Monday, September 03, 2012

Summer Salads and Reading Review

Eating: I like salads, most any kind, and summer is a great time to try new ones, with all the fresh veggies and herbs from the CSA and garden.  I like to make the salad the meal so I tend to add meat to pasta salads, to give it a bit more substance.  Here are some of my favorite summer salads.

In the spring/early summer, we get a lot of leafy greens in the CSA because that is what grows that time of year in Minnesota.  Then it gets hot and the lettuces bolt, get bitter and are done, so we enjoy the green salads while we can.  This year we got several different types: Romaine, red romaine, beet greens, kale, leaf lettuce.  Plus we grew arugula and leaf lettuce.  Since it is so fresh when we get it, the lettuces last way longer than the stuff from the store would.  I always triple rinse the greens, sprinkling table salt in the water the first rinse to kill off any bugs or lettuce worms that may be hiding in there (I have only found one or 2 in the past 2 years, but I am not interested in THAT kind of protein in my salads), and spin it out thoroughly with my salad spinner.  I then shred the whole thing and put it in a sealed bowl in the fridge, so it is ready to go for any lunch or dinner at anytime.  This is the key, for me.  If it is not ready to eat easily, I will not eat it.  I am lazy, as I have said before.  Composing the salads, then, is an individual process.  Each of us makes his or her own salad (we often do this with guests, too), choosing from the other fresh chopped veggies available.  Early in the season this means green onions, radishes, peas or pea pods, zucchini, broccoli, summer squash, cukes, carrots.  Sometimes there is a little fresh dill, maybe an early bell pepper or some grape tomatoes.  We will add a little corn (frozen corn, rinsed to thaw), croutons, slivered almonds, cheese, maybe some chopped chicken or deli ham, some crispy crumbled bacon (from the last time I used bacon in a recipe and then fried up the remaining and stuck it in the freezer) then top it with the dressing of our choice (I like mine with my own creation of salsa ranch - you can probably guess how I make it).  I have been known to eat my lunch salad out of a serving bowl because it sometimes gets a little large.  You get the idea.  The key for us is to chop the veggies up ahead of time so we can just focus on building the salads when it is time to eat.

Pasta salads are great anytime, but especially after the greens are done for the first part of the summer.  I like tuna macaroni salad.  E does not.  So I make it for myself.  Tuna, well-drained, medium shell pasta (no, it doesn't have to be shells but they say "summer" to me more than other shapes), chopped celery if I have it, a little onion, frozen or fresh peas.  This last time I even tossed in some chopped tomato, because I have a whole lot of tomatoes right now.  Then the dressing, as my mom taught me - a "glob" of mayo (I use Miracle Whip because I like it better), little bitsies of milk until it is the right consistency to pour but not too runny, a sprinkle of sugar until you can't taste just the mayo, salt and pepper.  That's it. 

The easiest pasta salad is one that E likes.  We mix the pasta with some chopped meat (leftover smoked sausage or kielbasa/Polish sausage, thick sliced deli ham (I ask for one slice 1/4" thick), rotisserie chicken, or whatever), frozen corn rinsed to thaw, chopped or julienned carrots, shredded cheese.  Then we top it with enough ranch dressing to cover and sprinkle with slivered almonds for crunch.  Naturally you could add whatever else you like - celery, onions, peas, chopped tomatoes, (drain them well or it will get soupy), peppers, etc.

Another one of E's favorite pasta salads is Satay Chicken Pasta Salad, though I recently found out that he doesn't actually like it cold as a salad and will heat it up when he takes it for lunch.  Whatever.  I like it as a salad.  The recipe is from Pampered Chef, Season's Best Fall 2008.  My adaptations are in parentheses.

Satay Chicken Pasta Salad
8 oz. farfalle (bow tie pasta), uncooked
1 C light Asian vinaigrette (I make my own Asian-style dressing, sometimes)
2 T Asian seasoning (from Pampered Chef, though I am sure there are other versions available)
2 T peanut butter (creamy blends best)
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 medium red bell pepper
1/2 C dry roasted peanuts
1 C lightly packed fresh basil
3 C diced cooked chicken

Cook and cool the pasta (unless you are making it for E, then don't cool it).  Combine vinaigrette, Asian seasoning, and peanut butter.  Mix well.  Julienne the carrots, dice the peppers, chop the peanuts and basil.  Add all to the pasta and mix well.  You can reserve a bit of the peanuts and basil for garnish, if you like. 

Reading: Last time I wrote, I promised to write about 3 books that I read earlier this summer (in June and early July).  I have only read a handful since that time so should be able to catch up with those soon, as well.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is a novel about an Indian family, the Gangulis, who has immigrated to the United States.  Most of the story follows Gogol, the son who is born in America, from the time of his birth, until his early 30s, as he struggles with fitting in, being stuck between the culture of his parents and that of the country they are now living in, and with the curse of his name (after Russian author, a name which causes problems for him from the minute he is born).  There were mixed reviews of this one in our book club, but I enjoyed the story, both Gogol's story (interesting to think about how our names define us and shape our lives), as well as his parents' stories.  Parts of the story could be the story of any immigrant's experience, the struggle of the younger generation to fit in, often defying their parents' "old-fashioned" wishes and ways, but I was interested in learning about the culture and food of the eastern Indians, too.  I would recommend this one.

I re-read Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz for Friday night book club, because it had been several years since I read it and all I remembered about it was that I liked it and it took place in Wisconsin.  Those things were still true on the second reading of it.  Only Mary and I met for this book club discussion, but we both enjoyed it.  This novel is well-written and intriguing.  On the surface, the story is that of Ruth and her aunt Amanda, living on the family farm after Ruth's mother has drowned.  Ruth's father returns from fighting in World War II to his daughter whom he has never really met (she was a baby when he enlisted) and his wife's sister who doesn't appear to like him much.  What we are led to believe, from the perceptions and actions of the main characters, may or may not be the truth.  Why does Ruth say she remembers drowning when in reality it is her mother who drowned?  Why doesn't anyone go out to the little house on the island anymore?  Why is Amanda so protective of Ruth?  Little by little we learn the story of these strong, well-drawn characters.  And what we learn may challenge our belief that we can ever really know anyone.

Onto a completely different kind of book, No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels by Jay Dobyns.  This was different that most any other book we have read for book club.  It wasn't well-written (though that is not what made it different from some of the books we have read), but it was definitely interesting.  I don't know about you, but I was not that familiar with the Hells Angels, or indeed any OMG (Outlaw Motorcycle Gang).  I didn't know how they operated (apparently with a surprising number of rules, a specific hierarchy, and with more drugs, violence and misogyny than necessary), or what it took to become a part of a gang.  I also knew very little about undercover work.  I learned a lot about both from this book, and it was intriguing.  There is a lot more to the gangs than riding loud Harleys in large, intimidating groups, and a lot more to undercover work than wearing the clothes of the group you are infiltrating.   I have added a similar book to my list of books to read someday: Under and Alone: The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, by William Queen. 

Weeding: The stump garden has progressed some - we have 5 shrubs and a beautiful hardy hibiscus planted so far.  The entire area has been cleared, leveled/graded, weeded, mulched and edging installed.  We have plotted out where the walkways are going, decided to put the water feature in where the fire pit was planned (moving the fire pit to a different location in the yard), and have been shopping for stepping stones. 

The tomatoes are producing well, as are the carrots.  Today I made a roasted tomato soup (recipe and pictures to be posted at a later date). The asters are starting to bloom, the sedum is turning a lovely shade of red, and the mums are somehow almost already done.  The black-eyed Susans are still blooming their little heads off, though, so the yard is awash in yellow.  The trees and sumac are just starting to change ever so slightly.  Fall is coming, I keep reminding myself, though it is mid-80s again today.

Until we weed again,


Joanne Haagenson said...

We make the simplest of pasta salads, but everyone seems to like it. Rotini pasta, all the vegetables you want (lol so specific, I know), cooked chicken (but I leave that out if I'm making this as a side or for Casey's lunch), and a bottle of Italian salad dressing (I usually only use about half of it... just enough to coat it). Mix it all up and chill. Easy but everybody likes it.

How are your shrubs doing? Who was it that made you plant them at midnight, again? ;)

Hallie said...

Jo - That sounds a bit like the pasta salad we had at our wedding reception. Easy and tasty!
The shrubs are mostly surviving. There is one that may be dead, but we will see how it is in the spring and replace as needed. LOL - planting at midnight. My hubby is insane.

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