new loves

Ok, so first things first.

Last week, my amazing sister gave birth to the sweetest little boy ever. It was a wonderful day. Her early labor was light enough that we were able to go out to lunch (she drove!), and then we spent the afternoon watching old Cosby Show episodes via Netflix, baking cookies, and doing some last-minute baby name brainstorming. Late in the evening, with my sister surrounded by those who love her most, little Eli emerged, all chill and relaxed from the get-go. We spent the next few hours intoxicated by the ethers of baby love that enveloped us all, marveling over his perfect head and long fingers and especially wrinkly feet.

What must it be like to enter this world immediately surrounded by such tremendous love? New babies make all of life seem so precious and miraculous. It's nice to be reminded of that feeling in the midst of the normalcy of day-to-day living. At the same time, I completely love the idea of Eli melding seamlessly into our extended family, with his unquestioned presence becoming our new normal. Perfect.

All of this lovely commotion, coupled with the fact that I have been busy developing new desserts for the restaurant, means that I haven't been doing much home baking lately. In fact, there has been nothing since those incredible chocolate cookies last week.

But I haven't been all that bothered by my baking neglect. I've been too preoccupied by fruit and herbs.

It's not summer here in Maine. Heck, it's barely spring - we've just emerged from two weeks of rain and gloom, and the sun feels like a glorious, if slightly unfamiliar, long-ago friend. The bounty of local fruit is quite a ways off. I've been late starting our garden, so there are no herbs growing off the front porch. But still, I can't stop thinking about - and eating - these things.

Recently, I combined mango, avocado, mint, honey, and lemon juice for a refreshing, not-to-sweet accompaniment to our breakfast. One of the new desserts for 40 Paper is a peach-basil crostata, the making of which has caused me to fall completely in love with basil simple syrup. And during a play date two days ago, to distract the three little people crashing through my house, I made a fruit salad starring a perfectly ripe Athena melon.

I'd never knowingly had an Athena melon before. It was an impulse buy at the grocery store, along with some shipped-in-from-the-other-side-of-the-continent strawberries. But it looked and smelled close enough to a regular cantaloupe that I knew I'd love it.

Cantaloupe have always reminded me of lazy summer mornings with my mother. In my mind, my adolescent summers were full of hot, sunny mornings where I'd come downstairs to find a cantaloupe sliced and waiting. I feel like my mother and I often ate our slippery, perfumed pieces together, outside, the juices dripping off our chins and fingers into small puddles on the wooden deck, where the always-nearby wasps and honey bees would soon find them.

In reality, like the eggs and potatoes and so many other foods I always thought my mother loved and ate with us, only to later discover she hates, cantaloupe might be on her Do Not Eat list. My summers of mother-daughter cantaloupe gorging may actually have been quite solitary. But still, it makes for a nice memory.

And so, with such bright, steamy mornings still far off in our future, I decided to channel the feeling from my childhood and pretend for a while that summer is already here. Lots of that beautiful melon, with its pastel rind and creamy interior, supported by the other fruits taking up my counter space: apricots, peaches, and bananas. I tossed it all with a drizzle of clover honey and then, feeling inspired (and remembering my apricot-thyme pairing from last year), chopped some thyme leaves to sprinkle over it.

My bowl sat on the counter waiting, while I rounded up more snacks for the hungry boys and mediated the kind of disputes that can only occur between 2-year-olds. By the time I got back to it, the flavors had melded and it had unified into a dish. A bright, fresh, soft, herbally sweet summer dish. My childhood memories, all grown up. And it occurred to me then that I have never added thyme to a food and later regretted it.

So there you have it. A new life. A new fruit-and-herbs obsession. And the perfect snack for a spring afternoon, when what you're really craving is summer.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Fruit Salad with Thyme

This is really more of an idea than a recipe. You don't need me to tell you how to make fruit salad. But just as a reference, here's a rundown of what I did.

1/2 of a ripe Athena melon, or cantaloupe
1 ripe banana
1 ripe peach
1 ripe apricot
clover honey, to taste
a handful of thyme sprigs, to taste

Slice all the fruit into bite-sized pieces and put them into a serving bowl. Drizzle with honey, toss to coat.

Pull the thyme leaves off the stems and coarsely chop. Add to the fruit salad and toss to combine. Allow salad to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes for the flavor of the thyme to permeate the dish. Enjoy.

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