S U M M E R S U N
Today brought with it the faintest glimpse of Fall. Folded and tucked discretely between some gusty late Summer winds, were whispers of an early Autumn breeze. Brief moments of reprieve from the seemingly unrelenting September sun appear to signal that Fall is gently urging its predecessor off the stage. The seasons seem to haunt each other that way; never fully disappearing, never completely letting go … slight apparitions of both their future and former selves.
I followed Elle’s gaze as she watched a few leaves fall from her favorite tree, the massive sycamore that stands proudly at the edge of the driveway. “It’s happening! The leaves are leaving! Fall is coming!”
“That’s right, Elle.” I replied, enjoying her recitation of the seasonal changes we’d been talking about recently.
“Time to go inside now. The Sun is going to bed for the night; its bed time is getting a little earlier every day now.”
“Goodnight Sun!” Elle yelled up to the sky. “See you again in the morning.”
M O R N I N G S ON
Prior to ten months ago, if you had asked me whether or not I was a morning person, my answer would have been a resounding, “no.” Ten months and eight days ago, to be exact. Before that time, I was the mother of only one child – a child who, comparatively speaking, has always been a later sleeper. But when her little brother was born, I found myself rising with or before the sun each day, without fail. There was one morning last January, during the height of Winter when the days are short and the darkness pervasive, when I’d found myself standing in the kitchen. Lit only by the dim light of the stove, I fumbled to make coffee, struggled to make bottles, and fought off the fatigue that is so specific to that time in a mother’s life.
But I was also happy. And I was excited. I was excited to see my son; to be greeted by his toothless smile and the new baby smell that he had not yet lost. I’d made up my mind before he was born to do a better job of savoring those early moments, and not catch myself wishing away that time as I had been guilty of doing after his older sister was born. I’d resolved that things were going to be different this time around, and they were. To this day I happily settle into the early mornings with Easton, the house still and quiet all around us – the kind of quiet that only a morning knows. We watch early walkers (the go-getters) on their morning strolls. We watch deer grazing peacefully on the front lawn, unaware of or unconcerned by our stares. The most I’ve ever counted at one time is twelve.
My favorite part of this morning scene though, the very best part of it, is the Sun. Hands down. I get to watch it light up our little corner of the world, casting shapes and shadows all over our house as it rises and then begins its slow journey across the sky. It feels like a privilege almost, one that I never fully appreciated until ten months and eight days ago, before I became a morning person. I feel lucky to get to see those things; lucky to get to feel them, trivial and mundane as they may be. I feel lucky to be there with him, my little morning son.
S U N F L O W E R
“Mommy look! The sunflowers are all watching something over there.” Elle shaded her eyes with her hands and stared off in the distance, past the vast expanse of sunflowers that stretched out before us. She started jumping up and down, trying her best to determine what it was that had caught the attention of all the sunflowers. I felt a little bit like Alice, standing there surrounded by flowers that all looked as though they might burst into song at any moment. A wonderland in its own right, this flower field was.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happ – eeeee, when skies are gray …” Twirling and spinning around between the rows of towering flowers, Elle had decided to put on a private show for all of them, much to my and her brother’s amusement.
That’s the thing though, about sunflowers. Most people believe they got their name because of their very strong resemblance to the Sun; a logical assumption to be sure. But really, sunflowers are referred to as such because they literally follow the Sun. Throughout the course of a day, a sunflower will track the path of the Sun across the sky, never once averting its gaze. If there is light, the flowers will find it – no matter how small, how faint, or how weak. If that is not Mother Nature’s best metaphor for optimism, maybe even for how the rest of us should try to live our own lives, then I don’t know what is.
“They’re watching the Sun, Elle.” I told her, pointing out how all of the sunflowers were facing the light. We turned then to make our way back to the car, parked just at the edge of the field, when Elle stopped and ran back toward the flowers. She grabbed the small blue sunglasses off her head and placed them right on one of the sunflowers, smiling a grin of pleased satisfaction.
“There,” she said. “That will help.”
We eat a lot of hummus in our house and as much as I love it, I also find that it can be really nice to change up the flavors from time to time. This version is not only lovely to look at, but it is also brighter and more dynamic when it comes to flavor. Beets are wonderfully earthy and I find that the addition of sweet and tangy sundried tomatoes and the heat of the chili paste complement that so well. Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice (dried Sumac berries) that gives foods a fantastic lemony flavor. It is slowly making its way into grocery stores, but you can always find it at specialty stores, spice shops and online.
1 bunch beets, peeled (usually about 4 – 5 beets)
5 sundried tomatoes (the kind packed in sunflower oil works well here)
2/3 cup black beans, rinsed and drained (these help to give the hummus body)
1/2 cup tahini
1 garlic clove
3 – 4 teaspoons of red chili paste, depending on how spicy you like it (this can typically be found in the produce section along with the tubes of fresh herb pastes such as basil, lemongrass, etc.)
1.5 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for topping
Handful of roasted sunflower kernels (to garnish)
Sumac, for sprinkling
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Meanwhile, wrap the peeled beets in aluminum foil, creating a small packet. Place this foil packet onto a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 30 – 45 minutes (varies depending on the size), or until the beets are fork tender.
Place your fork-tender beets into a blender or food processor, followed by the next 6 ingredients. Pulse the mixture a few times to break things up and to get the hummus going. Now, with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. You should end up with a smooth, creamy hummus at this point, but if you need a little more olive oil to get the consistency you want, that’s fine. Just drizzle in a bit more until you get there. Test for seasoning and add a bit more salt, if needed. Same goes for the chili paste. Spoon into a serving dish and top with a couple glugs of extra olive oil as well as the roasted sunflower seeds and a sprinkle of Sumac. Serve with chips or crackers of your choice (this also works great on salads, wraps and sandwiches).