I have spent the last week way, way too cozy with phrases like "netsh winsock reset" and Preferred DNS Server and Anti-Virus Intrusion Protection. Poetic, mellifluous things. And about as fun as they sound. I apologize, then, in advance, for whatever mish-mash follows. I'm underslept and incoherent and absent my ordinary. But I'm here, and that's no small victory.
You know how it is. Technology's lovely until it isn't. Your year-old laptop elects, one day, to cease and desist all browser fuctionality. As in, browsers don't work. Plural. All three. Even though the wi-fi connection's strong and sound. Why? Why? (Why yes, that is the sound of me muffling my own shrill squeal.) Well, I and a few thousand others would like to know...
Seems it's a common problem. Google's abuzz. Some folks have been sorting it out for eight months. Online access being a frill and all. Non-essential. (Windows 8.1 and I have had a few words.)
And I don't know whether I've ever mentioned this, but I was an IT Director once, and so, although that once was over a decade ago, and so in tech terms, the Dark Ages, or maybe, more likely, the Jurassic, still, these things do not scare me.
I can cmd.exe even Windows 8.1, the most opaque operating system that ever was. I am not fooled by its tiles and pretty pictures. I know there's a DOS prompt, deep under that flashy hood.
I research. Scan comments. Mine forums. Cross-reference oblique hints from guys named GWizz, Slimboss007, Makaveli. (Scout's honor. My fiction's not that good.) I read lengthy, grammatically horrifying threads that are punctuation wastelands and fearsome run-ons and sometimes, sometimes, troubleshooting gold. (Don't tell Weird Al.)
I empathize as folks vent their panic and veer from apoplectic to apocolyptic, and back again. I keep cool. Change the registry. Reboot modems. Tweak DNS settings. I KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON AND JIMINY CRICKETS THE THING STILL WON'T CONNECT. Really, really not a Big Problem. I know Big Problems. This is lower-case pittance territory. But oh boy oh boy, it's an aggravating pittance.
(Deep breath.) Last week, I wandered through a weed-edged field, and whoosh, just like that, my childhood weed/plant hang-up rushed in. I always took issue with weeds, as a kid. Not their proliferation, because, well, who cared? Dandelions rampant? Clover on a tear? Buttercup invading every last inch? So? The more, the merrier!
Weeds were wonderful, glorious things, the garden's own all-you-can-eat buffet. Always abundant. Always okay for picking. Always endlessly useful. Dandelions for wishes. Clovers for luck. Buttercups for certifying butter-love. (My chin always glowed a vigorous yellow. If anything, it understated the case.) All of it, perfect mud-pie fodder.
What's more, adults' bizarre penchant for pulling these lovelies seemed downright masochistic. Why fuss the lawn, when crabgrass is so generous? Why baby the lilies, when morning glory blooms freely? Why stoop and bend and complain no end about excavating some plants, just to grow others?
I would never.
What I didn't understand then, what would take me years decades to reconcile, was that weeds are less prejudice than trade-off analysis. Our gardens, be they deck pot or dirt plot, are inherently limited resources. Only so much soil, only so much sun, and always, always, so many wants. Carrots! Beets! Crucifers! Big gangly tomatoes! Bright flowers! Huge berry patches! Giant sprawling apple orchards!!!
Dandelions are nice, and easy, to boot, but on balance, raspberries do taste better, and if I give the former free reign, the latter will suffer. So I stoop. Weeds block the light, hog the water, gorge the soil. Weeds are what get in the way of what we want.
Hmmm. Wonder where that leaves computers.
Were you to walk through our yard, right now, you'd likely group cucumbers with buttercups. I wouldn't; they're not weeds; not yet. Though, our cucumbers have taken over. They've invaded the hostas, and anemones, and ferns, and herbs, and corn and potatoes. They've grown over the path and under the bench and curled through things twelve feet from their crown. I stopped tallying our harvest at 47. This, from three plants. That was last Sunday. We are wealthy in cucumbers.
We've made refrigerator pickles. A triple batch. Shauna's cucumber soup, times two. Greek salad, several times over. Actually, all salad, any salad, includes cucumbers, right now, in our home. Probably yours also, if you've recently been by. We've been sending all visitors home, hands full. I think only the mailman's remained immune. Cucumbers don't clip to the mail slot, very well. Which is fine, because as inundated as we are, I've yet to tire of our cucumber invasion, in no small part because of this salad.
I first improvised this combo in Maine, a tossed-together, ad hoc affair. Few things so born are worth remembering. This one, I can't forget.
It involves equal parts sweet corn and cucumber, cut small to fit on fork or spoon. There are peanuts, lots, salted and toasted and roughed up just enough to dapple the veg. And coconut, big thick unsweetened flakes, toasted to brittle and very deep gold. The whole thing's glossed with vinegar and oil, well-salted and spiked with fresh pepper. I often over-think it, and so might you, so here are some ways not to go wrong. Sometimes I add a fistful of fresh herbs, mint or cilantro, minced fine and tossed through. Sometimes I add chickpeas, which are all kinds of lovely, earthy tender pops to that chorus of crunch. Sometimes, I complicate the dressing, swap in lime for vinegar, add cumin or coriander, scatter over some young fresh white cheese. Excess, all. Good excess, but still.
It's such a simple, straight-up thing—two standard summer veg, two ways with nuts—that it really shouldn't add up to much. But it does. More than much. It does, because—and I've had a good twelve opportunities to consider why, since July—of the boring essentials. The corn is fresh and milky-sweet, like high Summer, signed, sealed and delivered. (Don't try this is January.) The peanuts and coconut are no cameos, but stars in their own right, present, forthright, flavor-full. And those cucumbers, the lettuce of this salad, were lettuce on serious delicious steroids, are endlessly refreshing, bright crisp forkfuls, tasting of cool water and green.
The peanuts' rich crunch pings the cucumbers' mild same. The corn and coconut bring their own sweet snap, separate, specific, swell. The tumbling together of all of the above means all kinds of interesting to the tooth. And while it won't resurrect laptops, and while it's the last reason to whip up a batch, it will make a dent in a cucumber surfeit so ample as to seem like weeds. And feed you swimmingly, at the same time. A win-win, by my analysis.
Cucumber, Corn, Coconut + Peanut Salad
I tend to toast sheet pans full of coconut monthly, dipping into the results for salads, snacks and such. Toasted chips keep their crisp bite for a month, sealed airtight. Toasting instructions can be found at the end. Alternatively, when we were in Maine and so without our regular stash of raw chips (bulk bins, or Bob's Red Mill), we picked up a bag of these. Very dear, and so a rare splurge, but fantastically crisp and addictive. As for peanuts, we keep a huge tin of Costco's excellent dry-roasted peanuts on hand. Planter's, however, are a mighty fine substitute.
If using the chickpeas (lovely; optional), you'll want the full portion of dressing. Without, two-thirds is likely plenty.
Finally, two eating notes: This salad makes an excellent garnish to Shauna's cucumber soup. Also, this overnights better than most salads, and is often my lunch, two days running. The peanuts soften, and the flavors mingle, and so the next day it's another salad, but a very good one, still. Useful, that.
2 medium cucumbers
2 ears corn
1 cup (packed) toasted*, unsweetened coconut chips
1 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts
15 oz. can chickpeas (optional)
1/2 cup fresh mint or cilantro (optional)
3 Tbs. cider vinegar or lime juice
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
Fetch a wide, shallow bowl. Place shucked corn cob tip-side down in the center, and holding the stem end, use a sharp paring knife to shave kernels from cob, base to tip. Rotate, and continue until cob is bare. Repeat with remaining ear. Gently break up kernel clumps with fingers. Peel (or don't; as you wish) your cucumber, and cut into 1/2" dice. Add to bowl. Very roughly chop peanuts (just a few passes with the chef's knife, enough to break up whole nuts, and convert some halves into quarters) and add. Add toasted, cooled coconut chips. Rinse, drain and add chickpeas, if using. Roughly chop fresh herbs, and add, if using.
Make dressing: In a lidded jar, place vinegar (or lime juice) and salt, and swirl to dissolve. Add olive oil, replace lid, and shake vigorously to emulsify. Pour 2/3 of dressing over salad, toss well, and taste. Add remaining dressing and/or adjust seasoning, to taste. Hail, August.
*To toast coconut chips: Preheat oven to 350°. Scatter coconut chips in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast until golden and crisp, 8-12 minutes, shaking the sheet halfway through, to shuffle chips. Stay close. Coconut burns quickly. Remove to a plate to cool.