I am sitting here trying to think about how to tell you things you already know. For instance, the way the fall plunges me into the kind of bittersweet nostalgia that makes me feel like I have a permanent lump in my throat, a geode full of tears. The children's hair has grown long, their pants have grown short, they ride their two-wheelers and theorize about death and clap when we stop for ice cream and it is the same old same old. But oh, it gets me every year, this change of season from the bright and buoyant summertime to the melancholy darkening of autumn: the smell of wild grapes in the air, the children leaving us for school, everyone missing everyone else all day long until we are reunited for the blue twilights. I catch them into my lap, press my nose to their scalps, and it is still the only way I know to be sure that I am fully here, now, soaking them in before they flood out of the house on the tides of their own growth and movement. That wild-animal smell of their hair, which I was born to breathe.
Do you know what I'm saying?
Partly, it's because this is the season of Ben's birth, when the ripening of peaches plunges me into memories: of my own ripe roundness, trolling the Santa Cruz farmer's market for the fruit that sustained me: melons and apples and concord grapes, everything bursting with juice and the righteous promise of the nutrients that I could practically feel coursing through the umbilical cord into that big baby. Does it help that we have this gorgeously huge and burstingly pregnant Anni living in the house with us? With her baby due this very month? No. No it does not. Or rather: yes. Of course it does. But it compounds my nostalgia even further, this refracting of memory through the orb of her expectancy.
Which is where the bean salad comes in, because yesterday was Anni's baby shower, which was a potluck, and I brought this salad, which was devoured and adored by a devouring and adoring crowd of Anni's people. Because it's crazy, lip-smackingly delicious. Also because I had picked the beans from our CSA not even a full hour before, when I'd taken myself off to the farm to pick and think, and enjoy the sun and the breeze and the smell of the hot trees and ferns and the wash of feelings that I never have a minute alone to feel. Not that I need a minute alone to feel them, not really. Because it is all around me, even as I'm making the beautiful bean salad, while Ben and his friend Ava creep around the house in black jackets and wool caps, with plastic guns and plastic cigarettes and notebooks full of notes, because they are spies who are spying, and I can hear the tinny rush of their voices through the walkie talkies they're using. They are so big and so little all at once--I don't know how adequately to express this. You can smell teenagerhood on them, literally, but then they're so caught up in their private world of giggling and make-believe. And they've still got the faces of angels.
Total time: 30 minutes (this includes the bean prep)
You could, of course, use a good olive oil here--and I sometimes do. But I've taken to using vegetable oil recently because it keeps the whole thing tasting light and lemony and herbal, rather than strong and olive oily. Totally your call. Also, as always, if the onion is going to keep anyone away here, then skip it--but don't skip the mustard because it really helps emulsify the dressing. Oh, one more thing: lots of herbs are great in this instead of the tarragon: dill is a classic, and basil is fantastic as is marjoram; and even without any herbs it's just delicious.
2 pounds green beans, stem ends removed
Finely grated zest of one large lemon
Juice of one large lemon (a scant 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon each kosher salt, sugar, and Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tarragon, measured and then finely chopped
1/2 a red onion, finely chopped and rinsed in a sieve under cold water
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then boil the beans until just crisp-tender, around 5 or 6 minutes (although this will depend on the size and freshness of your beans, so start checking them way earlier). Drain the beans and rinse them under cold water until fully cold, then drain again and wrap in a dish towel to dry them thoroughly.
Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, mustard, and tarragon. Taste the dressing: it should be tart and zingy, but not punishingly so. Add oil, sugar, and/or salt to balance, need be--or more lemon juice, of course, if it seems too oily (which it likely won't).
In a large bowl, toss the dried beans and the onion with the dressing, then taste again, and add more salt need be. Serve immediately or marinate at room temperature for an hour or two (at which point you should--I know I always say this--taste it again to see if it needs anything else).