Monday, July 23, 2012

Free days, and every day, and summer salad.

Free days are the best. We don't get very many of them -- mine have been mostly in the form of snow days, and even those are few and far between, living in an area where a foot or so of snow is something easily shrugged off, and nothing less than a blizzard can keep Chicagoans off the roads and into the office. But a free day, on a Friday, in the middle of the summer, with no access to work email or networks or servers? It's like being gifted with a mini vacation. The day just looks different, feels endless, when you have nine hours that would otherwise be spent in a cubicle or in rush-hour traffic, to instead be used however you want.

To the summer storm that blew in last week and left my office without power on Friday: Thank you.

So I made breakfast. I did laundry. I had lunch with Murdo. I drove to my in-laws' house with the windows down, enjoying the short break from the sweltering heat that has been pounding us all summer, to pick up the rest of the corn freshly-picked from the family farm. As I passed by other drivers, I wondered where they were headed, if this was a normal Friday for them, or if they had been gifted with a free day, as well. I got to wondering how people spend their days when they realize how much of a gift they really are.

It's tough to remember that every day is a gift when you're just going through the motions of the weekly routine. I hadn't really thought about it until just now, writing about this free day as the best thing ever. But shouldn't every day be like this? Even if you're stuck in the office or in traffic or if you don't have the time to do what you want, there is no reason to set the everyday aside as one that doesn't matter, to push it to the back of the shelf while the free days and snow days and vacations and weekends get the spotlight. We get so caught up in the everyday that those little moments -- the ones that a free day is often filled with and so make it easy to embrace as the best -- can get lost.

I spent most of the rest of that day in my backyard, sitting under the shade of our tree, shucking about 70 ears of corn. Then, in my kitchen, blanching and cooling and stripping the corn kernels off the cobs. Measuring, bagging, labeling, freezing. For a day sometime in winter, when the snow is eight inches high and I can come home to fresh corn chowder and think about that free day over the summer, and remember that it's the moments like these that make every day just as good.

Watermelon, Corn and Avocado Salad 
There is no way around it: This salad tastes like summer. The photo above actually doesn't even have corn in it; that was a bowl from my first try, when I added tomatoes, instead. I like it with corn, better -- it adds a different texture and sweetness. And I know this post is mostly about corn, but the juicy watermelon and the creamy avocado are the real stars. I don't really have a recipe because I didn't follow one, and I didn't measure. Just feel it out according to what you have and what you like. Here is what I did: 

chopped watermelon
chopped avocado
fresh corn, stripped from the cob
a handful of fresh basil, chopped (cilantro or mint works, too)
balsamic vinegar
olive oil

Combine everything in a bowl. Adjust balsamic and herbs to taste.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A great deal.

I’m a sucker for a good deal. Showing off a new outfit or a new piece of furniture just isn’t as satisfying if I can’t tell everyone I got it for half off the original price. That’s why when I found a dining table that I thought I loved, with a price tag that I was embarrassed to even consider paying, I hemmed and hawed for quite some time. Until finally, after being convinced that I should just splurge, that a dining table is something we want to last for years, to just do it already, I was slapped in the face with a $300 shipping charge. I couldn’t do it. Which worked out perfectly because we ended up finding a perfect table for less -- a deal we couldn’t pass up.

A good deal gets even better when everyone comes out winning in the end. Like when, a couple of months ago, my friend Chris and I decided to trade creative services: I would take photos of his new baby boy, and he would design a header for my blog.  

As you can see, the header turned out awesome -- clean, simple, bold -- just what I wanted. And Chris' family was so much fun to photograph. His home is a Pinterest board come to life. His boys are adorable. There is so much happy in that house. And that’s a huge deal, a great deal, one that just keeps getting better every day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A summer veggie rice bowl.

Sometime during all that packing and moving and getting new jobs, summer began. Not that I haven't noticed. In perfect Chicago form, June was filled with 90-plus-degree days that leave the grass yellow and parched (I have a lawn now and take note of these kinds of things) and the windows shut and people scrambling for shade wherever they can find it. On Sunday morning, I spent five minutes in the backyard trying to untangle the hose, only to return to the house with my freshly-showered face dripping in sweat. I constantly crave popscicles. A few hours of running errands in the heat leave me exhausted, my body aching for hydration, telling myself that people shouldn't be allowed out of doors in this weather without a bottle of water (or three!). 

Guys, it's hot out.

So when we moved into the new house and I learned that the stove didn't work, I didn't really mind. After all, with all the work that was to be done, there wasn't much time for cooking, and who wants to turn on the stove in this heat, anyway? Even after the new stove was installed, the first recipe I followed in my new kitchen required minimal cooking.

It still felt nice, though. Being in my kitchen, alone, the last of the evening light slowly fading away. We had just had both families over for a cookout, and the kitchen was finally empty, the dishes and serving platters cleaned and stowed away, the fridge filled with leftovers. I had been preparing food all day, and it was now Sunday evening, and I wanted to get back into my routine of preparing my lunch for the week. So I set out the ingredients and took my time, and ended up with a bowl full of summer.

Hello, July.

Summer Veggie Rice Bowl (from Cooking Light)

  • 1 1/3 cups cooked brown rice, cooled to room temperature
  • 1 cup shelled edamame (I got the ready-to-eat kind at Trader Joe's and now want to add them to everything.)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup torn fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini 
  • salt and pepper
  • Parmesan cheese (grated, shredded or shaved)

  • Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl, and toss until well blended. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini and sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add zucchini and remaining 2 tablespoons oil to rice mixture and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with Parmesan cheese.
Makes 4 servings.