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.
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?)