Homesick (featuring Fennel Naan and Sumac Salsa)
I pulled into the parking lot at the mall and grabbed my notebook to check the progress of my errand running. A pearl of sweat slipped from my freshly dyed hairline and landed with a pink splash onto my shopping list. Frolicky June had transformed into a sweltry July, and I fought to keep my calescent mood-swings in check, hoping this was just my normal response to summer and not some peri-menopausal transition I have no time for.
The mall is like hell on earth, but I was just running in to grab a few necessary summer items. Forever 21 was the best choice for one cheap blue, one cheap burgundy, two cheap black v-neck t-shirts. Done. As I walked toward the not-yet-21 epically false-eyelashed cashier, I saw a blue and green plaid button-down shirt hanging on a rack. I’m a sucker for anything plaid, so closer inspection was necessary. I reached out to touch the shirt and whammo, memories flooding:
I’m in my bunk during my first week ever at Camp Westminster. I’m ten years old. I must have fallen asleep earlier and been woken by a bump in the night. No one else is awake. The sharp smells of mildewy cedar cabins and sleeping bags battle with the soft scent of damp forest leaves and our smoldering campfire. These odors are odd and foreign. I’m so scared of the dark, and I pull my sleeping bag up to hide under, but the bag feels hot and sticky. I’m trying to focus on how much fun we had that day at camp– swimming, playing tag, singing rounds while hiking—but all I can think of is how much I miss my mom and dad. My homesick tears feel twice the size of normal ones as they cascade down my cheeks. I must cry silently, as I’m surrounded by sleeping campers and I don’t want them to know I’m so scared. The homesickness burns an empty hole in my stomach. This moment feels relentless as if it will never be light outside again. I think of my parents and my New York Upper West Side apartment and my small pine trundle bed. I long for the honking sounds of cars on our street or my poodle barking endlessly at the clunky elevator in our pre-war building. I ache for the smells of popcorn at the movies or my dad cooking dinner. I sink my face into the feathery poof of the pillow I brought from home, trying to draw the familiar smells into my nose. It smells like nothing.
I remember the girl who got homesick at camp that afternoon before lunch. Our counselors formed a consolation line, where we stood in our damp swimsuits with our tangled hair, wondering what was for lunch as we, one by one, attempted a soothing tone. We hugged the girl or patted her on the shoulder. “There there,” “It’ll be ok,” “Don’t worry, we’ll be home soon.” I think we were more focused on what we were doing later that day than comforting this sobbing stranger. She was lucky. She got homesick during the daytime. She wasn’t alone.
I am though. Alone in the dark with three more weeks to go at sleepaway camp. I don’t know what I’m going to do. All I want is to go home.
But then my hand brushes against the shirt I’m wearing. It’s green and blue plaid flannel, though it’s so old it feels like silk. Small holes have formed around the seams and pockets; buttons dangle by single threads. It belongs to my best friend, Alice. It was her dad’s and then her brother’s and now hers. I borrow it all the time because it makes me feel safe. It smells like Alice. She’s been my best best best friend in the whole entire world for just under a year, though I’ve known her for a long time. She was a camper here for two years before we became best friends. When she told me she was coming back for another summer, I begged my parents to let me come with her. I couldn’t stand the idea of being away from her for a whole month. We go everywhere together. Right now, she’s two bunks away from me, sleeping soundly. I don’t want her to know I’m crying either, though of course, she has seen it before. She knows me better than anyone.
I open the bottom buttons of the shirt and curl the front seam around my thumb. I scratch my forefingers against the soft fabric and shut my eyes. I can see my best friend laughing at something funny I said. I can see her jumping into the lake from the wooden pier, legs flailing wildly. I can feel her braiding my long, brown hair. I know she will be there when I wake up and I fall into a deep, happy sleep realizing I’m not alone at all.
My memory being the sieve it is, I can’t remember much from our years at camp. I remember my mother sending me a care package with a Ziplock bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies that bore an uncanny resemblance to Chips Ahoy cookies. I remember that my grandmother sent me homemade cookies with carob chips and whole walnuts that no one in my cabin would touch, including me. I remember s’mores cookouts and spaghetti dinners (strange… it seems all I remember is the food). I remember sitting on the bus heading back to the city, feeling so excited to lay my head in my bed, and eat New York Chinese take-out, and tell my parents everything that happened. I remember my skin feeling tight from too much sun, my hair and clothes filthy from too much play. I suddenly realized that the summer was almost over, and I prayed that the bus would get a flat tire so that we would have to go back to camp for another week or two. The bus rolled onward though, toward Fall and a new school year and a million other things I didn’t know yet. And when I walked into my apartment, there was only one thing I wanted to do: call my best friend, Alice.
“And I’ll take this too,” I placed the blue and green plaid button-down shirt on top of the pile of t-shirts on the check-out counter. $10.50 for a vivid replay of one of the most important friendships I’ve ever had? That’s some retail therapy right there.
I don’t know what to call it: fate? coincidence? luck? that I would stumble upon this goldmine of memories at the end of this particular summer. It’s been a baffling stretch of time that has made me feel desperately homesick. President Trump has made reality unbelievable.
A good friend sent me a friendly reminder when I confessed my empty feelings about the state of the world. “Bake,” she said. “Bake.” She knows me well, as this is one of the only things that gets me out of my head.
So today, I bring you a recipe for homemade fennel naan, which is really easy once you get the hang of it. I also wanted to share this recipe as a thank you to Francis’ cousin Tom, who hosted Francis’ brother Tony, his sister Anne, his sister-in-law Marla, and us in his home on San Juan Island this summer. It was a gorgeous and necessary respite from real life. And when I got homesick… I just slid my new blue and green plaid shirt over my shoulders.
Makes 8 naan
- 1 teaspoon yeast
- ¾ cup hot water (not hotter than 110 degrees)
- 2 teaspoons sugar, separated
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons dried fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- Sprinkle the yeast into the water. Stir in one teaspoon of sugar and let rest to proof for 10 minutes. It should foam up a bit to show that the yeast is still alive and activated.
- In a large bowl, place the flours, the second teaspoon of sugar, and the salt.
- Stir the yogurt and olive oil into the yeast mixture and then pour it slowly into the flours while mixing by hand or with a dough hook if you’re using a mixer. Sprinkle the fennel seeds in and knead in the bowl for a minute. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead for ten minutes (or just knead with dough hook for 10 minutes if you’re using a mixer). The dough will be a little sticky, and you can add a little bit of flour, but it will get less sticky as you continue to knead so don’t add too much extra flour. Do not wash your floury board.
- Turn into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for at least an hour.
- Punch the dough down and then turn it back on the floury board. Make sure to have a small bowl with extra flour in case your board or your rolling pin gets sticky. Separate it into 8 pieces. Roll into balls and then, with a rolling pin, flatten out into discs approximately 5-6 inches round.
- Heat a frying pan (preferably a cast iron skillet) on medium high heat. When the pan is hot but not smoking (or just smoking), place one disc onto the dry skillet face. It will puff gently and begin to brown. After a minute or two (you have to look and see), flip the disc over and brown the other side. They don’t take long to cook once you get going, but I’ll warn you that sometimes the first ones seem to take forever.
- Continue with all 8 and slather with melted butter.
And here’s an extra recipe for a Sumac Salsa. We have so many tomatoes growing in our garden, and I wanted to play around with something new and exciting. Enjoy!
- 5 tomatoes, seeded and chopped into ¼ inch dice
- ½ jalapeno with seeds
- ½ red onion, diced
- ½ teaspoon fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- ½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses
- Place all ingredients in a bowl and let sit for at least an hour.