When my Parents Visit

We played poker that week, we'd draw the cards and shuffle them around.  All the lives I used to live were buried in the compliments my parents gave me.  To show the growth I've gone through to get to the house I live in now, with all its struggle and timid mid-century beauty.  There was a distinction in how they talked to me, sometimes a whisper, sometimes cautiously.  We talked until our voices were hoarse, all about how much I've changed, grown, become something.

We played poker and it kept my attention all week long, the dexterity of conversation.  How we wouldn't dwell on any one subject for too long.  How anything anymore is too painful to bring up, too trivial.  It's easier to ask if the weather is always this nice and not ask if I'm happy that I moved back to San Diego.  Time was short and days ran long.  I've said it before, but time is just a trickster god.  A coyote yelping in the distance, telling me I wouldn't see them again for another six months. 

There's a thing in poker called a "tell".  When a player can't mask his intent.  When his subconscious twitches at the fingertips.  When a player touches his nose, rubs his ear, clears his throat in the silence.  I wonder what my tell was that week.  I keep turning this over in the silence before I fall asleep:  What was the hint I gave them all?  What did my body say that my tongue could not?  How well do my parents this person I've become to be able to pan through the fools gold of conversation for what they really were.  How to navigate the minutiae to find the nuance of my biting lip.

The truth was that it's been six days since my parents left and it's been hard to stay positive, to keep my mind off how much I miss them.  I think it read on my face, the truth is the tell was present in every movement, in every frown, in every smile I gave that stretch across my face whenever I caught my mom looking at me.

My parents left six days ago, but I cherished it all.  Every moment, every heartbeat, every eyelash my mother would pick off my cheek and blow into the wind.  I'm more like my mother than I ever thought possible, in our temper and our careful approach to love.  I think about how much I've hated her before and I can't seem to find the reason for all of that anger.  My father sat at the tail end of conversation.  He's a good man, silent and awkward.  My parents left six days ago and that happiness couldn't have lasted forever. 

Our life out here is so different than my parents, I had to preface everything i showed them. "We don't normally go here." "We don't normally spend this much." "We usually just sit at home."  I couldn't lose that connection, to remain down in the salt of the earth with them.  I'd be buried in it, if I could.  Preserved, cured.  Perhaps in more ways than one.

We got seasick on a boat ride around the bay I arranged for Father's Day, they ate In 'n Out for the first time.  We drank milkshakes and kept our eyes on the horizon.  We ate at a Chinese restaurant where our waitress spoke Spanish with no accent and English with a heavy one.  We sat on the edge of the world and watched the water crash on an outcrop of houses in La Jolla.  We ate leftovers in our swim suits.  My mother made coffee too weak; she got frustrated that the coffee pot wasn't like hers.  My parents napped with our dog, Elsa, and then my dad slept for 12 more hours.  We got tattoos to commemorate my continual, chronic years of not appreciating my mother's love.  We hugged at the airport and my mother whispered in my ear at the terminal, "I don't know how much longer I can do this."

We drove home in silence.  Her words still are ringing in my ear.

My parents bought a house in North Carolina, surrounded by forests in a town that only has a pizza place and a Dollar General.  My parents called it a homestead.  It'll be willed to me and my siblings.  My mother is decorating it in greens and blues, colors of the ocean.  My mother is going to get another rescue dog.  She's decided on a lab.  A boy.  My dad wants to quit his job in ten years' time.  They have plans, lives I only intersect at the periphery.  They miss me in their own way, and I, myself, don't know how much longer I can do this.

Morning Scones

My parents are coming into town for the first time in three years.  The last time they were here, I was in law school, living in a studio with no lamps or tables.  I was living someone else's dream, someone else's reality, too.  They stayed for four days and we drove up and down the coast, my mom took a nap and we didn't talk much.  I'm not sure what happened in those four days, but they left me at the airport and didn't call for a month.

That was three years ago, when I was steeped in my indecisiveness and anger at my life in California.  When there was no TV to drown out the voices of regret in my head.  And if the couch was uncomfortable, I'd move to the bed, and if the bed was uncomfortable, I'd move to the bath.  I smoked a lot back then, I think it was just a way to burn off the words that hung on my tongue that I was constantly biting.  I think I was trying to smoke out any thoughts of leaving again, to keep those buzzing regrets at bay by making them fall asleep, like those men who forage for honey that you see on documentaries.

Now, it's all different.  I'm different.  I bought a candle and thought about how this will register to my mother as a totem of domesticity.  How a sewing kit looks like I have everything together.  I keep making jokes of what my parents will say when they see bookshelves with books, a stocked fridge, the three dogs that lay at our feet.  How different this is than the year I spent in a studio apartment outside of Camp Pendleton. 

I feel it all bubbling up, though, all the emotions I feel when I have to say goodbye.  It's a distinct flavor of rage, a desperate wanting that is between the atoms of my marrow and my bloodshot eyes.  It will come in passages throughout the week, bursting at the ill-made seams when we take the car to the airport and I walk with them to the security line.  I always hold my mother's hand, I don't want to wander too far off.  I think 3,000 miles may have been too far.  

My parents visiting is a sort of anachronism, they don't seem to fit into my life when they visit.  It's awkward, but endearing at the same time.  It's uncomfortable, too. The multiplicity of all my past lives reflect in their eyes, in their stories that somehow seem like fables to me.  Was I the boy missed school when a fox got in the chicken pen?  Was I the boy that ran away for a summer to Baltimore and returned with a pierced ear?  Was I the boy who would chew his mom's hair to fall asleep until he was three?  They don't seem like me anymore, but maybe that's because my parents have become the anchors of all my past selves, all my tantrums, all of my mistakes, all of my triumphs line their face in worry-wrinkles and laugh lines.  Maybe that's what I'm scared of when I leave them at the security gate, not only losing them, but losing all the pieces of this broken and repetitive pattern that were the sums of my adolescence.  

And today, I bake in preparation for their arrival.  They'll be driving to Baltimore at three in the morning, and getting here early enough for breakfast.  I'll have these scones waiting for them, scones that are made from hand, with homemade butter and homemade jam.  Homemade, a word that describes my very character when I think about how homespun my roots lie when I'll hug my parents goodbye.

Jam Scones

With homemade jam, butter, and buttermilk.  Makes 8 scones.

Before I begin, I want to point out two (technically three) of the ingredients were made wholly from scratch and they contributed to the flavor and crumb of these scones.  Firstly, as  you can see from my last post, I did a collaboration with Dulcet Creative.  Go over to their blog to see how to make the jam that became more of a sweetener than a flavor for these scones.  

Secondly, if you are like me and never took a third grade science class, then you have probably never made butter yourself.  I had some extra cream and decided to give it a try.  I put two cups of cream into a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high until the stiff peaks of whipped cream separated into solid and liquid fats.  The liquid (the buttermilk also used in this recipe) were reserved, while the fats were pressed and washed with ice water a couple times.  I added a pinch of salt and stored in an airtight container until I was ready to use.

Of course, you don't have to do these steps, but I cannot promise how tender the crumb or how sweet the scone will be without them.  They're fun and rewarding projects, so give 'em a shot either way!


  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoon shortening, cold
  • 4 tablespoon butter, cold (see note above)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, cold (see note above)
  • 1/3 cup jam, warmed to be a little runny (see note above)
  • 2 tablespoon cream 
  • 1 tablespoon turbino sugar 


  1. Preheat oven to 450*F and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Repeat.
  3. In the bowl of a food processor, dump dry ingredients and add butter and shortening
  4. Pulse 4-6 times until fats are incorporated and pea-sized
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and jam by hand to incorporate one another
  6. With the motor running, pour wet ingredients into feeding tube.  A dough should begin to form.
  7. Dump dough out onto a floured surface and, with floured hands (dough will be sticky), pat into a circle that is about 8 inches wide and 3/4 inch high.
  8. Cut into 8 segments.  Separate and space evenly on parchment paper.
  9. With fingertips or a pastry brush, lightly coat scones with cream and sprinkle sugar on top.
  10. Bake for 13-16 minutes or until cracked and barley golden on top
  11. Enjoy with more homemade butter or jam.  Store in airtight container for up to 4 days.

Tax Day, Bread, and a Flood Confessional.

The first time I brought Nolan to my parents' converted farmhouse there was a summer flood.  A "flash flood".  A panicked flood, punctuated by my father's cries for more wood to divert the deluge, myself knee-deep in mud.  It was going to happen, we knew.  We saw the signs, the cloud formations and the way that a storm lays sticky on your forearm hair.  It was going to happen and the cable went out, so there was no distracting us from the inevitable.  We sat in our lawn chairs, propped on the pool deck, and waited for the first growls of a summer downpour. And when it did come, as it always did, the one loan tree, a half-formed walnut tree, was the first to tell us.  The hollow green fruits blew off in groups, committing suicide and cracking their skulls as they came down on the chicken coop's roof.  It warned us to get inside, to seek shelter, to not be as foolish as her children were. And so we took heed and waited.  Waited with the door open, the windows and blinds open, our eyes open for any leaks.

And then it broke.  The annual flood.  A jealous god, a baptismal rain to heal the souls of our Appalachian youth.  It didn't work too well, though, because in the candlelight of the blackout, Nolan and I had pure and quiet sex to the sound of the rain on the window.

The storm was a homecoming, a way to know you've arrived and the reason you want to leave.  The two-by-fours didn't always work, the basement would get flooded, the linoleum of the kitchen floors would be slick and you would fall.  The family dog, Jack, would howl to the thunder gods, begging for an end.  He hasn't been around long enough to know that they hardly ever listened (or maybe they did and I should have howled to get their attention).  But it was all over soon, it was all over in an hour's time and it was a two-day affair to clean up the mess.

The chicken wire broke and the hens got out.  The gravel settled at the bottom of the pool, along with some screws and a bees nest.  A broken branch was wedged in the tire swing on that old walnut tree.  All footprints in the dirt were erased.  The remnants of the storm overpowered the effigies of our presence there, in that old farmhouse.  It was reparable, of course it was reparable, but it was hard work to keep up the memories, the images.  It was a two-day affair to clean up the mess.

It was a two-day affair to clean up the mess, but instead we baked bread.  We baked it by hand, we kneaded it between shifts of picking up the yard.  We left it next to a space heater we had going to help dry up the floor better.  It was a basic bread, crusty and yeasty.  It hit all the senses.  We dunked it in microwaved chili my mom had made and subsequently frozen the week before.

I don't forget much, and I won't forget that.

I won't forget the instant sensation of family and warmth the bread provided.  It was a inescapable reality of life that the flood would come again and again.  It would never stop, and you just had to adapt.  You just had to knead the bread in intervals to have something to look forward to when your back ached and your eyes grew tired, because that was inevitable too.

And so are taxes.

This is my first year filing them by myself, having always had the help of my father (an expert, using the flood to his advantage).  But it was a growing experience, something I and to face.  But it gripped me with fear, the thought of having to make decisions, file this form, fill in that box.  There was no buffer of culpability, no way to blame someone else.  I was unemployed for six months, a student prior to that.  I had no money to give; I got none in return.

After signing up for the free web service, going through the wizard and trying to find some way to meander through it without breaking down and calling my dad to just do it for me, I took a break.  A hunger-induced break.  It's facing realities like taxes, like floods where memories can be lost, like uncertainties that make you the most hungry, when you crave your momma the most.  But she was 3,000 miles away and it was just taxes, but I still made bread anyway.

And for every period it needed to rise, I took a break, cleaned a dish, took another break, set the table.  I ended up making two loaves (when I realized the first one had to set for the requisite 12 hours first).  Both came out perfect.  Both reminded me of home and were given out to Nolan as I told him about my day, how much my refund was, and we reminisced over that old farmhouse one more time.


Laura Calder's Miracle Boule (x)


Laura Calder is the host of The Cooking Channel's French Food at Home and a lovely chef (who has a new cookbook out!).  I came across this recipe a few months ago and have used it ever since I got my cocotte.  What a lovely, easy bread that takes less time than you'd think (it's not called a miracle for nothin'!).  You can find her recipe above, as I made no changes to her original recipe to share.


Cheddar-Jalapeño Yeasted Corn Bread


I adore this recipe and I am kind of proud that I did most of it without any reference.  I think that's the mark of growth (for me at least)--setting a vision and then actualizing it on your own know-how.  My idea behind this recipe was to make a more versatile cornbread that could be used as more than just a side.  Using cornmeal against a flour ratio and yeast, I discovered a moist, rich, and spicy (if using jalapeños) bread that was great for sandwiches, as a side, or even a grilled cheese!  Here is the recipe (makes two loaves):


  • 2 sachets of 1/4 oz. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup milk (I actually used some leftover heavy whipping cream for an added level of moisture and light sweetness)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8-12 jalapeños chips, diced


  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.  When dissolved, add milk, sugar, butter, egg, cornmeal, and about 1 1/2 cups flour (to start).  Beat with hand mixer until smooth.  As you start to see a wet dough come together, stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and the gluten activates, making it elastic and spongy.  Place into a greased bowl to allow to rise (turn dough over once to allow top to get a little grease on it as well).  Cover with a towel and allow to double, about 45 minutes.
  3. Before punching down, add cheese and jalapeños and gently fold into dough.  Divide into two loaves and put into greased loaf pans (or cast-iron ones, which I preferred).  Cover and let double again, about 30 minutes.  Preheat over as it rises to 350 degrees.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, let cool briefly before serving warm.