Come July you can (too) often find me at the nursery stocking up on plants, cursing myself for not getting out into the yard sooner. Last year I texted my mom a photo of all the annuals I bought in late July and she gently reminded me they’d probably die in six weeks. This year, I was determined to get started before our July 4th barbecue and, true to form, managed to wait until the last minute. But here we are — with new annuals and a whole evergreen shade-loving situation under our rhododendron tree. Even chives and parsley. Oliver’s obsessed with watering the plants, but does so with such gusto (and crushing force) that Sam and I usually take turns after he goes to bed in the evening — preferably, if things are really going our way, with a cold beer and black bean burger in hand. I drove by our hardware store on the way to work this morning and the sign out front said something about enjoying the halcyon days of summer. And I thought to myself, we are in them, aren’t we? A funny thing can happen when you live in Seattle: many believe the unofficial start of summer is July 5 as June can be pretty cloudy and even quite cool. So you hold your breath and wait until the days are clear and even hot and for some reason even then it takes a sign outside the local hardware store to remind you that yes, here we are. Those halcyon days are now.
In years past, we’d flown to my mom’s Adirondack cabin for the 4th of July, but with my youngest sister getting married in September, we decided to hold off and take a longer trip in early fall instead. On our own for the 4th it was, so out came the index cards and late night cookbook-hunting: these two ex-vegetarians were going to host their first July 4th barbecue, complete with toddlers yielding watering cans, aging annuals, and friends near and far. I made Samin’s tomato panzanella salad and a grilled corn salad, Greek potato salad and watermelon acqu fresca from The Modern Potluck. Sam made homemade barbecue sauce and marinade and we had grilled spicy sausages, chicken and herbed skirt steak. There were fresh cherries and watermelon, cocktails and cold rosé, and large slices of coconut cream pie around the fire pit later that night. Also, I didn’t take a single food photo or document the table, the music, the beautiful lights overhead or the over-too-soon fire at our feet. Or anything, for that matter.
The inspiration tank is low when it comes to social media lately and the result seems to be much less documentation of our meals or routines at home. I’m not sure how much of that is just the natural course of things with an active toddler hanging off of me at all hours of the day or perhaps more of a change of the tide, so to speak, but I really hope to find some light and excitement in that again and get back to a place where it feels natural and purposeful to share a bit more about the unfolding of our days. That being said, the unexpected result of this quieter season is a true settling into these halcyon days of summer, as our poetically inclined Ace Hardware reminds us. With fewer thoughts of staging a meal so it looks pretty for Instagram or getting out the camera at a restaurant with friends, the days feel less fragmented and planned — they’re unfolding as they should, without niggling thoughts about getting the right shot or what the appropriate hashtag should be. Like all of us I’m sure, I feel like summer is whizzing by, but at the same time I feel very firmly and deeply seated in it. There’s nowhere else to be, no other story to try to tell and the days are oh so long.
As for cooking, I always feel like I get a little of my mojo back in the summer: it’s just so easy with all of the beautiful, vibrant tomatoes and sweet summer corn. And while I loved our barbecue over the fourth, we were ready to have a few lighter meals this past week so I mixed up these smoky black bean burgers with a super creamy, herby Green Goddess sauce. They’re easy to pull together and feed a crowd, and while they don’t hold up terribly well on the grill we always eat them outside either on the front stoop, people watching, or in the backyard marveling how very very light it is at 9:30 pm.
Thanks to sweet potato, quinoa and black beans, these smoky vegetarian burgers are packed with nutrition and come together quickly. Like many homemade veggie burgers, they don’t behave famously on the grill, so I pan fry them and handle them gently; they’re supposed to be soft in texture. In terms of logistics, the burgers must chill for at least two hours, so plan for that when mapping out your day. You’ll have leftovers of this creamy, super herby Green Goddess sauce and we use it as a veggie dip, sandwich spread, or dressing for pasta salads.
Green Goddess Sauce (Makes about 1 cup):
Black Bean Quinoa Burgers:
Make the Green Goddess Dressing: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy, about 45 seconds. Taste and add additional pinch (or two) of salt, if you’d like.
Make the Black Bean Burgers: In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering and add the onion. Sauté until fragrant and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes to avoid sticking.
Reduce the heat and add the garlic. Stir well and cook for another 1 minute.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the onion mixture along with the beans, sweet potatoes, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, salt, paprika, chile powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. Pulse to form a thick, chunky puree. Spoon mixture out into a large bowl, fold in the quinoa and flour, and stir to combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate mixture for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days
When you’re ready to cook the burgers, lightly oil your hands and divide the mixture into equal portions. Shape each into patties about 1-inch thick.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and set patties into skillet (you’ll likely only be able to cook 3-4 at a time, depending on size of your skillet). Cook on each side for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add a little more oil to the pan if the burgers begin to stick. Serve with lettuce, avocado and Green Goddess Sauce.
Planning Ahead: Cooked or un-cooked, the burgers will keep well for up to 3 days covered in the refrigerator, or you can freeze the un-cooked burgers in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Cooked burgers can be done in advance and reheated in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes.
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.