Time is so squishy. It just up and disappears on a person, without warning. Here we are, Tuesday Wednesday again, despite all evidence (and my to-do list) to the contrary.
This week is one of those well-padded ones, full to bursting, plus leftovers. So let's dispatch with some good things, in no particular order, and get on with it, yes?
:: Cynthia Rylant writes chapter books!!!! Pulling links for last week's Henry and Mudge mention, I stumbled on this and this. Zoë has since vetted (and devoured) book one in both series; we're now not-so-patiently awaiting next installments of each. I am new to "girl books" and, oh wow, really? So many seem print analogs to "girl clothes", sassy, catty, superficial. What's up? These are the cable knit cardigans of girl books, the romp-and-stomp jeans and warm woolly leggings and carefree unstarched stretchy calico dresses. Of books. Five stars. Rylant scores again.
:: Just finished this.
:: Just starting this. Thirty-one pages in, and head over heels. How have I never read Ray Bradbury? And what else should I read?
:: It's all very splendor in the ruins, out there. Not helped by the fact that I seem to have decided on a deeply-passive-aggressively au naturel approach to Fall gardening. Sounds better than "I can't be bothered", don't you think?
:: And yet, there are buds and blooms everywhere. Beans, zinnias, tomatoes, all of it; Mother Nature carrying on, in spite of herself, flying in the face of her own forward march.
:: My friend Shauna is launching a gluten-free flour blend, no gums, no gimmicks, just her years-in-the-making, cup-for-cup mix. And if the flour gets funded? A gorgeous, nutrient-dense, grain-free blend, to follow! Cool beans. No advertorial, here; this is pure me, knowing her, knowing her blend will lead the pack. Nah. Scratch that. Will blow all others out of the water. Her Kickstarter's here.
:: We turned twenty-five pounds of tomatoes into sauce, recently. And then, the next week, another twenty-five. And even if I'm inclined to press tinned tomatoes into service, next year, for our annual sauce-fest, there is this: all three kids now eat spaghetti and sauce. Without complaint. Sometimes even with cheers. Took three years of trying, this triumph. These tomatoes were key.
:: Living far away from family and friends has few upsides. Care packages headline the very short list. Especially when you can include thoroughly annotated copies of sophisticated texts, like Will It Waffle?
:: We went apple picking recently. They remembered us from last year. You're the ones who picked 180 pounds! I wasn't sure what to say. Was that low? High? What do normal people pick? Our haul would've been higher, but we'd already been once, and blazed our way through 93 pounds. We were only replenishing. Probably most people pick more. (This year, we only managed 130 pounds. Though I did find myself at another orchard, today. And came home with another ten pounds. We heart apples.)
:: This kid baked the better part of two pies in two days. Apple (see above) and coconut cream (mind-numbingly good). I didn't tell him crusts were supposed to be scary. Sure enough, he was fearless. And expert. A natural.
:: Somehow, a cup of cocoa ended up in our granola, last week. Plus some coconut oil and random whatnots. Holy bejeepers. Dangerous, glorious stuff. Do we need to discuss further? We may need to discuss further...
:: These vending machines!
:: We have fourteen pumpkins on our porch, and the green-light to use our viola bow, and jeans finally edging out shorts in our drawers. HELLO, FALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
:: But first: a proper send-off to Summer. Summer is still hanging on, dangling impossibly like Zoë's front teeth, for-seeming-ever. We've seen North of eighty, this past week; also, almost freezing. It won't be long. But for now, the tomatoes keep rolling in, and since I've meant to sing this salad's praises since Spring, I'd best hustle. You need to know.
I've been eating this gem at least once a week since I scored Peter Miller's Lunch at the Shop, last March. If you happened to miss this slender, small press, slightly esoteric cookbook release, you're not alone. It seems more than a little bit niche, its author, of all things, the owner of a Seattle architectural bookstore, who's collected some thoughts and recipes on how to assemble staff lunch in a small retail shop.
No, not even remotely my life, either.
No matter. Miller writes for Everyeater. Consider: "This book is a manifest to lunch, a script to making a meal for yourself and a few others... The job is not complex, and it is not clever. You are simply taking a part of the day back into your own hands, making it personal and a pleasure." Or: "Beans took a turn toward obscurity in the 1950s. They stood around looking unmodern in a world that wanted very much to move ahead and be modern." Or my favorite: "At its best, lunch is at right angles to the workday. It is a separate stop, not a blur between items on your to-do list." (Hello, Me eating, standing, multi-tasking. Sit down, already. Right angles, RIGHT ANGLES!)
Surface scratchings, these. But typical. Miller's every meditation is ace; his advice, uniformly no-nonsense; and every bite, something I myself would/could gladly make/eat, any day. His is universal eating advice, simple, sensible, unstintingly delicious. If you eat, ever, alone or with others, in the home or the office, and find yourself pressed for time/energy/ideas/money, go get your hands on a copy of Lunch. My copy's pages are all falling out. At six months. It's a gem.
Case in point: this jewel of a salad. It is, in fact, a riff on Miller's "Lentils, Laid Out with Avocado and Feta", which first introduced me to the idea of co-mingling these three. I love lentils and feta, and avocado and feta, but somehow, had never married the three. ("The diffculty of lentils is simply remembering them...") So much lost time! Together, they make magic. Four pages forward, Miller mentioned a salad of lentils and tomatoes, and I made a mental note. Soon enough, I began adding walnuts. And inevitably, arugula, because greens "...give the meal life, freshness, and detail." (See? And a side of Oxford commas, to boot!) And before the month of April was out, I was eating this salad every chance I could get.
It's just the thing. The original trio of avocado, lentils and feta bring heft, luxury and twang. Tomatoes cut the rich smartly, juicily. The arugula is its sprightly-spunky self, leaf and spice, all at once. Walnuts, always welcome in a salad, are just so specifically right here, their toasty sweet and earthy crunch a counterpoint to all of the above. Absent one element, it still works; I've had to omit sometimes tomatoes, sometimes lentils, sometimes (like today, when I opened not one but two bum avocados, grrrr...) avocado. Still, awfully good.
But all together? Sharp leaves and bright fruit, pockets of crunch and tiny legumes, kicky cheese and soft celadon cubes? Really awfully fantastically good. Even with out-of-season tomatoes, the ones I buy my tomato-loving child year-round, the red-but-not-ripe ones, more crisp than sweet, the only ones avaible to me back in April? Even with those. Very, very awfully good. But right now, with summer's stragglers still coming in, properly ripe, sweet through-and-through? I've called it lunch four times, this week. Let the evidence stand.
Even Zoë's two top teeth, which hung on longer than any teeth I've yet met, finally gave up the ghost. She's now a walking, talking Jack-o'-lantern. With braids. And dimples. (Freeze frame?) This suggests the tomatoes are on a short leash. Quickly, then: off with you. Time for lunch.
Lentils, Avocado, Tomatoes on Arugula + Feta
inspired by Peter Miller's Lunch at the Shop
Yield: 4 side salads or 2 hefty mains
Like all salads, this is highly scalable, up or down. I'll often make half this and call it a hearty lunch. Or double it for a feast with friends. Cooked lentils and toasted walnuts are staples in my home; I keep quantities on hand, most weeks, making this a five-minute toss-together. See footnotes below, for prep notes on both, and cook extras, to tap into all week. Finally, I've been crushing hard on this maple- and dijon-vinaigrette, in recent weeks. I'm a barebones dressing girl, making up my own big bottle every week. But these two simple adds are so, so good with Fall salads. Triple the quantities. You won't be sorry.
8 cups arugula
1 cup cooked green lentils*
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or 2 medium tomatoes)
heaping 1/2 cup toasted walnuts**
heaping 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
2 tsp. maple syrup, preferably grade B
2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbs. cider or sherry vinegar
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Make dressing: Add first four ingredients to a lidded jar, and swirl well to combine. Add olive oil, then cap, and shake well to emulsify.
Assemble salad: Place arugula in a large salad bowl. Halve cherry tomatoes, and add to bowl. (If using large tomatoes, cut into 1" dice.) Cube avocados, and add. Roughly chop toasted, cooled walnuts, and add to bowl, along with crumbled feta and cooked, cooled lentils. Shake dressing again briefly, and drizzle over all. Gently, thoroughly toss everything to combine (I do this with clean hands), and enjoy.
*Lentil Cookery: We are talking lentilles du puy, here, the green French lentils that hold their shape in the pot (and beyond). Available anywhere bulk items are sold, and in many bean aisles. To cook: Place 1 cup of lentils plus 1 teaspoon solt in a medium pot, and add enough water to cover lentils by 1". Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, to keep lentils at a low simmer. Cook, uncovered, 25-35 minutes, until lentils are tender but not mushy. Test a few, and when done to your liking, drain. This will yield 2+ cups of cooked lentils. Eat extras warm and buttered, or with sausages, or refrigerate up to 1 week, to add to soups, salads, and grains.
**Toast walnuts in a preheated 350° oven for 12-14 minutes, or until the the kitchen smells of maple and the nuts are a twitch darker. Set a timer and stay close. Five extra minutes, and incredible becomes inedible. Allow to cool before adding to salad.