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!
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)