We are in the thick of June now, aren’t we? Seems so sudden but the neighbor kid across the street bounces his basketball at all hours of the day instead of just after school, and we’ve had a few real sundress afternoons in Seattle. I remember when summer used to be this broad expanse of what seemed like endless time. There were trips to the local library with my mom, outdoor sprinklers, mid-day naps and sleepovers that included spoonfuls of raw cookie dough with my best friend, Kristin. It obviously looks different now. There is a noticeable lack of mid-day naps and raw cookie dough, that’s for sure. There are deadlines and work obligations, but at least they’re often punctuated with sunny mornings, outdoor cocktails at our funky little picnic table, occasional gardening and quick camping trips.
While the days are longer, for some reason they tend to fill up just as quickly so lunch often ends up a haphazard meal — usually a combination of leftover grains, some vegetables from the crisper and a fried egg. Alternatively, a substantial salad or Sam’s coleslaw is a good fill in. But this year, I’ve gotten really into cold soba noodle salads. The noodles cook in a mere 4 minutes and they’re just as good cold as they are warm. If you’re new to soba noodles, they’re made of buckwheat so they’re naturally gluten-free (just be sure to buy the buckwheat variety if gluten is a concern as they do make wheat-based soba noodles now, too). They feel much lighter than traditional pasta noodles, making them a natural choice for the warmer summer months.
Along with seasonal lunch slumps comes the inevitable summer hustle of weddings, graduations, social obligations … you know. In the midst of all that, it’s often easy to retreat into quicker, easier ways of coordinating our days. Last week I read a great article in The New York Times by Jonathan Safran Foer called How Not to Be Alone (thanks to Olaiya for passing it on). In it, Safran Foer discusses how so many of us have begun to prefer substitutes for actually connecting with family, friends and neighbors instead of the real thing. I’m just as guilty: I’ll often prefer text messages over phone calls to quickly arrange meetings with friends. Sam chides me at the farmers market because there are some people who just like to stand at the booth and chat — obviously not intending to buy a bag of granola and, truthfully, blocking the table for others who may wish to. He always assures me they could be customers someday once I make a genuine connection with them. Or maybe they’re just having a rough day and need to chat. In Sam’s camp, Safran Foer mentions that “everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy.”
The final paragraph of his essay really caught my breath. I read it a few times. Then I thought about it for two days straight: “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.” It’s easy to forget all of that. It’s easy to look past the people standing at your farmers market booth who want to say hello — just because. It’s easy to text your friends with business questions instead of calling or curse your landlord for not having email, thereby forcing you to actually pick up the phone.
I can’t say that I’ve mastered any of it. I still like emails and text messages to coordinate with friends and family; it gives me time to measure my response and check the calendar. But this article made me pause as I think about my last post and how much better I feel having more people in my day-to-day life now. I guess I was saying the same thing as Safran Foer — just not as eloquently. Connecting with each other is all we have. Today it’s easier to skirt around it than to actually dive in. But maybe, just for the summer, we can all practice the fine art of the dive. I’m going to try.
After I put the photos of this recipe up on the site, I realized it looks quite similar to this pasta salad with avocado dressing that I made weeks ago. I must be in a the mood for seedy pasta dishes with flavor-forward sauces — because here we are again. But this one is quite different, I assure you. Since seeing the parsley pesto recipe in Bon Appetit, I’ve had parsley on my mind. My version has a bit of added garlic and lemon zest for brightness. It’s super green — which I love — and is a great way to use up leftover parsley.
Beyond the noodles, this salad has all of the textures a good noodle salad should have: crisp radishes and English cucumbers paired with mild sheep’s milk cheese and toasty seeds — a most satisfying summer lunch on its own or a great accompaniment to a larger dinner spread. In truth, you can add any vegetables (or cubed tofu) you’d like here: blanched asparagus, summer carrots or English peas would be colorful and delicious. Or chop up a mess of summer greens like kale or arugula and fold those in at the end. If you try a variation, I’d love to hear about it!
I like this salad cold but you could certainly rinse the soba noodles under hot water instead of cold water, toss it all together and serve hot. A quick logistics note: there are pepitas in both the salad and the pesto, so plan to purchase and use 1 1/2 cups total. Next time I make this, I’m going to top each serving with a bit of lemon zest, and maybe even fold chopped parsley into the salad itself. Red chile flakes would be nice, too.
For Parsley Pesto (Makes about 1 1/4 cups pesto)
Cook the soba noodles in a medium pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Drain then rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain again and pat dry.
Toast the seeds: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay all of the pepitas (1 1/2 cups) in an even layer on one side of a rimmed baking sheet and sesame seeds on the other side. Toast for about 5 minutes, or until slightly fragrant — the sesame seeds should become more golden than white. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Make the pesto: Pulse 3/4 cup toasted and cooled pepitas in a food processor until smooth. Add parsley, garlic, chives, oil and Parmesan and process until smooth. Fold in lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.
Assemble: In a large bowl, toss together the soba noodles with the radishes, green onion, cucumber, toasted seeds (I reserve about a tablespoon of each to sprinkle on top) and ¾ cup – 1 cup parsley pesto. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the ricotta salata at the end. Divide into serving bowls and sprinkle with some the reserved toasted seeds. Leftovers will keep for 2-3 days if covered and refrigerated.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.