I’m such a sucker for seasons. Each fall, I revel in the last blasts of colorful leaves before they fall to the ground and the first brisk morning that requires a jacket and boots. When winter arrives, the first snowfall leaves me breathless at its beauty. Then, as the days lengthen and spring erupts out of every bulb and tree bud, I wonder how I ever functioned without it. I swear, as appealing as climates like San Diego sometimes feel, I really don’t know what I’d do without the anticipation and satisfaction provided by shifting seasons.
At the moment, I’m clamoring for summer. For late evening walks in short-sleeved tees and sunlight after 8pm and COOKOUTS and mini golf. This weekend, after several days of positively gorgeous weather that hinted at the season to come, I quite simply couldn’t take it anymore and I pretended it had arrived right in my own kitchen by whipping up a batch of barbecue pulled pork and a simple, delightful potato salad that tastes just like summer.
I freakin’ love potato salad, and this one checks all the boxes I look for in a ideal scoop. Smooth chunks of potato still in their skins, a tangy assortment of crunchy mix-ins, cool and crisp, and most importantly, LIGHTLY DRESSED. I’m not interested in swimming through an ocean of mustard-flavored mayonnaise to uncover the 2-3 pieces of potato that may be hidden within, thank you very much. Most importantly, this salad is composed of pretty basic ingredients that I almost always have on hand and comes together fairly quickly.
I’m not sure if it’s due to years of academic schedules featuring a week-long break in March, or if it’s exhaustion from darkness and grayness and coldness of mid-west winter, but I always catch a travel bug sometime this time of year. Every year. And most of the time, I just bundle up and wait out the long weeks until warm weather returns. But not this year! In a truly fortunate turn of events, Brad’s presence was requested at a conference in Malibu, California, and I tagged along for the price of a plane ticket and half of a rental car.
The timing could not have been better. Three and a half days of sunshine, ocean breeze, and t-shirt weather was a welcome break from the chilly winter in Ohio.
When I travel, I love visiting local farmers markets, especially if my destination boasts a lengthy growing season. Because I limit my “exotic” produce purchases in Ohio to very special occasions, I jump at the chance to buy them when they’re grown just a few miles away. In southern California, I was after two things: citrus and avocados. And I came back with plenty of both! Definitely worth packing lightly so I could stuff my carry-on with produce on the flight home.
But how to use my precious cargo? I kicked it off when a bright, fresh, totally California salad.
It’s amazing how quickly the thrills of summer transform into those of fall. It’s not just about the temperature, either (in fact, that hasn’t particularly changed). The tree outside my apartment has begun dropping leaves to the ground, and with each trip to my car in the morning, those leaves announce the arrival of autumn with a delicate crunch beneath my feet. The light deepens to gold a bit more each day, and the anticipation I’ve grown accustomed to feeling around this time each year is beginning to grow.
And yet a week ago, my heart was full with summer. And so was my pantry. I’d harvested the last batch of tomatoes from my garden, and after celebrating some of them with some BLT sandwiches, I wanted to try them in a different configuration: as a salad!
This salad is inspired by one that Brad and I usually split at one of our favorite restaurants, and it’s simple enough that I’m frankly stunned I’ve never attempted something like it at home.
While most of my friends sense summer only through the seasonal changes, my university job means the seasons are still distinctively marked by the ends and beginning of semesters. It seems so recent that I was fighting graduation traffic on campus, sending Brad off on an internship, and excitedly making a list of all the recipes, garden projects, canning extravaganzas, and social outings I’d surely have time for in the balmy months of summer.
But here we are, at the beginning of August. Aaaaaaand the list is still really long. Is it possible that it’s longer?
It is. Probably because I keep ignoring the recipes I have on my list to make because I get cravings to make something out of left field. Like this.
Ah, summer. Welcomed in over Memorial Day with cookouts, good friends, and sunny weather, it’s a season of bounty in most of the States. In North Carolina, summer came (and often comes) early: the farms and gardens here are already flush with zucchini, peaches, blueberries, tomatoes, and even peppers.
I, however, skipped my market trip this week in favor of a long weekend visiting dear friends in Madison, Wisconsin.
As seems to be more and more common for me, I spent a lot of my trip observing not just the city itself, but the food. And let me tell you. I was pleasantly surprised by what Madison had to offer.
Just two blocks from my friends’ apartment, the crowds at the city’s largest farmers market were rivaled only by the huge quantities of locally produced food. At first glance, the market here looked like Durham’s two months ago: green spears of asparagus, waxy baby onions, and the first tender snap peas covered the tables.
But there were also treasures not easily obtained in the Bull City.
One would think that local market-goers would tire of cheese in the Nation’s Dairyland. But no… many booths, each of them packed with customers, purveyed cheeses aged for years and curds made only hours before (some of which may or may not have returned in my backpack with a small ice pack). Even beyond the tiny white tops of the farmers market, it was clear that Madison loves its food.
Some days, there is time to make fresh pasta. Fancy desserts. Elaborate multi-course meals.
Most days though, it’s all I can do to get out the door in the morning toting a breakfast and lunch, and on show days, dinner, so that I can avoid the oh-so-tempting bounties of college food available at work. Especially in January, when fresh food is somewhat difficult to come by and most of my cravings are for something warm and filling.
But I’ve found an answer. An answer to the winter blues, the I-don’t-feel-like-cooking doldrums, and the whoa-we-have-so-much-leftover-turkey-from-the-holidays reality in my freezer.
Sierra’s turkey salad.
I know I’m probably way late catching this train. I’ve never really been a fan of chicken salads and won’t come within ten feet of tuna salads, so I suppose I thought turkey salad would be equally unpleasant. I. Was. Wrong.
Mmmmm spring. The time when my cravings for cool, green salads kicks into full gear. Lucky for me, the tables at the farmer’s market are bowing under the weight of every kind of lettuce, cabbage, chard, and shoot I could possibly want. In fact, here, we are lucky to have two major growing seasons for leafy greens, as well as a fair amount all winter. It’s fabulous.
Bok choy is actually a pretty new leafy green for me, introduced to me in this recipe from Brad’s mother on their visit last fall. For some reason, I’ve made it with lasagne both times we’ve had it. It makes a great side for pasta.
Sidebar: if you don’t already know who Brad is, I should probably bring you in the loop since he’ll probably be mentioned a lot here. I really hate the word “boyfriend” (for some reason I always think of giggling tweens when I say it) but it’s a challenge to find an accurate word for what he is to me. Domestic partner? Significant other? Un-wed spouse? Romantic roommate? Best best friend? Anyway, you get the point.