I know, more panzanella. And another dish with a trillion vowels and syllables. I had the idea for this in my mind last week and could not let it go, couldn’t let it wait until next summer. Caponata is this irresistibly rustic Sicilian eggplant and tomato stew/condiment that comes together with some minor rough chopping and simmering. It brings out the meatiness of the eggplant to the point of serious questioning sometimes. There are wonderful salty bits, cooked out summer-tomato juices, a scatter of parsley leaves that have barely been grazed by the knife. Sweet, sour, salty–perfect on any and all toasts once it’s cooled, maybe with some charcuterie and cheeses if that’s your thing. I thought I could cut to the chase and just throw the toast component right in there, mix it up real simple with another dose of olive oil, bursts of fresh tomato and even more grassy, peppery parsley. That thought was correct. So correct.
There is a pre-fall cool blowing through town, so I didn’t mind flipping the oven on to make the croutons while I sipped some tea and hung out by the stove. I donned a sweatshirt on my morning run today and marvelled at the pace of the clouds drifting on by while the whoooosh in my ears never ended. I have plans for soups, cookies and hella roasted summer squash next week. The pup shivers a little bit when we try to enjoy a little coffee/tea break outside and requires snuggling (OBV). My jorts preferences have faded to actual jeans-wearing. Maybe this isn’t so much the same where you live (especially on those jorts). Tuck the thought of this hearty salad into your back pocket for September if that’s the case. So simple, wonderful and lightly warming. Doubling the caponata for other uses/eating straight from the pan still-warm is a fine idea too.
So with that, I’m just going to keep it short today. This is my favourite time of year, this micro/in-between season of bright, cool and dry days. Maybe a little summery thunderstorm here and there. It tends to make me a touch sentimental while giving a clear focus for what’s ahead at the same time. Renewed purpose, eyes up to the moon, creativity and inspiration is everywhere you could find it. It’s a generous time in my corner of the world. Hope you’re all wrapping yourselves up in it too :) xo
caponata panzanella salad recipe
notes: It’s pretty crucial to cook the eggplant until it’s way tender, like a solid 15 minute simmer. Also, there’s a lot of salty bits in the caponata so maybe taste the finished product before you season the whole thing.
big glug of olive oil
1 large eggplant, chopped into big pieces
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 small red onion, small dice
1 clove of garlic, rough chopped
big splash of red wine vinegar
1 tbsp capers
handful of green olives, pitted + rough chopped
2-ish cups diced fresh tomatoes
salt and pepper
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
4 cups torn up bread pieces
salt + pepper
handful of small tomatoes, halved
more chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the pieces of eggplant and oregano. Stir the pieces around to coat them in the oil and herb. Stir the pot here and there until the eggplant is browned on all sides. Add the red onions and garlic to the pot. Stir it up a bit, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary to avoid sticking. Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the red wine vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pan and stir the mix until the vinegar has evaporated. Add the capers, olives and tomatoes to the pot and stir. Allow the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the eggplant is tender and the tomatoes have let out a bit of juice. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, season to taste, and set aside to cool.
Place the bread pieces on the parchment lined sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Slide the tray into the oven and bake until golden brown on all sides, about 12-15 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Set aside to cool.
Combine the caponata with the croutons, stirring gently until just combined. Garnish the salad with a healthy drizzle of more olive oil, the halved tomatoes and extra parsley. I also like to scatter the crouton crumb-y bits left on the pan over the top of the salad for more crunch.
We had just arrived back at the canoe entry point after about 6 hours of paddling and portaging. We packed up our tent life, ate a simple breakfast as the sun rose and took in the park’s stillness for a few more minutes while we brushed our teeth in the lake. The first leg was calm in the early light. We wrapped ourselves up in its cool quiet, making our way. Some winding rivers and gear-hauling jaunts later, we were at the final lake stretch of the trip. The wind was blowing right at us. Irritability started to creep up. My shoulders were hurting. All of those little cottages that dotted the lake, with their paddle boarding teens and solar panels hanging off the dock, seemed so ridiculous in their luxury. I had been dying for a coffee since we got out of the truck at the same launching point three days prior.
Obviously we made it and everything was fine. We washed up onto the sandy bit next to a convoy of very pale dad-types with ALL of the gear, reeking of Banana Boat and talking about optimal vegetable preservation methods (like straight out of Portlandia). We were bringing everything back to the truck and strapping the canoe onto the roof. There were two families milling about right beside us starting on their adventure. The kids were watching us lift and flip the canoe onto the roof of the truck, just seemingly fascinated by the whole thing.
Mark asked me to push the canoe forward, to center it on the roof. I tried with some emphatic might. Wouldn’t budge. “I can’t,” I said “You’re gonna have to come over here and try.” Now the parents were distractedly watching this whole gear-up thing go down at Access Point 1. One of the mothers, in a way that most certainly suggested a girl-power sentiment, volunteered this in my general direction: “Yes you can…”
I was still orienting myself after the effort. I smiled at her in a way that could only be described as polite. I was tired, kind of grubby, and had been interacting exclusively with the one person who knows me better than anyone else for the last four days. Maybe I wasn’t ready for human contact, or maybe I just read into it too much, but her comment kind of threw me. I kept circling back to it on the long drive home.
It seems obvious–the act of pushing the boat two inches to hit the right point of balance on a pickup for optimal highway driving is not a firm claim on my status as a strong woman. Her encouragement was positive and in terms of social graces, was offered rather easily–which is surprising and wonderful when you’re thinking about the human race in general. Maybe she drew a little fast on it though. Showcasing brute strength at any moment isn’t a statement of equality. I don’t want to cross that line, if it exists, either. I have a hard enough time negotiating the path to being a good and effective person on this earth, let alone trying to measure up with some “other” entity that’s just as human, and no doubt sincerely grasping to find the way just as hard as I am. What bothered me about her comment, possibly implying that if I dug a little deeper I wouldn’t need a man for the given task, was that it spoke to division and separation. It was that routine backing away from an attempt to understand what we all share in our humanity, which is everything. In that moment, I needed him because I was mentally spent and aching down to the bones; not because I lacked for anything in any regard.
Rather predictably, we didn’t end up moving that canoe the extra couple inches. It got strapped in right where it lay and arrived safely. There was nothing to prove. Everything leading up to that point, the actual physical effort, those human interactions that come from deeply rooted experience, the focused and visceral wonderment of the untouched world, the community feeling that is restored upon return… in the boat, the parking lot, and in my human life, had been enough.
When we came back, I found myself craving a lot of fresh things, all in the name of a slight life/body reset of sorts. So this salad came to be. I wanted it to be real easy. Even a little jam jar shake of some dressing seemed like too much effort. A lazy smear of aged balsamic vinegar on the serving plate keeps it cool and fancy-free. I’m not sure how hip melon ballers are these days, but I will always insist that it keeps pieces of the fruit very juicy. The presentation possibilities can be nice too (they can also be ridiculous) if you try to stay natural with it. I just scatter the scoops and thin wisps of cucumber and onion around, break up some herb flowers and give it a faint sprinkle of flaky sea salt. This time of year, the goods don’t need much fussin’ around anyway.
simplest balsamic melon salad recipe
notes: I use an aged, good quality balsamic vinegar for this. The kind that lightly coats a spoon and has traceable sweetness from the first impression. The taste and consistency of it negates the need for any other additions to this simple salad. If you have a thinner variety in your pantry, simply reduce it in a saucepan until it’s thickened up a bit and concentrated. Also, I intended to throw some halved cherry tomatoes in here too, but… just kind of forgot. Might be delicious if you have them around (and you remember them!).
3-4 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
4-5 cups small melon balls/chunks
1/2 english cucumber, thinly sliced/shaved with a mandolin
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced in half-moons/shaved with a mandolin
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
thinly sliced basil + mint OR broken up basil + mint flowers
Pour the balsamic vinegar onto the base of your serving dish and spread it around evenly with the back of a spoon. The idea is that, with every scoop of salad, a little vinegar catches on the bottom of the serving over to the plate. This maintains an optimal appearance and it ensures even distribution.
Scatter the melon balls, cucumber slices and red onion slices over the balsamic vinegar-coated plate. Season the whole thing with flaky/crunchy salt and pull apart the herb flowers/leaves over the top. Serve immediately.
The first time I went camping, in my whole life, was only two short years ago. Our family holidays always saw us on a beach or at an amusement park in the winter because summertime was just too busy with gardening, work and being happy with the sun-dappled walls and rich soils of home. I had been with my man for almost a year when he proposed a little canoe + camping jaunt for a weekend in the summer. I was coming off of about 6 years in the city at that point. I didn’t really know if I was a wilderness enthusiast/type yet, but when I started to think about wood-fired breakfasts, the sheer density of trees, and when Mark mentioned offhand that the whole thing would be pretty romantic, I was all in.
I bought some hippie-dip s’mores fixins, some cheap-o water shoes at Mark’s recommendation, worried about staying hydrated, made up little batches of homespun instant oatmeal, packed a Malcolm Gladwell book for extra lightness and some other things. We woke up way before the sun to start on the 5 hour drive. There were road stops. I drank a coffee (rarely, if ever, drank coffee back then). I ate a doughnut (same rarity of occurrence–went for sprinkles, duh). I couldn’t believe that even the little Tim Hortons shops were surrounded by conifer-draped cliffs. All the rough trucker dudes just having their first coffee were probably weirded out by the wide-eyed, jorts-clad little lady in the parking lot taking pictures of everything. We weren’t even close to the park yet.
We eventually got to the park entrance. The little shop that sold firewood also had a particularly rich selection of bear figurines and bacon. We set the canoe in at the launching point. The water was shallow, clear and cold. There were two mountainous hills covered in foliage straight ahead. Mark had told me that the 3 hour canoe trip we were about to embark on was pretty much rookie-level. I got a quick tutorial on paddling technique, but I mean I had prepared by doing some dry strokes at my desk informed by Wikipedia, so was basically pro at that point. Once we had been going for a bit and had separated from the other boats, this comment just spontaneously came out of my mouth: “It smells like mulch everywhere!”
So my initial brush with wilderness had me comparing its overall atmospheric greatness to that pre-bagged shredded business that you can buy for your garden to keep the moisture in (and the weeds out, HOLLA). Totally normal.
I was hooked after that trip though. The quiet, the simpler mode of living, the romance of it, the warm glow of fire for hours at night, the growing optimistic hunch that maybe the whole world could be covered in trees. The experience and mindset wouldn’t have even entered my realm of possibility if Mark hadn’t (handsomely) strolled right into my life. I always bust out that crucial chorus from the 90’s Salt ‘N’ Pepa CLASSIC “Whatta Man” when he does something particularly great, but actually? He is kinda mighty(, mighty) good.
This green drink isn’t exactly optimal camping food, BUT. It’s been keeping me energetic while I sort out and check off what I need for our little wilderness jaunt this weekend (!!!). I go in phases where I absolutely love this stuff for breakfast. It’s green, sure, but it’s also minty, punctuated with a nice hit of lime, cold from frozen peaches/mango and lightly sweet. Sometimes I’ll tote one to work if I haven’t had enough time to rustle up a little meal pre-shift and it most definitely hits the spot. Anyway, I know there’s a lot of green drinks and smoothie recipes out there, kale is the new beef, for your health!, yadda yadda–but this one is my favourite because it really does taste great and I feel like a million bucks once I finish up that last sip. Whatta drink, whatta drink, whatta drink, what a mighty good draaaank. (Had to.)
the green drink recipe
notes: I generally aim for milder greens here. I love kale, but it can be a touch strong in this particular application. Chard, spinach, romaine and beet greens are preferable, friends. If you’re opting for filtered water instead of coconut water, I would add some more frozen fruit to make up the extra sweetness.
1 1/4 cup cold coconut water or filtered water
juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 cups rough chopped greens, lightly packed
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, cilantro, basil or mint leaves, or a combination
1/2 an English cucumber, rough dice
1 small apple, cored and rough diced
1/2 cup frozen + diced peaches or mango
1-inch piece of peeled ginger (optional)
Combine all of the ingredients in the blender in the order specified and blend on high for a minute or so. Once the greens are fully incorporated/non-chunky, you’re good. Drink it up!
There’s a few instances of life-y things that I can count on one hand (hope you’re not expecting deep thoughts today):
The number of times in my adult existence that I’ve had a professional haircut (ditto for manicures and pedicures combined).
The number of times that I’ve visited New York City (’bout to change in September yesssss!).
The number of times I’ve bought a tie dyed/acid wash clothing item and regretted it (I can actually count that on NO HANDS, guys).
…And with the previous in mind, the number of times I’ve lingered over this Himalayan salt lamp purchase page (good air viiiiiiiibes).
Finally, the number of times I’ve really, truly, sincerely enjoyed a potato salad (LET’S DO THIS THING).
It’s hella obvious why a more typical potato salad is just not my scene. The texture is most definitely gloppy because the ratio of potatoes to mayonnaise is generally 1:1. There’s something wrong there. I’ve had a few vinaigrette-dressed versions that I could totally get behind, but I mean… filling 1/3 of my plate with potatoes at the hot-as-eff-in-July BBQ and washing it down with at least two beers (make mine a High Life, k thanks) is going to elicit some lethargy + all-out crankiness later on in the day (“But I’m TIRED.”). I want some vegetables. Some crunchy things. Something with water and vitamins.
So with this version, I started with seriously tender potatoes dug up from the garden. I filled out half of the salad with vegetables, grilled everything for texture, and dressed the whole mess in a tinkered up version of one of my favourite sauces. I love romesco because the ingredient list is fairly basic and it offers mucho flavour to anything you could possibly want to eat. Typically I would blitz it up in the food processor, but I went for a full on purée in the blender to achieve a creamier consistency. Once I had a batch made, I mixed a portion of it with a bit more oil for even coating and a touch of dijon mustard to evoke that traditional potato salad feel.
Then I went crazy with the add-ons: grilled mini zucchinis that I had picked up at a farm stand (some of them came with flowers attached!), the sweetest cherry tomatoes, garden green beans, olives, chives and grilled lemon. Basically all of the good things. Grilling a halved lemon is kind of my go-to fancy lady barbecue trick (you have those too, right?). The juices caramelize a bit and add just the right amount of lightly smoky acidity. Just baller on simple grilled vegetables or kale salads, but especially nice here because it thins the intensity of the romesco a bit. I kind of love this little mash up salad because it knocks out the veggie + the starch sides in one slick move.
And with that, I’ll raise a frosty High Life to you all from my heat wave-drenched nook of the world :) xo
grilled potato, lemon + zucchini salad with romesco recipe
notes: If you don’t have access to a grill, roasting all of the vegetables in batches might be a nice approach (but maybe only if you have air conditioning/a crazy strong fan in your house…).
romesco sauce ingredients:
1 roasted red bell pepper, stems + seeds removed (use one from a jar if you feel it)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 tbsp tomato paste
big splash of sherry vinegar
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
pinch of chili flakes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper
1 lb of small potatoes, scrubbed
1 big handful of green beans, trimmed
6-7 small zucchinis, or 2 regular ones, cut down the middle lengthwise
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 lemon, halved
1/2 cup romesco
1-2 tsp dijon mustard
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
handful of pine nuts (optional)
handful of olives
10 chives, rough chopped
salt + pepper
Make the romesco: combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend on high for a minute or so, until a creamy consistency is achieved. Check the sauce for seasoning, adjust, and scrape into a sealable container. Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to help preserve the sauce a bit more. Place in the fridge or set aside if you’re using it right away.
Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover them with cold water. Put a lid on the pot and place it over medium-high heat. Bring the pot a boil and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes depending on the size of them. Place the beans into the pot in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain the whole thing and return the potatoes to the pot. Run the green beans under cold water to avoid overcooking. Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces once cool enough to handle and thread the pieces onto skewers. Coat the potatoes with a bit of the grapeseed oil. Season them with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat a grill to high. Toss the zucchini halves with a bit more of the oil and season them with salt and pepper. Place the potato skewers and zucchini halves on the grill. Place the grilled lemon, cut side down, onto the grates as well. Flip all of the vegetables once they start charring a bit, about 5-8 minutes total. Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Cut the zucchini pieces into bite sized bits if necessary. Remove the grilled lemon from the grill as well.
Combine the romesco with the remaining oil and dijon mustard. Squeeze the grilled lemon into the romesco mixture and stir it up. Pour this mix on top of the potatoes and zucchini. Add the blanched beans, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, olives and chives. Squeeze the grilled lemon over top and season the whole mix with salt and pepper. Toss lightly to combine. Check the salad for seasoning and garnish the top with some extra chives. Serve warm or at room temperature.