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Things to Love About Summer

[Near Barre, Vermont, June 2010.]

An ongoing list in no particular order:

1. Days at the beach
2. Light nearly ’til 9p
3. Soft serve ice cream
4. Swimming in the Russian River
5. Swimming in the pool downtown
6. A foggy July 5 at Ocean Beach
7. Blueberries
8. Gin and tonics when it’s hot
9. Lots of rooibos tea when it’s cold
10. Peaches
11. Blueberry pie
12. Marathon training
13. Golden Gate Park at dusk
14. Cherries
15. Basil
16. Tomatoes (!!)
17. The promise of Indian Summer
18. Time off
19. Trips to Vermont
20. Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean
21. Eating dinner outside
23. Baseball season
24. The World Cup (every 4 years, but still)
25. Slow, hot August afternoons
26. Camping trips
27. Corn on the cob
28. Santa Cruz
29. Champagne in the park
30. Picnics
31. Waking up early on weekends with the light
32. Happy – if tired – farmers at the markets
33. Planning fall trips
34. Daydreaming about Greece
35. The red quinoa salad with feta and mint I am apparently addicted to and can’t stop making (and eating)

… etc.

[Maine, Father’s Day, June 2010.]

Quinoa, actually, marked June for me. I made a whole lot of it in various kitchens and there seems to be no end in sight. You know how some summers are distinguished by particular dishes that you make over and over again because they just hit something just right? (Last summer for me, I think, was the Summer of Roasted Beet Salads. The summer before that was the Summer of Roasted Fingerling Potatoes + Carrots and From-scratch White Beans with Heirloom Tomatoes.) This summer is turning into the Summer of Quinoa Salad. I couldn’t be happier.

My trip to the East Coast last month was a glorious whirlwind of family and dogs and wedding parties and World Cup games and hardly sitting down, it seemed, for more than a few minutes at a time. Except for a few wonderful meals here and there — the first night at my aunt’s house in Barre, she made me a delicious pasta dish with red peppers cooked in cream (!) and from-the-garden steamed asparagus, and I won’t even start on the Greek-inspired meal we ate in Maine at a restaurant that fed us dinner even before they’d opened to the public, complete with a proper, much-missed frappe that had Emily and I sighing over Spetses — there was a lot of rushrushrush. And all that rushrushrush does tend to stimulate the appetite. Thus this quinoa salad.

I came up with the idea en route from Vermont to Maine on an early Sunday morning (it was honestly pretty early; we were on the road by 7.30 a.m., even lacking in good coffee). Though I do like pasta, I’d eaten it every day for the previous four days, and my body was screaming for protein-vegetables-less carbs please. Quinoa came immediately to mind because a) I love it b) I love it c) it’s a gorgeous vegetarian-friendly whole grain loaded with good things like a lot of protein. Plus, did I mention I really love it?

Radishes! I thought aloud as we sped through New Hampshire bound for the coast. Definitely with chopped mint. Oh and feta. Feta for sure. I wanted some healthy crunch of fresh vegetables, a punch of lemon, the creamy swirl of tahini. And it was summerhot — all you really want when it’s like that is raw vegetables and cold salads. So then …

Once in Maine it was, like I said, too hot to do anything really except to go straight to the beach — which, being reasonable people, we did. We took sandwiches and a towel each and flung ourselves into that frigid water for a few minutes before devouring lunch and stretching out for an hour or so before the thunderstorm hit. We talked about wedding-things and life-things and cooking-things — the kind of stuff you talk about when you haven’t seen each other since February. A sailboat lolled gently just offshore and I thought again that while California owns me heart and soul Maine ranks pretty darn high in my affections. (It’s those piney woods, you see. The green fields. The rocky coast. The pale blue light.)

On the drive back, the rain pelting the windshield and the river nearly obscured by water drifting slantwise across the road, we stopped at the local garden and Emily hopped out to pick fresh mint. At home Kurt picked greens and radishes from the garden out back. And it was Father’s Day so we cooked — the quinoa salad, with lots of chopped red pepper, some spring onions, cucumber, radishes, lots of feta; baked halibut; a salad of greens from the garden — and had my parents over for dinner. We talked about wedding-things and life-things and cake-baking-things and the oil spill — the kind of stuff you talk about when you can finally sit down and catch your breath for a bit after a long drive before the madness begins again.

A few days later I made the salad again, just to have for when more people came to stay at the house if they might be hungry (which did indeed happen and the salad did indeed get eaten, sometimes topped with slices of ham. Ahem). Then when I came home to California I made it again because I just liked it so much, and then I made it yet again last weekend because I just had to.

So yeah: I’m addicted. It’s clearly my 2010 summer thing. Maybe it will become yours, too.

[Ocean Beach, July 2010.]

Here we are right smack in the middle of the year already. July slid in on a wave of fog and it is socked in here in San Francisco with no end in sight. Last night I ran in 55-degree weather into a strong headwind; I saw a girl wearing gloves as she sped past me. Everywhere but here it is hot — hot like stay-indoors-with-the-fan-on-and-air-conditioning-if-you’re-lucky-eating-cold-watermelon hot. But here — here we shiver and wear winter sweaters and make pots of tea. What a funny place California is. And how I love it.

Luckily I have my new favorite salad to tide me through these long chilly days, though I might tonight turn the oven on and revisit two years ago with a batch of roasted vegetables just because I need an excuse. Every year I forget how July is in this city and every year I (slightly) curse my choice to live here … but soon enough we slip into August, and then September, and then white-gold October, and then, oh then, you don’t want to be anywhere else.

I gotta remember this. In the meantime: scarves. Sweaters. Wool socks. Very hot coffee. Soup for lunch. You do what you have to.

East Coasters: make this quinoa salad. It will help.

Californians: our time will come.

(And dear summer, I do still love you no matter what.)


Quinoa Salad with Feta and Mint

Note: Vegans, omit the feta. It will taste just as delicious.

1 1/2 cups red quinoa (white is fine, though I prefer the red or black here as it cooks up a bit firmer, which is better for a salad; you could also do a combo of both
1 red onion, chopped
5 radishes, sliced and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into rounds, then quartered
1 red pepper, diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I crumble them in by hand)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 Tablespoons tahini
2-4 Tablespoons lemon juice
splash olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup crumbled feta
1 cup (approx.) mint, finely chopped

Make the quinoa: add grains to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, put on the lid, and let cook until all the water is absorbed. Pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool a bit.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and mint. When the quinoa is pretty cool — about room temperature if you can wait that long — add all the vegetables, walnuts, dried cranberries tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Add the feta and stir. Add about one-half of the mint, stir and taste, adjusting seasonings if necessary. Add more mint as you like and sprinkle some over the top before serving.


  1. Lived on the leftovers of this salad the week after the wedding. Was amazing. Not sure what I would’ve done without it! Just wanted to let you know it did not get wasted! Thanks again for all you did for the wedding!

  2. What a great list, although #9, and the other words about chilly weather: that’s just mean! This hot hot hot weather is making me so grumpy and I’m not very zen about it and I would give anything to sit on the back porch in a sweater with a cup of tea. There, got that out … now I will come up with my own happy summer list as I drift off to sleep.

  3. This is a wonderful list and I totally getting hooked on one dish during the Summer. Last year it was cucumbers, corn & tomatoes with feta. This year its sauteed spinach, tomatoes & mushrooms with parmasean. For some reason I pretty much stop eat meat during the Summer — don’t even miss it.

    So um, where’s the wedding cake??

    Love your blog.

  4. That salad looks wonderful, I’m definitely going to try it out this week. Also, I second pretty much every point in your summer love list – especially the gin and tonics, blueberry pie, peaches and (especially especially) the time off. I just signed up for my first half-marathon, so perhaps marathon training may well be in there someday, too!

  5. Dude! You think you’re distracting us, but NO. When do we get to see pictures of the CAKE?

    (I am going to try the salad – it looks gorgeous and delicious.)

  6. Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

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