It was a late afternoon in June and I stood in the backyard, squinting upward, a hand shading my eyes. My other hand fumbled with my hair, still full of hairspray and bobby pins from the night before. Our graduation dance had wrapped up just before midnight, then most of us moved on to a cottage party not far from the city. I came home as the sun was rising and crawled into bed, dress and all.
My mother had dragged me out of bed to see the sky. Forest fires were raging along the St. Lawrence River, she said, and wind had driven the smoke east, all the way to Halifax. The effect was a magnificent sky swirled with greys, pinks, pale blue and a touch of yellow. It was a weird moment, standing groggily under a psychedelic sky, my high school years behind me and a blank canvas ahead. I pulled out a few bobby pins and crawled back into bed. I was starting work for a water tour company the next day, selling tickets to cruise ship tourists. I needed rest.
I spent that summer reading Greek literature in that little booth, trying (in vain) to make a dent in my first-year university reading list. One day a tourist tapped on the window to wake me up; I’d fallen asleep using the Odyssey as a pillow.
It’s now June 2020, and I’m standing in my backyard, squinting upward. The garden is a swath of yellows, pinks, whites and blues. The sky is clear and I’m rested. Everyone is. There were no graduation celebrations this year, no crowded cottage parties, no sleeping in taffeta. I feel for these students, transitioning from months trapped with parents to potentially more months trapped in front of a screen, learning via zoom. Maybe they’ll take a year off, press pause on academic life for a bit.
I set the table in the sun. My god-daughter and her sister are coming over for a visit. I’ve made a big farro salad using the stracciatella cheese I bought at the market, and all the vegetables I had on hand. I put lemon slices in water, and cut flowers for the table. I haven’t seen these two gals in months; I’m going all out.
I’d tell my younger self to press pause on academic life for a year. I’d tell her to live, write, make art and gather stories. I’d tell her that she would travel someday, not to worry. I’d tell her not to speed-read the Odyssey. Instead, read slowly, surrounded by the sounds, smells and flavours of home. Because the book is really just about understanding what home is, and learning that you can take that feeling wherever you go.
Farro Salad (with everything in the fridge)
This is more of a guide than a recipe, but either way, begin by rinsing 1 1/2 cups dried farro (or wheat berries, which are often half the price) in lots of cold water. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and simmer away until grains are tender. The length of time will depend on the age of the grains. Keep checking and tasting. Drain and spoon into a large salad bowl. Once the grains have cooled, add whatever salad ingredients you have on hand, for example: chopped cherry tomatoes, radishes, sautéed or grilled zucchini and asparagus, salad greens, chopped fresh herbs, and cheese (I used stracciatella – a rich, creamy, shredded mozzarella. Crumbled feta or goats cheese would also be delicious).
For a dressing, spoon 1 tablespoon of grainy mustard into a small bowl. Add 1 tsp ground cumin, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a good pinch sea salt and lots of cracked black pepper. Whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil, or more if the dressing seems too thick. Whisk and taste, adding more salt or lemon juice if need be. Toss dressing through salad when ready to serve.