One of my many happy things about being back in the Los Angeles area, is the food. I missed the restaurants, but I also missed the produce and the ethnic markets fiercely.
Lately I’ve been enjoying garden bounty: Squash from one person with an overflowing garden. Lemons from another with heavy trees. Tomatoes from a friend who is growing more than her household will eat.
It is such a wonderful thing. Because it is fresh, the flavor and nutritional values are higher. Because it is free, the financial benefit is awesome. Because it is what is available right then, it forces me to think of ways to make use of them, which often leads to meals I wouldn’t normally think to shop for.
Most of all, for me, food is so much about caring. When the ingredients are gifted to me through my network of human connections and interactions, it ties me to the positive. As I cook, I think of where ingredients came from. I think of whom they are going to feed. I think about ingredients loved by people I love. I think of the last time I prepared a dish, and who I fed that time, or of whom I would like to feed with it. I follow the threads in my mind as I chop and mix and sample.
Onions and cucumbers came from the CSA last week, and my daughter requested a cucumber salad. As I prepared it I thought back two summers to being in New York City, when a different CSA delivery led to a different cucumber salad. It was prepared by a dear friend as we worked together in the kitchen to create a feast from CSA items and food treasures collected at a nearby market. I know this is part of why my daughter wanted the salad too, because of her memory of that NYC salad, and because the friend was extra on our mind because she had a birthday this week. Every future cucumber salad will always remind both of us, of that one, and no other will ever be quite as good, because some food moments are so right.
With my bounty of tomatoes I made gazpacho, which is pretty much a perfect summer treat. It makes some use of the lemons as well. Lemons can be used pretty much daily in cooking, especially during the summer, which is the perfect time for multiple salads. Anything to stay cooler.
I’ve been cooking on the grill a lot lately, even things I wouldn’t normally cook on the grill (like banana bread). This is because it is fuck-all hot and I don’t want to heat the kitchen up further. The rest of the tomatoes I slow cooked into a delicious tomato sauce using the grill. I suppose all this unattended cooking out there could eventually lead to my house burning down, but whatever, in Southern California I can survive without housing longer than I can survive without food.
Half of the tomato sauce is in the freezer waiting for another use. The other half, I simmered ground and seasoned lamb patties in. Those I served over portabella mushrooms, stuffed with a mixture of spinach, goat cheese, extra garlic, basil, and pine nuts (and cooked on the grill, of course). The abundance of squash has been sliced up, lightly salted, spritzed with ACV and grilled. Everything gets grilled.
The heat has been leading to a desire for cooler and more refreshing cocktails as well. I brought home mint the other day so the bartender could make me mojitos. The peels from the cucumbers for the cucumber salad, I used to flavor vodka overnight, along with mint sprigs. Then that made cucumber mint spritzers the next night.
The heat wave finally broke yesterday, after a week of evil yellow ball in the sky trying to kill us all weather. It is still summer though. It will still be a grilled dinner tonight with refreshing cold side dishes and beverages, just with less lethargy and overheated misery.