We just returned from my mom’s cabin on Lake George in upstate New York where we often spend the 4th of July. As usual, each bedroom was packed with family members (this year the couch was even occupied for a night), and our days with reading, lounging on the dock, swimming a bit, maybe jogging down the road or playing tennis if you were feeling ambitious. We drank a notable amount of seltzer water; I managed to read three books and my mom threw us a family baby shower complete with balloons, chocolate cake and Mike’s rhubarb bars.
In previous years, my mom has planned most of the dinners and even some lunches, but for breakfast we’d all fend for ourselves. I’d often bake a pie or a batch of brownies in the afternoon and everyone would help out where they could, but she would largely do the shopping and brunt of the cooking. This year was different: having just moved from California to Vermont, my mom had a lot on her plate and sent out an email before the holiday weekend asking us all to chip in and help with the meals. Sam and I claimed Friday dinner: we grilled sausages and Sam made his famous deviled eggs. We cut up some unusually seedy watermelon that I found at the co-op in Burlington before we drove out to the lake, and I made a summery quinoa salad that I expected to be kind of epic. The trouble was that it wasn’t. I overcooked the quinoa until it was kind of a congealed mush and everything just went downhill from there. But I knew that the idea was strong — to pack a whole grain salad with all the things of summer (corn! tomatoes! basil!) — so when we got home to Seattle I tried again. And this time it’s a winner.
For our book club this past Monday I made a similar quinoa salad from an old issue of Bon Appetit with herbed goat cheese and some fresh peaches I picked up at the farmers market. I made beet hummus to go with it; Natalie brought summery tomato garlic toasts and Sarah brought pita to go with the hummus and gelato for dessert. It was the perfect colorful mishmash of a meal that I think makes summer eating so wonderful. Natalie said it best: It’s all so easy when everything is so fresh and beautiful.
I was inspired by the recipe from book club and decided to take another stab at my supposed-to-be-epic quinoa salad. I kept Bon Appetit’s quick pickled onions, but added a mishmash of summery ingredients I had on hand. It’s so colorful and smashing it looks like confetti straight from a pinata, so that’s what I decided to call it. Now if the pickled onions feel like a step you’re just not into, you could leave them out altogether (although I think they’re crazy delicious) but make sure to add a little acid to round out the flavors of the salad — I’d start with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, taste and adjust as needed. The nice thing about the onions, I will say, is that the recipe below makes a bit more than you really need for the salad, so you’re set for future salads, sandwiches, or tacos.
You can make this salad about 6 hours ahead if you’d like: to do so, just leave out the basil and greens and fold them in right before serving. While I didn’t use it this time around, I think this salad would be great with some creamy goat cheese and if you’re looking to amp up the protein, you could always fold in a few handfuls of your favorite beans or marinated tofu. And remember you’ll have leftover pickled onions, so be sure to save them for future sandwiches and salads. Once you get used to having them around, they make for a most beloved condiment.
For the Pickled Onions:
For the Salad:
Place onion in a small bowl. Bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to ensure they’re mixed well. Pour over onion slices and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain but reserve the pickling liquid. Roughly chop the onions and set aside.
Bring quinoa, 3 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and reduce the heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and spread into large salad bowl to cool.
Place both ears of corn in a large pot of boiling water. Allow the water in the pot to come back to a boil, cover, and cook on low for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Remove from pot and set on a dry, clean surface to cool. Once cool enough to handle, slice the corn off the cob by balancing a flat end of the cob on a cutting board and using a downward cutting motion with a nice, sharp knife. This should yield about 1 1/2 cups corn kernels for the salad.
In a large salad bowl, toss together corn, tomatoes, arugula, 1 cup chopped onions (use more if you’d like), basil and chives. Add olive oil and 3 tablespoons of the reserved pickling liquid. Fold in quinoa and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and more pickling liquid if you’d like.
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.