In year's past, I've made a Summer Bucket List, kind of mapping out what I wanted to do, accomplish or see during these fleeting warm months in Seattle. Usually there are a few things to learn or do more of (bake more bread, crochet) but this year is looking different. This year I'm focusing on getting better at doing ... nothing.
Weeknight dinners were something I rarely gave much thought to as an actual subject in and of themselves until we had Oliver. Before, there wasn't any urgency around the dinner hour: we poured a glass of wine, opened the cupboards and chatted about what may or may not sound good. I remember taking lots of pre-dinner walks, admiring all of the bungalows in our neighborhood, or running down to the beach with Sam before we'd come back into the house, sweaty and tired and hungry. Today there's much more urgency and I feel like we're constantly looking at the clock. There are fewer walks and -- count them -- exactly zero runs. We definitely have nights where we reach for an easy pack of ramen or a store bought salad mix. That said, so often when we as a culture talk about weeknight cooking, it falls into the rhetoric of dumbing down dinner: How can we use all the store bought shortcuts to make this assembling process a breeze? And truth be told: urgency or not, I still want to cook; I don't just want to assemble.
We just got home from a long trip back East to visit both sides of our family and to see my youngest sister Zoe get married in a breezy outdoor ceremony in Vergennes, Vermont. We were gone almost three weeks total, which, towards the end started to feel like a really long time; I couldn't help but wonder if the leaves were turning on the tree across the street from our house or daydream about all the mail we'd have waiting for us (I'm a real fan girl of good and even quite marginal mail days). From the Adirondack mountains and Burlington, Vermont to New Brunswick, New Jersey, we were in planes, boats and cars on this trip and pretty far removed from our typical routines. And while I'm getting a lot better about going with the flow and letting unstructured days unfold as they will, having access to a few staples in the kitchen always makes me feel a bit more settled wherever we are.
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.
I'm sitting here in my bright, sunny 9th floor Los Angeles hotel room staring out at the Hollywood Hills, drinking odd boxed water (Ohhhh, L.A.) with room service iced coffee on the way. I should be checking out one of the many cafes I've been wanting to try or exploring Koreatown but instead, I felt like checking in with you (and having a real, uninterrupted moment with this iced coffee). I'm traveling this week for pure pleasure -- something I haven't done since Oliver was born -- and while I have a few things on my to-do list before I meet up with friends in Venice for the weekend, the biggie is spending some quiet downtime reading, writing, brainstorming, sunning, drinking overpriced smoothies, and getting a little clarity on work and where to put my best efforts right now. To gain more spaciousness of mind, as one of my former yoga teachers would say. On the flight here, I kept thinking about writers, bloggers and publications that are inspiring me right now, and what they're doing that ultimately makes them special. The answer isn't shocking: authentic voice and niche -- carving out a space for yourself and communicating within that space in a genuine-to-you way. So I'd love to talk about keying into that in the places we work, commune, and play. And how to find more spaciousness in all those places.
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.
In the introduction to the Summer chapter of my cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, I talked about my approach to summer cooking -- how it should be easy and effortless. How ironic it is that with all of the beautiful produce and fruit in the markets, summer meals are usually the ones that feel the most haphazard and thrown together. I used to get down on myself about this, wondering why I never took advantage of all the beautiful squashes and tomatoes and fresh herbs, making more complex meals or interesting new recipes. Instead I often rely on simple dinners of sliced tomatoes, cheese and good bread or big leafy salads with homemade buttermilk dressing. Dessert is often a simple bowl of berries or a scoop (or two) of homemade ice cream. I think moving to Seattle a few years ago changed the way I think about summer cooking. I'm no longer hard on myself or set any major expectations for kitchen goals or recipes to tackle. When it's light until 9 or 10 p.m. and you happen to have the warmest June on record, the picnic table in the backyard is too inviting to pass up and standing at the stove can ... wait. Plus, what better way to celebrate all of the beautiful summer produce than doing very little to it and letting it speak for itself? That's what this Summer Squash Pasta with Ricotta Pesto and Tomatoes is all about: simple, delicious, summer "cooking." We've eaten this twice a week now for the past few weeks, mixing up the add-ins and the type of pesto -- some nights making a cashew pesto, other nights experimenting with a kale and arugula version. This recipe today uses a creamy, summer-worthy ricotta pesto and fresh little grape tomatoes. It doesn't require any cooking and, this past week, we discovered on a rather impromptu trip to Orcas Island that it's easy to make on the road, too. And even more satisfying, perhaps. One of the things I most love about this blog is the way I can look back through the seasons and years and glean a sense of what that time felt like for me, judging by the food I was eating, the things I was baking, the stories I was telling. If there is just one recipe that will speak to the way we ate this summer, this is it: We can't get enough.
This recipe is the result of a convergence of two obsessions: Rancho Gordo beans and Tessa Kiros, the lovely and talented writer and cookbook author. She's of Finnish and Greek-Cypriot heritage and has wandered the world, detailing her experiences and memories through food. Recently, my dad gave me Falling Cloudberries for my birthday and I've been slowly leafing through it each night, wishing it'd never end. The photos are just dreamy, and the recipes are both evidence of Tessa's heritage (classic finnish meatballs with lingonberry jam, stroganoff, and moussaka) and a postcard from her travels (spinach and truffle pies, champagne risotto, and lemon vanilla jam). It's one of those books where it's truly hard to decide how and where to begin. Lucky for me, the decision just showed up on my desk with a bag of colorful Christmas lima beans.