun summer departure from a standard plated dinner, even if there are only adults in your home. For the slaw, just shred some fresh cabbage and spring onion, and toss with either a vinaigrette or thick buttermilk ranch.
Fried Cod | Green Chile-Sour Cream Sauce | Spring Peas & Carrots
If the idea of fried fish after chili dogs is just too much for your healthy conscience to take, then you could easily grill some cod or halibut (any fleshy white fish) to serve with Bernard’s newest creation, which I hope we’ll make all summer long: In a blender or food processor, combine a cup of sour cream (or Greek style yogurt), 2-3 roasted green chiles (or a can, drained), a green garlic stalk (10 inches or so; could substitute green onions), and a roasted tomatillo (or a couple of Tbsp. of tomatillo salsa). Pulse until it’s the consistency you like, anywhere from chunky to puréed. Salt to taste. Spoon over fish or serve as a dipping sauce. Will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Grit Cakes | Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad
Grit cakes are the Southern equivalent of fried polenta squares – same basic ingredients and process. They are a nice substitution for meat in a summer dinner, especially good with a hearty helping of vegetables like Ina Garten’s Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad.
Slow-cooked Greens | Cornbread
Use collard or turnip greens, or a mix from the farmers market (most farmers have a cooler full of mixed cooking greens this time of year). The cooking liquid and ham hock are what give the greens their good flavor, of course. If you need a recipe, this one from Tyler Florence is good and easy to follow. Serve with cornbread, made from scratch or from the Jiffy box. It’s summer, no judging.
Simple Green Salad | Crepes with Peaches & Cream
Salad and dessert, you may recall, was one of my mother’s favorite dinner combinations. A simple green salad (lettuce, celery, cucumber, maybe some red onion) with a basic vinaigrette is plenty for dinner if dessert is the star. Peaches have just come into season here; if they’re not ripe where you are, then berries would do just fine. Slice and serve in their natural state, or toss quickly in a skillet of warm butter with a drop or two of maple syrup. I like to serve the crepes alone with fruit and whipped cream on the side; the option is to roll the fruit inside the crepe and top with cream (or ice cream).