I call this time of the year, this month of September, the “bridge month.” When I made pies for a living, I called them “bridge desserts,” those slices of jammy sweets that’d have one foot definitively in fall and the other stubbornly in summer. That’s always how I feel come September: eagerly anticipating the changing light of the new season, but also so very hesitant for the long days to creep away. And so, today, a warm weather recipe we can all nurse for a good month more: a silky, simple gazpacho that we had for lunch (and dinner) many times last month. And given our amazing tomatoes this year, I’m hoping for a few more rounds.
I went many years without making gazpacho at home; I always find that it falls into one of three camps: the good, the bad, or the ugly. And most recipes I found in the past were firmly up for Ugliest Gazpacho of the Year Award — which wouldn’t matter if they were really delicious, but that was never the case. Now how could you mess up gazpacho, really? I find that the recipes that call for bread blended into the soup always end up murky and off-color, and just not at all appealing. I don’t particularly love a lot of onion blended into the soup itself, and I’ve seen a great many recipes that are heavily spiced with chile seasonings and it always baffles me as to why we can’t just let the tomatoes shine. If you’re buying ripe, in season tomatoes you need little else.
This recipe recognizes that. The tomatoes sing here. Now, I didn’t make this recipe up — I can’t claim this baby as my own. Instead, it’s a recipe I discovered on Molly’s blog, and Molly got it from our mutual friend Keena. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had the soup made my Keena herself, but she talks about it often and I always kind of passively listened to her sing its praises thinking it was just “her thing” and it was probably, like most other gazpachos,” in the Ugly or Bad Camp … but it turns out, this is no such gazpacho.
This recipe is really the color of whatever tomatoes you’re using. Keena mentions she likes to use a few yellow ones to mellow out the color, and I took her lead with these heirloom beauties I got from my farmers market neighbors, One Leaf Farm. The soup itself has an amazing creaminess (despite a lack of dairy) thanks to the generous time in the blender — Molly and Keena both recommend leaving the blender running as long as you can really stand the noise to get the silky texture. Personally, I prefer my gazpacho on the chunky side, so I added additional chopped cucumber and bell peppers at the very end, and topped the soup with a generous spoonful of diced avocado (a move I learned from Comforts, the Marin restaurant where I used to work). We serve it with crackers, bread and cheese for a light dinner — and it makes a spot-on lunch any day of the week.
So I hope it’s not too late in the season for you all to get excited about this recipe. I assure you, it’s a keeper. And it may be a bit until I’m back here with a new recipe, to be honest. We get married in one week! Sam picked up his mom at the airport last night; we’re painting signs and making seating charts and assembling favors and spray painting baskets. There’s still A. Lot. To. Do. but it’s starting to feel so real and we can’t wait to celebrate next weekend with our nearest and dearest. I’ll be back here, at the very least, with a few photos to share. Wish us luck! Make gazpacho! Hold onto the bridge month for as long as you can!
Keena’s original recipes calls for sherry vinegar but I’ve used red wine vinegar here instead because it’s what we had on hand. I think either will work famously for you. And the finer you chop the vegetables you fold in at the end, the better.
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Score an “X” into the bottom of each tomato, and then blanch them until the skin begins to peel back around the “X.” Remove from the water, cool them until they’re not too hot to handle, and then peel. Remove and discard the stems, and cut out the rough spot where the stem attaches. Chop coarsely.
Put the olive oil in a blender, and blend on high speed until frothy. Add the garlic, and process briefly. Add the peppers, cucumber, a couple pinches of salt, and as many tomatoes as will fit comfortably into your blender. Process on high speed, stopping the blender from occasionally to move around the ingredients as needed to allow the blender to run smoothly. (The mixture will be fairly thick until the tomatoes are pureed.) Let the soup process for 1-2 minutes (or as long as you can stand the noise); the longer it goes, the creamier it will be. Add 2 tablespoons of the vinegar and process to incorporate. Taste, and add vinegar and salt as needed.
Fold in additional diced peppers and cucumbers and chill before serving.
Top with diced avocado, and enjoy!
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.