It is done. The third child, our last child, has gone to college. It was all done in the typical way: Paul and I packed him into a car filled with bins, a fan, new towels and a comforter. We drove down the bumpy 88 interstate in a quiet car. We arrived and unloaded, putting clothes in drawers, posters on walls. There was the required trip to Walmart, for the things we forgot.
Then a quick lunch. After, it was time to go and Elliot was ready for us to go. So we hugged and I held on tight. And then we left. I miss him of course, and most of the time it’s a dull and nagging feeling, almost like I’ve forgotten something. And other times, it hurts, a lot.
Elliot’s absence in our house is marked by stuff that’s no longer there. Mostly, it’s piles of things. There are no piles of shoes by the front door. No piles of laundry, and no piles of dishes in the sink. I never thought I’d miss the piles.
I miss him a lot at dinnertime. It took a while to get used to not seeing him, not looking forward to seeing him. Every day at around 4 p.m., I used to start thinking about home, about dinner, about seeing my people. Now, I remember that he’s at college.
Dinnertime has changed, of course. It’s quieter. It’s later than it was before. Paul and I often dig and find what we can from the fridge. Cooking is not altogether dead, though, even if it’s different.
I force a look on the bright side, and we can now eat shellfish in our house; Elliot is allergic so I wouldn’t cook it in the house. I love shellfish, all of it, any of it. We’ve traded a child for a shrimp dinner. This shrimp dish is a particular favorite and a riff on a dish Paul and I had many years ago in a Spanish restaurant. The thing I like about Spanish food is its simplicity. The ingredients are few, and in those cases, be sure to make them count. In other words, don’t be cheap. Use good olive oil. Buy the wild caught shrimp (they’re brinier, and better for the environment). Look out for fresh, crisp garlic, which is spicy and full of flavor. You can buy it easily at the farmer’s market right now. This recipe is simple to make, good for a quiet dinner for two and equally good for guests. Perhaps the best part is the garlicy, warm sauce that soaks into the bread, a necessary accompaniment.
Without Elliot around, I can also switch up the salad routine. He’s a salad eater, but our tastes in salad are not the same. He likes Romaine, with croutons and cheese. Me, I love all the colors in my salads, all kinds of cheeses, dressings made with herbs and tart vinegar. I made a salad I knew he would only pick through, and Paul and I had it for dinner and again for lunch the next day. Here’s the really great thing about salads in the middle of September: There’s so much great summer stuff to still be found at the farmer’s market. There’s still tomatoes. There is corn. But since fall is pushing its way in, there are a few fall vegetables, too. Delicata squash, if you don’t know it, is worth checking out, if only for the beauty of its pale, green-striped edible skin. Toss delicata squash with olive oil and roast it until the rings are deeply golden brown. Those wedges are soft and tender inside, and crisp and golden brown outside. I roasted it alongside small and tender carrots and shallots, and then paired those things with the last of the tomatoes from the garden, leftover steamed corn, feta cheese and sliced almonds. All of these things made crunch, flavor and enough color to look like an artist’s palette. The dressing is another favorite, packed with herbs, creamy from avocado with a gentle garlic bite. Green goddess can be used as a dip for vegetables or thinned out to dress a salad. We ate this salad alongside chicken that Paul grilled, but it is substantial enough to stand up on its own for a light dinner.
I made a batch of scones to celebrate the arrival of fall, and surely made me think of my youngest child. He is a carb and sugar lover and I often indulged him by buying muffins, cookies and pastries. Paul and I don’t often eat that stuff, so when I see the apple cider doughnuts at the market, I turn away and try to not feel sad. A treat now and then is always in order, though, and so I baked the scones. These are warm with lots and lots of cinnamon, and subtly sweet from the apple. A note about the sugar I used here: I call for raw or golden sugar, which you can easily find in the baking aisle. These sugars are less processed and have a different flavor than the regular old white variety: they will have hints of molasses and caramel. But you can use white sugar and it’ll still be good.
We aren’t actually empty-nesters here, as our middle child Zoe has moved back in. She came with her little dog in tow, and she is going to college, working and saving her money. I’m so glad they’re here because I don’t want the nest to be empty, not yet.
So far, Elliot is doing fine. He sent a text, a few hours after we dropped him at SUNY Oneonta. He wrote exactly this: “thanks mom and dad, for everything. I’m so happy.” And then he added a red heart. It’s hard to be sad when he is so happy. We will visit in a week and I am sure my excitement and joy is greater than his. I know, too, that he’ll be back in another few weeks for fall break and I can’t wait to bake sweets for him and see the piles and piles of his things around the house.