We drove from the airport after a storm big enough to reroute our plane hit Orlando. It rained on and off all throughout the first day, and the fog didn’t leave us even once we reached the ocean. The Southern pines, that my mom-in-law said are used to make telephone poles because they are so tall and straight and sparsely branched, seemed foreboding and the palm trees looked out of place in all the fog. I felt as though I had stepped into a Flannery O’Connor story- a place that had a dreamlike, gothic quality.
This is not to say that our vacation was gothic or violent or full of racists. There was no transcendence through the grotesque, and the most spiritual experience I had was reading Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ (which was both spiritual and enjoyable). But when Aaron asked me what I thought about the ocean I described it as relentless and awe-inspiring. The ocean did not care about me, but it compelled me. Aaron and I got caught in the undertow while boogie boarding and while we escaped unharmed, I realized for the first time how easy it is to drown.
Vacation was good. I swam in the ocean and got mouthfuls of salt water every time a wave crashed past. I sipped rosé on the balcony of the condo we rented on the water and read while Aaron napped in the sun. I taught my in-laws how to play euchre and played drinking games with Aaron’s aunts and uncles while watching the Republican debates. Aaron and I walked to a hippie surfer cafe for a date and had a bad veggie burger and a hella good vegan key lime pie. We had long walks in the surf and I felt my spine unkink completely for the first time in at least a year.
And we left when we were ready to leave. Two days before our return I woke up, panicking about the state of the tomatoes in our garden. I unintentionally got in a fight because after seven years with Aaron I am still not fluent about avoiding some family triggers. Back here in Minneapolis we’ve done coffee dates at our favorite neighborhood place, a luxury we didn’t have in the hyper-touristy Cocoa Beach. The heat is less, the humidity is lower, and I get to control the grocery shopping again.
While we were in Florida I cooked most of the meals. Mom-in-law hates cooking, Dad-in-law hates cooking only a little less than Mom-in-law, Ben (bro-in-law) makes sandwiches and eggs, and Aaron is ambivalent about cooking. Our meals were mostly vegetarian (because I was in charge!), mostly gluten free (because Mom-in-law isn’t supposed to eat it and does anyway), and mostly hands-off (because it was vacation). I made a variation of ratatouille that we devoured with feta and a salad. I made this version again at home and we ate it with cous cous on our couch, my legs on Aaron’s lap, watching 30 Rock.
It was good be away. It is good to be home.
There are two schools of thought on ratatouille- one where the vegetables are cooked separately so they stay intact, and one where they are thrown into a pot and stew into a delicious mess. I have had some delicious ratatouilles from the former camp, but when I make it myself I am firmly in the latter. It is easy, hands-off, hearty, and so delicious that Aaron fantasizes about it during the winter. If you want a more traditional ratatouille, omit the spices and chickpeas, replace the mint with basil, and serve with some crusty bread.
1 pound eggplant (one medium), cut into a half inch dice
1 pound red bell peppers (four small), cut into a half inch dice
1 pound zucchini (one large), cut into a half inch dice
1 pound tomatoes (two medium), cut into a half inch dice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus extra for garnish
1 cup cooked chickpeas (half a 15 ounce can)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
In a pot three quarts or larger, layer the vegetables- eggplant, then peppers, then zucchini, then chickpeas. Sprinkle some mint in between each layer. Top the layers with the chickpeas, cinnamon, cumin, and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover the pot, and place on low heat. After about an hour, uncover and stir. The ratatouille could be eaten now if you were very hungry, but it will not be nearly as good as it could be. Be patient. Replace the cover and keep the heat low, stirring about every half hour until the vegetables are meltingly tender. This usually takes two and a half to three hours for me.
Taste, and adjust the salt as needed. Sprinkle with more chopped fresh mint, and eat with reckless abandon.