GARDEN SIMPLICITY: SEASONAL AWARENESS


*Note – I wrote this post at the end of July

Dear Summer,
Please slow down. I love the scent of freshly mown grass and the rose bush I planted in June smells delightfully like cinnamon. I promise to immerse more than my toes into Lake Superior and eat copious amounts of watermelon and strawberries. I will wear sunglasses every day and make a wish on each falling star that I stay up late enough to catch. I will savor and appreciate your bounty, until you must leave. Please do not forget to serenade us with a kaleidoscope of vibrant leaves.
Your devoted friend, 

Amy

My post today may not be as much of a recipe as it is a lifestyle. Okay, that sounds rather corny. However, it is true.

At the end of June I turned 50. Honestly, I prepared myself for this number (yes, I know, age is only a number). However, I wanted to appreciate the years that I have lived and the wisdom that I have gained. Our days go by quickly if we let them. I always try to observe the world with the sensibility of a writer. I try to pay attention, document, and reflect on my observations.

When it comes to cooking, it only makes sense to me that we also rely on what is fresh and abundant in our lives. For my family that means that we eat chicken, pork, eggs, and the vegetables that we raise ourselves. It also means that we try to seek out local farm raised food when we can. 

I have felt a little off kilter the past few weeks. We returned from a family vacation and the day we were scheduled to leave for Alaska, we had to say goodbye to my husband John’s devoted police K9 Nitro. However, it was not just our goodbye. My husband’s entire department and law enforcement network mourned, along with our entire community. K9 Nitro diligently served and kept us all safe. His sudden and unexpected loss feels raw and uncomfortable. On behalf of my husband and his colleagues, we are all thankful for the community outreach. The cards, the messages, the social media posts, and all the thoughts and prayers. We are also thankful that K9 Nitro was one of the featured neighbors on the cover of Marquette Neighbors magazine. What a precious keepsake that issue is to my husband and our family. 

This afternoon I decided that I needed to stop and appreciate summer because it felt like it was slipping through my fingers. I went out to our hoop house and picked some garden goodness: beans, peas, spinach, zucchini, dill, basil, and mint. I whipped up a dijon vinaigrette dressing and enjoyed a lovely, sunshine filled plate. 

This salad is one of my favorites to make for a gathering. It’s beautiful, vibrant, and seems to be much more appreciated than the tossed salads that we are often accustomed to. I am sure that I have not been alone when I open up the refrigerator after a gathering to find a soggy leftover salad. I like to assemble it on a tray, instead of a bowl, and the presentation seems to help entice people to pile it onto their plates (after all, we do eat with our eyes first). 

Today I made a single serving (though I did share a few bites with my husband). So if you plan on making it for a crowd, increase the amount of ingredients. 

GARDEN SIMPLICITY SALAD

*¼ zucchini sliced as thinly as possible

*Handful of beans

*Handful of peas

*Few leaves of baby spinach and kale (greens of your choice)

*Sprig of mint finely chopped

*Sprig of basil julienned 

*A couple of sprigs of chopped dill
*2 teaspoons of onion finely sliced

*1 teaspoon of dijon mustard

*1 lemon, juice and zest

*1 Tablespoon of parmesan cheese

*2 Tablespoons of olive oil

*Salt & Pepper to taste

Thinly slice the zucchini and add one layer to a plate (tray if you are making a large amount). Sprinkle the zucchini with ½ the lemon juice. Lightly add ½ the olive oil, salt, pepper, thinly sliced onion, and ½ the parmesan cheese. The acid in the lemon juice will “cook” the zucchini and make it soft. You can “shingle” the zucchini slices and layer them (dividing up the lemon juice and olive oil). Sprinkle the top with the basil.

In a small bowl combine ½ the juice and the zest of a lemon. Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, the dijon mustard, ½ the onion, the mint, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk well.

Clean and chop the beans and peas and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain well and instantly immerse in a bowl of ice water. You do not want the vegetables to cook through and become limp, but remain crispy.

Add the spinach, kale, peas, and beans to the plate. Sprinkle with the vinaigrette and add fresh dill and the rest of the parmesan to the top.

This salad is best when prepared in advance. I like to let the zucchini set for at least 30 minutes so the lemon juice can work its marinating magic.

You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand: asparagus blanches well and crisp cucumbers are refreshing with the combination of dill and mint. You can also add hard boiled eggs, feta cheese, olives and your favorite protein source (whether it is salami, chicken, almonds, tofu, or beans).

The most important ingredient for this salad is that you embrace it with a summer state of mind. So spread out a blanket for a picnic on the lawn, toss it into your cooler for the beach, or arrange it on your favorite crystal plate and pour yourself a glass of crisp white wine or peach iced tea. 

Summer will be here for a while longer. Enjoy, savor it, and do not forget to share your abundance with your neighbors. After all, you cannot let a good zucchini go to waste!


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