Monday, August 16, 2010

Living the Dream

I hate that phrase.  Especially when people use it at work.  "Hey, how's it going, Bob in Accounting?"  "You know, just livin' the dream!"  Really?  That's your dream?  Filing purchase orders and fielding bitchy customer phone calls is "the dream"?  What a sad recessionista world it's become.

But sometimes, when you have a dream worth dreaming, and you find yourself living in it, well... those are just the best nights there are.

I knew Heather and Chandler were coming over for dinner Saturday night.  A little celebration for Heather's last day of corporate slavery, and the first time we'd gotten together couple-to-couple in a long time.  It was the first nice, hot day in a long stretch of overcast summer sabotage.  I wanted to make something special, something fresh and seasonal and close-to-home.  It seemed like the perfect time to bring out our cryogenically preserved salmon friend.  You know, the one my father in law caught on the river this spring.  Our tomatoes are going crazy, so I wanted to feature them as well.  I remember Ina Garten making panzanella salad for some ridiculous manufactured Hamptons party on the beach, so I thought that would probably be good.  I do adore her recipes. 

Matt had to work on Saturday, which allowed me to do my grocery shopping solo--a blessing and a curse.  It's lonely going into Tigard all by yourself (feels like driving to work...), but at least I don't have to listen to someone critiquing my ingredient choices and asking a million menu questions.  I got to go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and tried to stay on shopping list task, but they had this lady sampling local strawberries in the produce section.  I didn't even know strawberries were still growing in August, but maybe since we've had such an October-esque summer so far they're going later.  They were the best berries I've had all year, so I had to buy a pint of those.  And I felt bad for Matt working all day, so I bought him some microbrews.  Sadly, I had to pass on getting that gorgeous hat that still keeps taunting me :(

I stuffed the unsuspecting salmon with a fresh goat cheese log I mixed with minced rosemary, diced green onions, and the juice of half a lemon.  I layered that with lemon slices and rosemary sprigs, and a heavy rub of salt and pepper.

While prepping him up, I had the strongest urge to start playing puppet with his grouchy fish mouth.  Once my fingers got close to his lips, however, I flinched away.  Something in his eyes... I just had visions of him somehow jumping to life (after the catch, and the full gutting, and the 3 months in the chest freezer) and biting my fingers off.  His head remained, to the end, blissfully unmolested.

The panzanella salad was refreshingly easy, just a lot of therapeutic chopping. You toast the bread with olive oil in a saute pan, which gives it a nice, crunchy texture and olive oil flavor without making it a total crouton.  You still maintain some of the bread's true texture. 

It took two planks to stretch the length of the salmon on the grill.  An impossible task on our old Patio Caddy, but now an entire world of barbecuery has opened up.  The goat cheese developed a golden crust yielding to a molten velvet warm cheese sandwiched between buttery fish fillet.  Slicing it up to serve was probably the most delicious task I've had in ages (actually up until tonight, but that's a story for the next blog). 

The meal was relatively simple, and didn't take me all day to make.  Still, I can't pick out much that would have tasted better on a 100 degree day.

It was too hot to eat out on the ghetto patio dining table I'd erected under our shady tree (the 1970's green card table my parents still haven't re-claimed from Thanksgiving covered with a Target tablecloth and surrounded with our super-comfy patio chairs), but by the time we were ready to roll with Heather's blackberry cobbler, the temperature was hovering in the 70's.  We all sat around the table, with tealights and tiki torches, inhaling cool berry cobbler and gorging on conversation.  The stars began to come out in full force, uninhibited in our clean country sky. 

As I caught a falling star shooting across the center of the galaxy, I realized I'd finally gotten exactly what I wanted out of a house.  A gorgeous place to share love in all its forms -- food, comfort, conversation, friendship.  I may not have my s'mores party fire pit or tile-topped table yet, but I've got beautiful friends and a mean recipe for panzanella salad.  At last, we're living the dream.

Ina Garten's Snobby Outdoor Party Panzanella

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
  • 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

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