summer

"Gardening" by Leslie Contreras Schwartz + Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed Tomatoes with Arborio Rice and Potatoes

My cookbooks have a new home. 

You see, summer snuck up on me for one rather monumental reason: we moved. The whole thing was somewhat unexpected, and the short story with the happy ending is we found a new place to call home and moved in record time (10 days to be exact). I'm tired just typing that. 

The unpacking, naturally, took a bit longer.

June was also the month spent reviewing the copyedits for my cookbook, so this season I've been all about simple cooking, and revisiting some old favorites. And because my cookbooks look all fresh and perky on the shelf, I've taken to pulling them down one by one, flipping through a section or two, and cooking my meals for the week from what I find inside. I'm so glad I've started doing this again. 

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

The most recent cookbook I've lost myself in is Rachel Roddy's My Kitchen in Rome. This one I was eager about from the start. It seems like so long ago now that Rachel announced she was even writing a cookbook, and I couldn't wait to order my copy. Sadly, we had to wait even longer for the U.S. version to arrive, but it was worth the extra months.

My Kitchen in Rome is beautifully written, truly. My remarks here likely do not do it justice. You should know that if you find yourself on the couch one afternoon, you will be transported to Italy and your heart might ache just a little bit when you realize you are actually not there.

But that is where food does its magic work, because I've been calling myself a Roman for the past couple of weeks by spooning beans over bread and stuffing the first tomatoes from my farmers' market. I've also been reading some poetry. Not as much as I should be, but enough to stumble across this lovely little poem.

 


Gardening

by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

There is too much work:
the turning of soil,
the watering, and pulling
the bright green weeds that choke
and curl the fruit. I want only
the joy, the taste of tomatoes
pouring down my lips,
the sun on my throat.
I like the soil under my nails
but I feel forsaken, tricked.
I watch the garden fester
and dry out, the tomatoes
small and weakening in
the cracked bed. It is like my daughter,
who one day draws picture after picture
of rainbows, bursting hearts, spells “love”
backwards, sideways, forward, then
for days lies on the couch blinking
at television or just talking to herself,
her sister. Too much work, this joy,
the colors of fruit, the frothy soil,
too much sun and magic. We all
need retreat, to rest, to feel
sometimes that it will come to us
by itself, a heavy plate that
says this is all yours.

 

from FUEGO by Leslie Contreras Schwartz © 2016; ISBN:  978-0-9965231-5-8;
Saint Julian Press. Reprinted with permission from the author.


I can't think of a more perfect poem for the summer, and for my own particular season in life. First, wanting only the joy. I'm certain we all want this, though we're well aware of how life works. There are joys, then disappointments, then more joys, then a rough day, then a splendid one. This is the way of it. But I love how profound the ache is here, as if the speaker is on the brink of just giving up entirely, being ruthlessly honest.

Next, at the very end, the lines about needing to retreat, rest, to "feel sometimes that it will come to us / by itself." As someone for whom self-care is of the upmost importance, I resonate with these lines so much. Even when the tomatoes are ripe, and our days are filled with "sun and magic," it can all feel like too much work. Even the joys. Some days, this is true, but the poem ends on a hopeful note, doesn't it?

A hope that whatever it is we need most will find us when it's time. It's certainly a message I need to hear today, and perhaps I'm not the only one.

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes with rice and potatoes

Adapted lightly from My Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy

This makes a wonderful, leisurely lunch or light supper, but as Rachel is kind to remind home cooks, "good stuffed tomatoes do indeed come to those who wait." There is a fair amount of waiting with this dish. Waiting for the tomato shells to drain, waiting for things to bake, then waiting for the dish to rest and settle and cool down a bit. Do not begin this dish without knowing what's required, which, more than anything, is simply your time and a bit of care. I halved the recipe and used four tomatoes instead of eight, but you can certainly double this for a crowd or ample leftovers.

Serves 2

4 firm, large tomatoes
Salt
1 plump garlic clove, finely chopped
4 basil leaves, torn
5 tablespoons Arborio rice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus some extra for the potatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Yukon potatoes, peeled

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. One by one, hold the tomatoes over a bowl and scoop out their insides by gently scraping the interior with a spoon. Let the flesh, seeds, and juice fall into a bowl. Sprinkle a bit of salt in the cavity of each tomato, then place them cut-side down on a clean tea towel or paper towel-lined cutting board so excess liquid can drain.

Blend the tomato flesh, seeds, and juice in a blender; pout into a large bowl. To the tomato liquid, add the garlic, and basil. Next, add the rice and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper; stir. Leave to sit at least 45 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into 1-inch long matchsticks. Pout the potatoes into a bowl, pour a little oil over them, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss with your hands until well coated.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the hollowed-out tomatoes in a lightly greased baking dish. Spoon the rice inside until they are three-quarters full, then put the tops back on. (Sadly, I completely forgot to do this!) Scatter the potatoes around the tomatoes and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the tomatoes are soft and beginning to shrivel. The rice should be plump and tender, and the potatoes soft and golden. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before eating. Pour yourself a glass of white wine while you wait.


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The Drink of August + Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca

All photography by  Josh Telles

All photography by Josh Telles

There are better ways to begin a blog post featuring a watermelon recipe, but I feel I should be honest.

I've never liked watermelon. 

Then I made watermelon agua fresca, and I should be honest again and reveal that with the exception of two small glasses shared with my husband and a very talented photographer (more on him in a minute), I drank the entire pitcher myself in less than twenty-four hours. There was no remorse, no hesitation, and no regret, except when the pitcher was empty and I did in fact regret not making more immediately. 

But it's been a week and the issue has been rectified. I've made another pitcher for myself, and officially declare this beautiful pink liquid the drink of August.

Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

Lately, it's the small things that get me. Literally small, like the stack of onesies I opened at my baby shower earlier this month. Or figuratively small, like a series of moments strung together in a day.

Sipping this drink, rolling down the car window and smelling salt water, having my feet rubbed, sending an email to a friend, the melodic sound my necklace makes as I let the long string collapse into the bowl that holds it each night, reading three pages of a book before falling asleep with my Kindle in my right hand. I'm trying to remember everything. 

So you can see why something like agua fresca, fruit and water, can be both plainly refreshing and mildly life-changing. Most days, it's the little things, like these four lines by Charles Simic. 


Watermelons

by Charles Simic

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.


Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

Our baby arrives in eight weeks, give or take. In between arranging the nursery, writing thank you notes from my baby shower, cleaning out closets, shredding old files, and folding baby clothes, I'm also trying to finish up several freelance writing projects before October, which brings me to the photographer I mentioned earlier.

I've worked with Josh Telles on Life & Thyme stories over the past year, and this time he came to my house to snap photos while I cooked two recipes for my most recent story featuring produce from Farm Fresh to You.

Read more here, plus find a bonus recipe for a refreshing summer salsa!

Josh graciously agreed to let me share some of the images with you, and I'm so glad he he did, because they're too beautiful not to send into the world. It also gives you a glimpse into my kitchen, and a small peek at the belly, too.


Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)
Watermelon Agua Fresca | Eat This Poem (Photo by Josh Telles)

WATERMELON-LIME AGUA FRESCA

When the days are warm, a refreshing seasonal drink is always in order. This popular Mexican beverage gets something right: celebrating fruit at its peak of freshness. Use what’s in season, add a splash of citrus, and enjoy all summer long.

4 cups diced watermelon, rinds removed
3 cups water
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon sugar

In a high speed blender, puree the watermelon with half the water (1 ½ cups), lime juice, and sugar until smooth. Strain into a large pitcher, then stir in the remaining water. Taste, and add more lime if desired (I added an extra squeeze!). Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving over a tall glass of ice, garnished with lime wedges and/or a few sprigs of mint.

"Pea Poem" by Terry Covington + Arugula and Pea Salad

Pea and Arugula Salad | Eat This Poem

Traveling for work doesn't always afford leisure time, but I managed to find a few hours to spare in between meetings and event preparations, so I did what I always do when I arrive in a new city: I walked. (Translation: When your room isn't ready yet and it's already past lunch time, you need both wifi and a meal.)

My hotel in St. Paul was across from the river, alongside a long park where free picnic blankets were given out at lunch, and yoga classes were taught in the afternoons. I'd been there approximately 40 minutes, but already St. Paul was proving itself to be a contender for cutest town in the midwest. 

I'd done some research, and my heart was set on The Buttered Tin, a local breakfast/brunch/lunch spot that spoke to my seasonal sensibility and need for healthy comfort food. (It didn't disappoint. In fact, I went there approximately four times during my three days in the city, and it was enough for them to recognize me.)

On the way back I walked by Heartland, and dinner was decided after one glance at the menu. That evening, the pea salad really stole my heart, somewhat unexpectedly. It was a plate composed of entirely green things: sweet peas, peppery arugula, herbs, a light dressing that didn't weigh down the tender lettuce, and fresh mozzarella cut in a thick slab on the bottom. Spring on a plate. I discreetly opened a new note on my phone and typed the ingredients, hoping to find a recreate it when I returned home. Thankfully, I found a poem to pair with it, and the timing couldn't have been better planned. 


Pea Poem

by Terry Covington

I could have closed my eyes
and run my fingers up the vines
to find the pods, so bursting obvious.
Leave trees to other children; I
took my books outside to read
in Grandma's pea patch, crawled
between the rows, and sat
in lagoon green shade
where I could see the house
but not be seen, and watch
the tractors hauling bins
into the orchard, and ate
green peas, popped them
out of their air-filled pods, rare pearls
rolling roundly down my tongue.

Printed with permission from the author.


Here we have a perfect little memory poem. Brief and spare, yet expansive, especially when seen from the eyes of a young speaker small enough to hide in her grandmother's pea patch. The location seems unassuming enough, but the poem really asks a difficult question: Where can I feel safe?

We find the answer in the middle of the poem, where the young girl hides in "lagoon green shade" of a garden where she could "see the house but not be seen." It was a strategic decision, the pea patch, providing privacy and seclusion, yet comfort in knowing the house is still in view. 

It's a universal feeling, perhaps most profound in childhood and early adulthood when we're testing the waters of our independence, longing for freedom yet not ready to leave the nest and navigate the world on our own. But once we're set loose, it's food that can provide comfort when we need it most. Peas or otherwise, there's nothing that can bring us back home quicker than a good meal. 

Arugula and Pea Salad | Eat This Poem #summer #salad #arugula

ARUGULA AND PEA SALAD

You can toss the peas in raw or lightly steamed, but I liked the added char of grilling them for a few minutes on a searing hot pan.

Inspired by Heartland, St. Paul, Minnesota

Serves 2-4 

For the dressing
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Enough arugula to fill your largest salad bowl
1 to 1 1/2 cups snap peas
A few leaves of basil, julienned 
2 slices of bread
Goat cheese
Optional additions: avocado, sunflower seeds

To make the dressing, pour the vinegar into a mixing bowl and add the shallots. Let sit for 30 minutes. Add the mustard and gently whisk it in, before slowly whisking in the oil. Taste the dressing, and add a small dollop of honey if you'd like a little sweetness, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the salad, add the arugula to your largest salad bowl, then heat a grill pan over high heat. Scatter the snap peas in an even layer and grill until charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the snap peas into the salad bowl, then add the basil, along with avocado and sunflower seeds (if using) and toss with the dressing. 

If you'd like, grill thick slices of bread then smear them with a generous helping of goat cheese to go alongside.


If you're interested, here are a few pictures from my trip to St. Paul.