these days (deep summer)

IMG_8630These days I’m…

*waking to transcendent bright morning light and savoring this luminous time of year when the sun is in full blast as she welcomes me into my day

*finding succulent tomatoes and crisp garden cucumbers left on our doorstep by our neighbors almost daily

*reverting (happily) to whipping up last year’s favorite Asian Cucumber salad and crunching away on it all day long

*freezing homemade popsicles made from fresh picked berries to the delight (and utter mess-making) of my very favorite toddler

*pausing, many times a day, to notice the quiet; the absence of our beloved, old kitty Lima Bean who passed a few weeks ago

*feeling my heart grow warm every time I see this almost-3-month-old smile at me

*loving the excuse that summer gives to many people we love to come for a visit.  Loving these delightful people up while they are here.  Loving all the food we eat together.  Loving all the great places we get to take them around town.  Loving all the love they shake out on our kiddos.

*missing my sewing machine and all my fabrics.  Knowing there will be time, one of these days — some little pocket of time — to get my hands going again in my studio.

*appreciating the social nature of summer.  Summer birthday parties, summer potlucks, summer playgroups.  All kinds of reasons to gather in parks and backyards and celebrate the season and blooming friendships.

*putting fresh tomatoes and charred corn in everything I can think of.   Savoring how distinctive summer’s flavors truly are.

*hearing, for the thousandth time, “Don’t Let Me Down” being banged out on our makeshift-furniture drum set and the wailing vocals of a boy who loves music.

*feeling my heart crack open as I witness my two boys learning how to be brothers.  Feeling the newness of my sweet little babe transform, slowly, into a comfortable, most welcome known-ness…a not-so-new-now feeling.  Noticing the fresh energy he brings into our family dynamic.

*and relishing these long warm days, sweet, slow memory-making days and the green beauty of this bountiful time of year.

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summer’s best foods

Since as of today, it is officially not summer anymore (sad), I can say this:  summer was good to our bellies.  To say that this family is food- (and meal-) centric might be the understatement of the year.  There are few weekly rituals that get me more excited than the Sunday evening thumb-through the cookbooks and gastro-magazines laying around in preparation for a Monday morning grocery shop to fill in the gaps.  Between the succulent CSA produce we get on Wednesdays, the sensational Saturday farmer’s market, a wonderful grocery store a few blocks away, and some bits and pieces procured from our own garden, we have food coming through these doors from every direction, and are extremely lucky to say:  we don’t go hungry.  On the contrary, the family meal (dinner especially, but breakfast and lunch too) is a sacred event around here.

I adore trying new recipes and I also adore making old favorites over and over again — detecting the slightest changes in a dish due to when a particular fruit or vegetable is at its own seasonal peak, my generosity with the salt shaker, and probably, how much I’m rushing to get the meal on the table.  Many of my very favorite recipes from my childhood still find their way onto our dinner table throughout the year (though I almost always think it tastes better when my mom makes it.)

This summer’s evening meals were often defined by the love affair I’ve been having with Peter Berley — author of one of the best cookbooks I have ever owned.

To start, he includes two different recipes for quick-pickled cucumber salads — both of them out of this world.  I’ll reprint them later this week if I can ever take a break from making one or both of them.  Having grown tired of the same salad dressing I’ve been making for years, I’ve been loving procuring a few chives from our garden and dressing all of our salad greens with his Creme Fraiche Citronette.  Yum!

I mentioned here how much we’ve been loving Berley’s Warm Chickpea Salad with Shallots and Red Wine Vinegar, but it’s worth restating.  Suffice it to say, it’s a good thing we don’t have the same people over for dinner every night.  I’m also mad about his Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas.  It should be noted that the recipe says it serves 4.  We are huge eaters, and we still were eating quesadillas for days, so go ahead and have a party.

I’ve forced myself to veer from the Berley book, and to great results, because we’ve also served this  Charred Corn Salad with Mint, Parsley, and Cilantro  from Food and Wine several times to guests alongside a simple dill potato salad or some roast chicken or my friend Zach’s 3-ingredient purple slaw (red onion, red wine vinegar — let that sit for a while — and olive oil.)  It all went down easy.  (Except the time I over-did it with the jalapeño but then it became a Charred Corn and Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Salad,as I threw in every chopped vegetable from our refrigerator to tone down the spice.  That was good too.)

And with the tomatoes now in full flow — coming from our yard, our neighbors, the mailman (via a special tomato farmer friend in NY), and the CSA — we are in full effect finding ways to use them, my favorite being a recipe I clipped from Whole Living Magazine,  Farro Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Marcona Almonds.  It is not only delicious (and  I especially adore the surprise salty almond crunch on top), but it feels so summer-y to make because it’s a no-cook sauce.  The tomatoes marinate with all the other ingredients for a few hours and then you toss it with the pasta. We add pecorino cheese too.    “It’s not exactly ‘grandma’s sunday sauce’” I was reminded by our resident full-blooded Italian grandpa, but I’m telling you, it’s summer pasta at it’s freshest.

Whether we are indoors around a candlelit table, outside with the lanterns and the bugs, or at the park with picnic leftovers, these summer evening meals, as the heat of the day hits its peak and the light burns bright just before its initial descent — they are the sweetest, most delicious, time to gather.  Tonight for the 1st time: Eggplant, Pear, and Pecorino Salad, Corn Farrotto, and tomato…something.  I’ll keep you posted.