I’ve been in the slow process of cleaning out my home office this week, and yesterday I stumbled upon some notebooks containing previous year’s Summer Bucket Lists (if you may recall, I used to write sort of elaborate lists of things I wanted to learn, see or accomplish during the summer season). Scrawled throughout these pages were lines about baking sourdough bread, starting a garden for cut flowers or taking a road trip and discovering new towns in the region (or beyond). This year I don’t have such a list. The days feel more like a race to get our work done, figure out how to feed ourselves, take care of the plants in the backyard, be a good friend, be a good sister, be a good mom and a good partner. Walk to the park. Point out airplanes, trucks, buses, vans, birds and flowers with Oliver. Drink a cocktail and watch The Handmaid’s Tale with Sam at night. Buy wedding presents and shower presents. Show up.
These simple things seem to take up all of the time that perhaps I once used to spend baking more bread or taking more road trips. I remember the one summer a few years ago when I made loads of peach jam, ate it with homemade yogurt, sewed a gigantic quilt, and wrote a book proposal in my free time. That, my friends, is not this year. Instead, this summer I’m hoping to simply cook more and get outside more. Oliver has some new sandals he’s jazzed about and we bought him a sun hat with realllllllly full coverage that he tries to rip off, as if he knows it’s slightly humiliating to show up at the neighborhood park donning such a wardrobe atrocity. I got him a little mini rake to accompany his sand pail and shovel, and have big plans to head to the beach to shovel, rake and cap things off with a vanilla soft serve cone.
The one trick I always have for guaranteeing I’m cooking more is to think a lot about Future Megan — in other words, my Tonight Self or Tomorrow Self. We try to make a pot of grains on the weekend and have some fresh herbs and lemon around, and thanks to summer produce (tomatoes! corn! tomatoes again!), the rest often kind of comes together naturally, however haphazardly, which was the case with this summery salad.
In one of the classes I teach at The Pantry here in Seattle, we make a similar whole grain bowl with millet, but I received some beautiful farro and french lentils from a whole grain company in Canada that I love, Grain, and was excited to put both to work this week. The lentils are a nice touch because they make this much more of a complete meal, so we can spend a little less time thinking through the components of dinner and a little more time shoveling and raking, and stopping to wave at passing trucks.
This salad is a particular favorite when all of the ingredients are at their peak of freshness (now!), and are given space to just do their thing. A tough recipe to mess up, the one piece of advice I do have here is to try your best to be attentive while cooking the lentils so as not to overcook them — I taste them every 5-8 minutes or so to make sure they’re still nice and toothsome. As for making this salad even simpler, you can certainly use frozen corn although I will say it’s so, so good with fresh, sweet summer corn. I generally always double the dressing recipe, too, and save half for a future green salad, soba noodles or a whole grain bowl later in the week.
For the Salad:
For the Dressing:
Cook the farro: In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the farro, 2 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer until farro is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
Meanwhile, rinse the lentils. In a separate small saucepan, add the lentils and 1 cup water. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to low (should be a gentle simmer) and cook lentils until just tender, about 25 minutes. Strain, rinse with cold water and set aside to cool.
Cook the corn: In a large nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil and add the shallot. Cook over medium heat until just soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the corn and generous pinch of salt and increase heat to medium-high. Cook corn until it’s just beginning to brown on the edges and soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. In a large salad bowl, toss together the cooked farro, lentils, corn mixture, tomatoes, feta and herbs. Fold in the dressing. Serve immediately.
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.