In the Bay Area, we often have an Indian summer. It descends each year around this time. And each year, I always wonder why it’s heating up as we ease into September. Just when all the fall clothes pop up in store windows, when the morning light begins to change, and when you feel like you should be making soup–it’s damn hot. And with the heat comes my kitchen lethargy. Rather than cooking, I find myself putting things together instead: salads with tomatoes and squash from the garden, sandwiches with cold cuts and lots of mayo and crisp lettuce, simple pastas with olives and shaved Parmesan, my infamous rustic Mexican pizzas (if you’re lucky, more on that later). So in the summer, I like to make this pesto and keep it in the fridge to have readily available when cooking sounds as enticing as changing a flat tire.
Now before we get to the recipe, you may be asking yourself, ‘wait a second. I thought Megan lived in San Francisco where it’s rarely above 75.’ Well, I’ve lied to you. Probably not a good tactic so early on in our relationship. I actually live right outside the city, about 8 eight miles North, in Marin County. I live on a wide street with big leafy oaks in a very large house with a pool, two back yards, a circular driveway, lemon trees, and a box garden.
It’s not mine. Now don’t worry: I’m not about to tell you more lies or describe the deviant ways in which I squat in rich people’s homes. The truth is that I’ve actually been living in my mom’s house, taking care of the dogs and the garden while she’s been away doing her graduate studies in Burlington,Vermont. She may be the only woman in her late 50’s that I’ve ever met who up and moves across the country, gets her own apartment in the college district overlooking Lake Champlain, decks it out in beautiful shades of reds and yellows…and gets to work. Like it’s nothing. I’m so proud of her. And so happy that I got to stay in the house for the last few years of my twenties. But change is on the horizon: my mom’s done with her coursework and coming back for good in two weeks. I guess it’s time to have that huge house party I’ve been meaning to have for the last few years (just kidding, mom).
I say I live in San Francisco for a few reasons, the obvious one being it’s just easier for people who aren’t familiar with our massive state. The main one being that I really do live there in a sense. I’ve never felt a connection to Marin, where mothers cruise down the suburban streets (or the outdoor malls) in double-wide strollers, where luxury stores abound, where it’s actually impossible to get something to eat after 9 p.m. Trust me when I tell you the place shuts down. So I drive into the city numerous times a week and, emotionally, feel much more at home and at ease. There’s something about the fog, the dramatic hills, the particular neighborhoods, the food. I love having brunch in Hayes Valley, running along the Marina with my new running friends, getting dumplings out in the Richmond, strong coffee and used books in the Mission, or having a picnic in Shakespeare’s Garden. It’s just more me.
Now that I’ve confessed my white lie, let’s move on to the pesto, aptly named for the physical place I lay my head. For now.
This pesto is a nice alternative to more traditional pestos made with pine nuts. It’s full of really good fat from the Omega 3 oils. It tastes complex and summery with a serious hit of garlic, fragrant basil, and a nice blend of grated cheeses. The trick is to use high quality olive oil instead of a common table oil. You will taste the difference. Once you gather the ingredients, this is a simple, quick pesto: 10 minutes max. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Place basil, olive oil, garlic, and walnuts in food processor. Blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the Parmesan and salt and blend a few seconds more, until neatly folded in. If using with pasta, after boiling and draining the noodles, add 1 tablespoon of pasta water to the pesto and stir thoroughly. This loosens it up a bit. If using as a spread instead, you may need to add a little oil according to your preference (some like thicker pesto). Regardless, it tastes like an August afternoon.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.