Let’s cut to the chase--it has been an objectively terrible few weeks. People in Houston, Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bangladesh, and India have had their lives uprooted by devastating storms. Members of the United States Congress, elected to serve their constituents, have instead remained hell bent on taking away access to healthcare. North Korea is… North Korea. And this week, the heartbreak hit home when Jolene, our cat and the light of our lives, was diagnosed with heart disease. The connection between anxiety and compassion fatigue and physical health was made clear to me by the fact that I’ve been nauseous, more or less, for two weeks straight.
And so, what do I do, after the cat has taken her medication and I’ve donated as much as I can afford and my members of Congress have been called? I cook. I cook for my health--both mental and physical--and to remember that even when the world seems too horrific to handle, it is still the best time of year for beautiful produce and sometimes a perfect plum is reminder enough that there is good in the world. But, when life is difficult, it is helpful to have some flexible back-pocket recipes to use with whatever is in season so you don’t have to think too hard. Here are two that I’ve used throughout the summer to make the most of our CSA share without reinventing the wheel.
First, a savory idea: panzanella, which is truly the best of both worlds. It’s salad with BREAD in it, you guys. Italians are genius. I usually riff on this recipe. Basically, you’re making croutons and a vinaigrette, and adding them to whatever veggies you’ve got. It’s great with tomatoes and cucumbers, as pictured above; roasted zucchini and herbs, as in the photo at the top of the post; or even squash and brussels sprouts in the winter. You can make whatever vinaigrette you like, but I usually go with a simple mix of red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil. And I always finish it off with some grated parmigiano-reggiano. (I apologize for the inherent pretension in mentioning the Italian name, but once you’ve tasted the real stuff, you can’t go back to the shaky-can “parmesan”.) Whenever I have part of a loaf of bread that’s on its last legs, I throw it in the freezer so it’s available to make panzanella whenever I want. Which is often.
For dessert, I’ve been obsessed with this recipe for shortbread bars from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve made it with nectarines and plums so far, and both have been delicious. It’s a little time-consuming because of the need to make brown butter, but it’s worth it.
I hope the start of fall brings better times for us all, friends.
PS: For those wondering about my cheesemaking adventures--I tried again this past weekend, and failed again, as my milk refused to curdle. I am not giving up (yet). More to come (maybe).