Posts filed under 'Salad'
I have so much to say, but no where to start. When I’m at a loss, I usually retreat to the kitchen, so that’s what I’ll do now, and I’ll tell you that today, my kitchen was a hub of productivity. We’re hosting Thanksgiving this (this?) Thursday (this Thursday?!), and I’m in full-on preparation mode. Today alone, I dispatched several sticks of butter (pie crusts, resting in the fridge, awaiting their fillings; buttermilk biscuits, frozen hockey pucks at the moment, but flaky rounds, with any luck, come Thanksgiving), mixed together a batch of ice cream (bourbon-vanilla bean, of course), and baked up a thin pan of cornbread, destined for stuffing, after a nice few days of drying out.
Thanksgiving, I own you.
The kind of cooking that’s been happening in my kitchen lately is a summer kind of cooking. Most of the time, it’s barely “cooking” at all. It’s largely based on fresh produce—whatever has caught my eye. Last weekend it was tomatoes, an heirloom variety that was deeply red and wonderfully misshapen. They were sliced onto seeded bagels, under thin rounds of cucumbers and purple onions sliced into half moons. They were stuffed into BLTs, mine doctored up with snipped chives, while Kevin’s gilded the lily with a fried egg. They were diced into a salad—just the tomatoes, a crack of pepper, and crumbled feta. Salt, too. It’s the difference between a really great tomato and a transcendent one. Yes, transcendent. If there’s a cause for hyperbole, friends, it’s a ripe summer tomato. It just is.
There’s been some more involved cooking and baking (a baked pasta for our friends who have a newborn; homemade burger buns for a BBQ last Saturday; a smoked pork butt; endless batches of my favorite ice cream), but even that has taken on summer’s rhythms. I cook and bake in little pockets of time—when it’s raining, or after it’s dark, or before we set out on a giant walk. I love that kitchen—I do—but it will be there in the fall and it will be there still in the (dare I say?) winter.
We spent last weekend at Kevin’s grandmother’s house in Grand Beach—a little lakeside town just over the Indiana-Michigan border. Grand Beach is only an hour’s drive or so from the Loop and it sits along the coastline of the same lake, but its tall, swishy, sunburned prairie grasses and its rolling hills and its fleet of golf carts, which commingle easily with cars on the roads, and its turreted vacation homes, many wrapped with wide porches, make it feel like it’s a world away from Chicago.
We’ve been going to the house for one weekend a summer for a while now—long enough to develop patterns and traditions. Kevin’s parents usually drive out on Thursday or Friday, settling in and stocking the house with groceries. Kevin and I usually jump in the car after work on Friday, arriving just in time for a quick cocktail on the deck as the big sun sends a brilliant twinkle across Lake Michigan as it dips below the horizon. Then, it’s off to Timothy’s, a restaurant with screened windows and a piano player. It’s always packed on summer weekend nights.
We’ve reached the point of the summer where I feel absolutely lavished by the season—its hot air and its sweeping, sun-singed blue skies and its meals taken outside and its swooping fireflies and its suddenly-full hydrangea bushes and its slow-paced strolls and its thwacking flip-flops and its long nights and its melting scoops of ice cream.
And then, as if this all weren’t enough, summer, as it stands now, has this: CORN. The corn is here! Man, I love corn. It’s very possibly my favorite piece of summer produce—eaten straight off the cob (conjuring, every single time, that fantastic scene in What About Bob, where Bob mmmmmmm‘s his way through Fay’s corn), shaved off the cob and eaten straight up, charred by the grill, toasted in a skillet, decadently drenched in cream. You could say that as Bubba is to shrimp, I am to corn. That’s quite a claim, I know—but I think it fits.
We’ve been home so infrequently this summer that it feels like a real treat to have a good old fashioned weeknight in. It’s the mundane—a slow walk around the neighborhood, collecting our dry cleaning and grabbing a carton of eggs at the market; watering the flowers while the sun goes orange as it sets; sitting at the table on the deck long after we’re done eating dinner—that feels so good, so refreshing. Since these nights have been few and far between, though, I’ve been relying on stand-by recipes: like this, this and this one. Even where dessert for dinner guests is concerned, I’ve been—gasp—recycling recipes (for the record: you should make a batch of these, stuff them with excellent vanilla ice cream coated with mini chocolate chips and call it a chipwich … like, tonight).
But, this week, I’d had enough of the re-do’s. We’d been through all of our old favorites once, twice, thrice this summer. So I went hunting for new recipes. On Monday, there were pork chops and halved plums grilled simply and served with a pile of greens—a meal inspired by The Publican’s current incarnation of its country ribs. Tonight, we’re trying a new steak sandwich, which is generally a no-fail proposition. We snuck in a dinner out on Tuesday night. Which leaves us with Wednesday.
As I made this salad, I remembered something I didn’t realize I had forgotten. Sitting cross-legged, a bowl of shell peas in my lap, the memory came whooshing back to me, slipping over me and settling in like an old, worn-in sweatshirt: you might forget it’s stuffed in the corner of your closet, but once you find it, the comfort is undeniable. You know, you just know, that you should take it out more often—wear it, appreciate it, savor it.
As I unzipped those peas, splitting open the pods, running my thumb along the pods’ spines, releasing the tiny peas one by one, I recalled the slow plink, ping, plink that a different bowl of peas used to make as they hit the emptied out Cool Whip container my grandma handed me when I was a girl, sitting on her back porch, just before dinner. I could smell the pork chops, bone-in, on the grill, and could hear my grandpa’s gentle whistle, threading together a tune as he flipped the chops with a long, wood-handled spatula, and the sizzle each chop sent up when it hit the grill’s grates. I could see the fireflies flickering around the garden—lush and full to the bursting. It’s the same garden that produced those peas; they grew in a manner that made the child-size me think of the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk. I could feel the first licks of a cool breeze creeping up off Lake Superior. I could appreciate the stillness, the kind only found in tiny towns.
Oh, dear. It seems I’ve got a serious case of ants in my pants. Or let’s call it wanderlust, maybe. Yes, that’s better—more sophisticated, altogether grown up. Wanderlust. Whatever you call it, I’ve got it. It all started in Boulder. We were there last weekend for a wedding and, though I’d been there once before, the town thoroughly charmed me.
From the lively earthiness unfolding all day long on Pearl Street to the foothills that ring the town—punctuated by flat sheets of rock, jutting up into the sky (flatirons); from the stalls after stalls at the Saturday morning farmers’ market to the never ending games of croquet in my friends’ childhood backyards; from a serious commitment to beers to the little girl in the park asking her mom where she could compost the paper cup in her hands: it was my kind of town. I could get used to this, I thought.
Potato salad is not a one-size-fits-all affair. There are a lot of options out there. Finding the right one is not unlike buying a new dress or a pair of jeans or (brace yourself) a bathing suit, in that you can’t just expect to breezily pluck the first one you see off the rack and expect it to fit like a glove. You’ll need to try on various options for size and you’ll probably have to sift through dozens before finding one that suits you perfectly.
I suppose this is all on my mind because, with wedding season upon us, I’ve been on the hunt for a new dress. I just got back from a shopping trip, in fact. It’s a rainy, cold morning here in Chicago (more April than June, as has been the trend for the past two weeks running) and I figured shopping was as good a way to while away the gray day as any. Sadly, I struck out in the dressing room: too short, too long, too casual, too formal, too clingy, too boring, too loud. You name it, I tried it on this morning. I will search the depths of my closet instead, I’ve decided. I will find a dress already hanging in there that will work just fine. I can’t take any more hangers, any more dressing rooms (even with the lure of their flattering light and deceptively-tilted mirrors), any more rainy shopping trips.
For a long time, a restaurant was only suitable to me if the salad section of the menu included a caesar salad. For those happy years, I’d crunch through caesar salads without a care in the world. And then—somewhere around the early to midteen years—I was unfortunate enough to learn two facts: one about a certain caesar ingredient (anchovies) and the other about its nutritional data (specifically in the fat and calorie departments).
For my midteen-self these were dealbreakers both. I felt duped: how could a salad be so sinful? How could something so green be laced with hidden fish? The caesar, it had forsaken me.