Each morning, I pull aside the dining room curtains, glancing quickly into the woods. It's a habit, part of the routine of starting the day. Usually there's not much there other than the cottonwoods, rhododendrons, and cedar trees, but it's Spring, so at the moment, the occasional deer or bunny can be found next to our fence in a flattened outcropping just at the edge of the woods.
From this same window yesterday, I watched a doe who couldn't see or smell me. I'd had my eye on it earlier in the week, but it was hard to know, unless the creature had unusual markings or perhaps an injury, if it was the same deer from one day to the next. The last time I saw her -- my doe, a Columbian black-tailed deer -- she'd spent a long time lying on the one flattened spot, a deer bed by the fence.
Then, she was gone.
When I saw her again the following morning, she stepped into the sunlight, this time with a fawn whose tan coat was dappled with white. It was the approximate size of my neighbor's barky, fou-fou shelter dog, Chloe. The fawn stood so close to the doe that it appeared to be leaning against her. Was this the same deer, only now with a newborn? The doe lowered her head and began licking the fawn. Slowly, carefully.
I was held there by the tenderness she showed the fawn. It was so normal, basic and touching. Of course a mother has to clean her young. I was still gripping an edge of the window curtain when my three-year-old came up behind me. In his small voice, he began asking me a series of questions.
"Why they here? What they doing? Where they going? What they eat? Where they sleep at night?"
Ah, deer existentialism via a toddler. All before 7 a.m.
I thought of what the British child development and parenting authority, Penelope Leach, writes in her ever-sensible classic, Your Baby and Child:
Growing up or not, at the moment, I wasn't sure how to answer his questions, so I deflected them. I asked him if he remembered being a baby like the fawn. A different set of questions then ensued about his infancy, questions I was certainly qualified to answer.
Once all that was settled, Kingston and I continued to watch the woods. The two animals remained in our view, silent in their interactions. The doe began to turn. She took a few steps without looking back. The fawn followed, wobbling on its spindly new legs. It stepped behind her and into the shadow of the cottonwoods.
When I later visited the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website to be better prepared for the inevitable moment in the future when I would have to answer more questions about deer, the information I found included this:
Tenderness. A doe cleaning her fawn. Shoots of baby lettuces popping up in wild disarray. Thin strands of deep green grass taking over a lawn suddenly bordering on overgrown. Stalks of asparagus pushing through the cool, loamy soil. To me, that's what Spring is all about: beginnings, the quiet moments before the inevitable hurtling toward growth and growing up.
Asparagus in particular signals the start of all things crisp and green, sweet and bright to come in the warmer months. In recent weeks, the dull green and purple bundles have been making their appearance at our local farmer's market and our family has been happily devouring as much as we can.
You can prepare asparagus any way you want -- on the grill, chopped up and sautéed, even pickled -- and they will taste good. The tender stalks don't need much, a little acid, spice and some fat. Fat adds the requisite richness to the asparagus' lean, grassy flavor, helping it reach its full potential.
My favorite way to make asparagus is to coat the stalks with a flavor bomb of zingy heat and richness, which I then cook on a stovetop grill pan. It's a quick process leaving behind both savory charred bits and a hint of the vegetable's just-cooked freshness.
Grilled Asparagus with Peri-Peri (Berbere)
This makes enough for two greedy eaters as a vegetarian lunch when served with some crusty bread and cheese or a salad. This is also great inside a brioche bun alone or with some other grilled vegetables and eaten as a sandwich. Peri-peri, also known as Berbere, is an aromatic North African spice mixture that usually includes cayenne, fenugreek, cumin, allspice and coriander. When combined with fat, the flavors somersault around in your mouth and you can't stop eating!
Another thing. Depending on whether you make the peri-peri yourself or use a store-bought version, you'll have more or less salt and heat. Adjust this to suit your own tastes. My peri-peri is from our local co-op and already contains salt.
1 pound fresh asparagus, washed and patted dry
4 tablespoons mayonnaise, good store-bought or homemade
2 teaspoons peri-peri, adding more if desired
salt, as needed
black pepper, a few grinds
squeeze of lemon juice to finish
For thin asparagus stalks, break off tough ends. For thicker stalks, cut the tough ends off. Set aside in a large bowl. (Don't forget to pat your asparagus dry. If it is wet, the spice mixture will slide right off and that will be just sad.)
Mix together mayonnaise, peri-peri, salt (if needed) and pepper. Spoon mixture over the asparagus then use your hands to toss so that all stalks are coated with the mayonnaise mixture. Use your fingers to rub the mayo mixture into the tips of the stalks. You want flavor in every nooks and crannies.
Heat grill pan on high on a stove. Once pan is piping hot, place stalks on the pan, allowing the stalks to cook and char for 2-3 minutes before shaking the pan to move the asaparagus around. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, continuing to turn and move the asparagus. Place on a serving platter and finish with a squeeze of lemon if desired.
The asparagus can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature. It's all delicious.