The last time we were camping on Orcas Island, I was almost 7 months pregnant and we shared a shaded campsite with two other couples and their kids. I made banana bread and recall hoarding it from the kids (and, really, everyone); Sam and I snuck into town for strong lattes early in the mornings, spent a lot of time down by the lake and on easy ambling hikes, and took turns cooking over the fire each night for dinner. As is so often the case with camping, the days felt eternally long in that loose, listless way that only summer can gift us, and we came home with flip-flop tan lines and dusty hair.
Last week we took Oliver on his first camping trip to Moran State Park which was, as you can imagine, quite different. On the ferry coming home, while chasing Oliver through rows of tourists and travelers, we decided that you almost need to reframe and even rename activities that you once did before having a kid. I see a lot of friends who become quite disappointed and resigned — even depressed — that the things they once used to love doing are now a thing of the past. Hiking? Give me eight years. Camping or international traveling? See you in 2022. The list goes on.
And it’s true: it’s a lot of work and planning and the truth is that summer never gifts you those drawn-out quiet, listless days when you’re camping with a small person. It just doesn’t. And hiking? On our last trip a few weekends ago, I ended up carrying Oliver most of the way up to the waterfall (although we actually never made it to the waterfall) after he refused to sit in his baby backpack. So we manage expectations. We don’t bring novels to the beach, we don’t think through the elaborate camp meals we once used to make, we eat more PB & J sandwiches than we ever thought we would, and we fill our flasks with pre-mixed cocktails.
Our first night of camp, Oliver decided he was none too keen on sleeping in the Great Outdoors, or at least, on going to sleep. In fact, he straight up Freaked (this is our family’s very technical sleep term, signaling to one another that Shit Is Bad) so fully and completely that you could hear our camp neighbors sighing, getting out of their tents, whispering amongst each other. Flashlights clicked on. More sighing. At home, while we would’ve let Oliver cry for a bit and tire himself out, it felt disrespectful to keep the rest of the campground up, so Sam and O. hopped in the car and drove around the island, podcasting away, until it was clear the backseat passenger was sleeping soundly enough to transfer to his own private tent. This became the nightly routine: the menfolk would leave at dusk and I’d keep the fire stoked, get the tents ready, sneak squares of dark chocolate meant for s’mores and dip into my book awaiting their return.
After what felt like a full night of me holding my breath, hoping we wouldn’t rouse our camp neighbors yet again, daybreak came — as it’s known to do — and over bacon and eggs, we talked about the day ahead. While we have so many memories on Orcas (Mount Constitution hikes, wood-fired pizza at Hogstone, oysters from Buck Bay), having a young child is funny because on one hand you’re excited to introduce them to all the things you used to do and, on the other, you know you can’t hike Mount Constitution or have any sort of a sane or restful meal at Hogstone. As I’ve said before, you rejigger. The things you used to do may not apply.
So we didn’t plan or schedule much in the way of activities, and instead found ourselves down by the beach more often than not, trying to teach Oliver how to build a moat and share ice cream cones. Our child became obsessed with water fountains, made a baby friend from LA, and took what must have been hundreds of trips down the slide at the park playground. Back at camp, dinner wasn’t something we stressed over: I’d spent a lot of time planning our meals so evenings could be easy. There was a spicy turkey chili and quinoa one night; vegetarian tacos the next; and on our last night we grilled sausages and corn over the open fire, and pulled together this triple tomato and feta salad, the MVP of summer 2017.
A version of this salad made an appearance at our Fourth of July get-together: I’d made Samin Nosrat’s Summer Panzanella from her incredible book and, try as I might, I just don’t get panzanella salads. No matter how you roll the dice, you’re always left with really soggy bread. But the one thing that I was struck with was Samin’s perfectly-balanced tomato vinaigrette. At first it came off as a bit fussy (you have to grate a very ripe tomato and whisk it into the dressing), but it turns out grating a tomato is no big deal, and we’ve been keeping the dressing on hand to drizzle over sliced, ripe summer tomatoes for weeks now. It’s also a great dip for crusty bread and I imagine it’d make an all star appearance in a pasta or whole grain salad.For our camping trip, I made a batch of the vinaigrette at home and we just kept it in the cooler, pulling it out on our last night to generously pour over heirloom tomatoes with big spoonfuls of feta. It felt fancy even though it was all quite simple and we each had seconds, silently gearing up for what could possibly be a long night ahead.
The next morning, we cooked the rest of our bacon, made some strong coffee and started to pack up. I ruffled around in my bag to find enough quarters to use the camp showers and Oliver dutifully pointed out every truck and motorcycle he could spot on the road below. We headed into town to share baked eggs and a brownie at Rose’s before catching the ferry back home, stopping only to run around the rocky beach in Eastsound, where Oliver lugged driftwood from the shore and pushed it into the water with genuine gusto. I snapped a few photos of him by the shore grinning, stood up, and thought I might as well lug a piece to the water, too. I can’t say that I’d ever done that before.
With Samin’s tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes and cubed heirlooms, this salad boasts tomatoes three ways. That being said, keeping it simple and drizzling the vinaigrette over sliced heirlooms with a sprinkle of flaky salt is still summer at its best. Here you’ll have leftover dressing; it keeps for a good four days and makes a great dip for crusty bread. This salad is best served room temperature the day its made, and if you want to really do it justice enjoy it right away.
Tomato Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup):
For the Dressing:
In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegars for 15 minutes to macerate.
Halve the tomato crosswise. Grate on the largest hold of a box grater and discard the skin. You should be left with about 1/2 cup grated tomato. Add it to the shallot. Add the basil, oil, and a generous pinch of salt. Smash the garlic against the counter with the palm of your hand and add to the dressing. Shake or stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt or acid as needed. Let sit for about 10 minutes, and remove garlic before using.
For the Salad:
In a large bowl, combine the heirloom tomatoes, grape tomatoes and fold in 1/3 cup dressing. Top with feta and chives and a sprinkle of flaky salt. Serve immediately.
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.