Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Very Instagram Summer

 Call me impossibly stubborn, but I'm having a really hard time letting go of summer. I long for the slow pace of the days, the lack of (senseless) meetings, the ability to sleep in--even if just until 8:30 a.m. (yes, things are now so dire that this seems like the epitome of living large).  Of course, there were days this past summer when I was ten shades of miserable--mainly, when I didn't feel like I was producing anything and that I would maybe never finish my dissertation. These were the moments when I was longing for the semester to begin so that my life would have some kind of structure. Now that the semester is here, however, I feel exactly the opposite (fact: humans are nothing if not contrary creatures). What it comes down to is that I'm not sure I'm all that crazy about my academic year self; I'm not sure it brings out "my best me" (whatever that really means). So, in an attempt to recapture some of the magic of the summer and remnants of a self that didn't feel so scattered and worried about having time and energy for all the things that the academic lifestyle demands, I recently took a walk down summer photo lane as captured by my iPhone. Truth be told, as much as I love my camera, the iPhone is sometimes just more convenient; not only is it both lighter and omnipresent, but it's also much more discreet. And I'd be a liar if I didn't say that, as much as I love taking pictures with the sunshine streaming through my kitchen windows, I was also equally in love with the grainy textures of Instagram.

For me, summer began with my birthday trip to Aziza for some of the tastiest Moroccan food I've ever had in my life.  This was when I started dreaming of a world in which I pickled my own ramps and drank a spicy rum pumpkin cocktail on a weekly basis. I still have plans to recreate this cocktail at home, but I decided to wait until it was a little more seasonally appropriate.

 A birthday treat I gave myself was a trip to San Francisco for a scones and quick bread making class at Pot and Pantry. It was a fun evening and I think I can safely say (with 99% certainty) that it's the only time I've ever ridden Bart with traces of flour on my clothes and dough in my hair. For the scones in my bag, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. 

 A trip to Tahoe soon followed, where I went on the longest and hopefully most dangerous hike of my life. For all the ills that I suffered on that trip, the Greek more than made it up to me by taking me to Temple Coffee in Sacramento on the way home. I would go anywhere for a good cup of coffee.

 The summer also saw a lot of fun in the kitchen: I shelled peas for carbonara, made a glorious Finnish strawberry cake (now the most popular post on this blog) and pulled out my waffle maker for my love of bananas and walnuts.

 I also continued to ponder the emptiness of my life before Amanda Hesser's/Elizabeth Friend's almond cake (aka marzipan cake) came along. And I made ice cream, lots and lots of ice cream. A highlight was my first batch of Jeni's Splendid: Blackstrap Praline. When not stuffing myself with sweets, it's safe to say that I was either eating either Greek-style risotto or radishes--sometimes just with butter and salt, sometimes with bread. My love of them, especially after this summer, knows no bounds.

This was also a summer of hellos and goodbyes. A friend left graduate school after getting her Master's; as sad as it was to see her go and our numbers shrink, she did leave us in style with a lovely picnic at the Berkeley Marina. Carrot cake is more than appropriate on such occasions. 

And then we were off on our great Greek and Turkish adventure. You know you've had a good summer when you've seen Mt. Olympus (please note that I say "seen" and not "climbed"), tried squid ink, stuffed yourself with Greek pastries and come home with some souvenirs and memories. 

One of the best things about being back was finding ourselves surrounded by California's summer bounty. I found some late season rhubarb and, with the help of rosewater (yes, I was still in the Mediterranean), turned it into compote. I also tried to recreate the cover dish from Plenty, albeit minus the pomegranate seeds (roasted cherry tomatoes make a nice substitute). And let's not even get started about my rediscovery of ants on a log, which I read as a sign of both my allegiance to peanut butter and of my longing for a simpler time.

I wasn't always in the kitchen, though. I revisited some old favorites and found myself trying some new places, too: namely, Green Chile Kitchen and Pho Bar. At the latter, I bravely ordered a Salted Plum Soda in a throwback to my year in Japan...All I'll say is this: while I approve of bold menu choices, pickled plum is one thing when wrapped in rice and covered with seaweed and another thing entirely when in a cup and being slurped through a straw.

And then, after a lovely evening out with friends at a concert in the Redwood Grove in Berkeley, the Greek and I became puppy parents. It somehow seemed only right that Rupa & the April Fishes and Quinn Deveaux should see us off onto this next step.

But there is life after puppy, too. This past weekend, since a friend was visiting us, we took a day trip with both her and the puppy. Elektra may be only a young little thing, but she has already sniffed the glory that is Thomas Keller's pastries in Yountville, CA.  I don't know that on an ordinary weekend I would have allowed myself to scarf down both a Strawberry Almond Croissant and a Nutter Butter in less than 30 minutes, but this one, thanks to the start of the academic year, seemed kind of special. It really felt like a matter of eat now or forever hold your peace. I suppose since there's no longer any peace to hold, I ate.
Fortunately, despite the sudden busy-ness of things, I've kept right on eating, too. And I'll be back soon (hoorah for a holiday weekend!) with a recipe that has been spicing up the days that suddenly seem to have grown longer. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

On a Hibiscus High

      In May they had finally made up their minds to go. But summer came and went as usual, with preparations for winter, the cooking of preserves, the bottling of apples, pears and cherries. 
     By the end of August they wrote to say it was too late again. They were still stuck at home, too old to feel like moving. -Dezso Kosztolanyi (Skylark)

  There is simply never enough time during the summer. It doesn't matter how much you enjoy yourself, how many great places you visit or nice evenings out that you have, it passes by much too quickly. Even though I know that, as an academic, I'm really lucky--my vacation starts in mid-May and ends in late August--that doesn't mean that it's any easier to say goodbye to my loss of freedom when the beginning of a new semester rolls around (and, really, when your work is largely in your head, it's always with you. Even when on vacation, which can sometimes make May through August seem like one huge guilt trip rather than the carefree time it should be). This lack of readiness for summer to be over has been uppermost in my mind this week. I didn't feel ready to go back into the classroom--as either teacher or student. I didn't feel ready for the beginning of what is supposed to be my last year of graduate school. But I've often found that life doesn't care if you're ready. Time moves forward and you have no choice but to move with it.

And, believe me, I've been moving. There have been many things to prepare: course readers, a new syllabus, first day documents, the article that I've been lagging behind on all summer and, even more importantly, the puppy. This is the first time since we got her that she's had to be left alone and, even though she's just a dog (just a dog--these are almost laughable words considering how she's wormed her way into our hearts), it's painful to leave her when she desperately wails from within the confines of her crate. Given the way the Greek and I look at each other when we do, I shudder to think what will happen if there's ever a real child who will attend nursery school, kindergarten, summer camp, college...

In the midst of all of this activity, there was also the dream of a few more elaborate dinners before the craziness of the semester and the reality of my packed dissertation writing schedule settled in. Last Saturday I got my wish when the Greek and Elektra were napping on the couch. Inspired by the recent experiments of a friend and also the Saveur Mexico issue that I've been devouring in my few minutes of not chasing after the puppy, I decided that nothing said "let's celebrate in grand style" like Mexican food.

Again craving meat, I went to the butcher and got several pounds of fatty pork shoulder. All I could think was carnitas. I can't say what's come over me recently with this newfound meat obsession, but the thought of slowly simmering bits of pork in water and salt and then letting them cook in their own drippings seemed like the best use of a Saturday evening. Diana Kennedy's recipe, which I found on Food52, was both simple and foolproof. Her suggestion to serve the pork with salsa cruda and guacamole was equally sound advice.

But it took a while to get to that stage. Although few ingredients go into the preparation of carnitas and you don't want to make either your guacamole or your salsa too early (the goal is fresh and crisp ingredients), the meat has to be cooked ever so slowly so that it doesn't fall apart. What I took from this low maintenance meal that barely required my attention (at least in the beginning) was the need to make a festive and fruity drink to accompany it. The obvious choice seemed Agua de Jamaica (pronounced ha-my-kah), a hibiscus drink popular in Mexico that is both sweet and slightly sour. Not only is its taste the height of refreshing, but its color is a vibrant shade--a cross between magenta and purple. With the fragrant combination of cinnamon, allspice and the dried hibiscus flowers, it turned out to be the perfect thing to sip as the meat reached its ideal texture.

All in all, it was a lovely evening and a nice pre-semester treat. It also served as an important reminder that, even though summer vacation will (and, as of yesterday morning, did) end,  there will always be occasions for calming culinary interludes. Remnants of summer can always be found in a cup.

Agua de Jamaica

Yields 5 cups of summer
Adapted from Saveur's Mexico issue

This recipe used up all of the dried hibiscus that I greedily stocked up on in Istanbul, but I can promise you that it went to a good cause. While the original recipe called for 2 ounces, I fell short by a few tenths of an ounce; fortunately, this didn't affect the hibiscus flavor at all. I imagine the flavor would be only more intense and floral the more you added. 
         Also, the original called for 1 1/2 cups of sugar, which, although it would be mixed with 5 cups of water, simply seemed like a lot to me. I decided to substitute agave nectar (the amber variety) instead. For every cup of sugar, you should substitute 2/3 cup agave and I decided to use only that, eliminating that extra 1/2 cup sugar.  
           The thing I regret the most about making this is that I lacked canela (Mexican soft cinnamon), which is supposed to be sweeter and less spicy than what we know as cinnamon (i.e. cassia. You can read about the differences here). This time around I went with the latter, but I'm looking forward to making this again with the real deal.
5 cups water
2/3 cup agave nectar
about 2 ounces of dried hibiscus flowers (I used precisely 1.6 and the flavor was just right; I imagine much less than this might lead to a less fragrant drink)
1 cinnamon stick (preferably canela, although cassia works too)
3 allspice berries

-In a large pot, combine 5 cups of water and 2/3 cup agave nectar and then bring to a boil.
-Stir to make sure that the agave and water have been mixed together. 
-Remove from heat and stir in the dried hibiscus, cinnamon stick and allspice berries. 
-Cover the pot and let it sit for an hour. 
-Using a strainer, pour the Agua de Jamaica into a large pitcher (at this stage, be careful not to spill; hibiscus stains!) and then discard the solids. 
-Refrigerate the agua for 2 hours or until chilled (personally, I couldn't resist waiting, so I poured it into a glass and added a few ice cubes). 
-Serve with ice cubes and enjoy, preferably with carnitas or some other Mexican treat.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On "Suddenly" and Summer Squash

But then who can tell what it really is that flickers up there in the dark above the houses--the luminous name of a product or the glow of human thought; a sign, a summons; a question hurled into the sky and suddenly getting a jewel-bright, enraptured answer?
-Vladimir Nabokov (Mary)

The past week has been a lot like that rather cliched moment in novels when the word "suddenly" appears; in that one brief moment, nothing is the same, nor will it ever be so again. In a way, you might say that this has been our experience with Elektra. Suddenly she was here and, as puppies (like babies) are wont to do, she announced her presence with a bit of a bang--really, maybe more like a gentle whimper and, at a few moments, even a baby beagle howl. Suddenly we were talking to strangers. I kid you not, in the past week I've talked to more people on the street than I have in my whole 6 years in Berkeley. I met a woman who used to dog-sit and who is spending Christmas in London (apparently, the Hoxton Hotel offers a Christmas special if you're interested in the sound of a UK holiday season); I'm also suddenly on a first-name basis with about half of my neighbors. If you want to meet people, seriously, get a dog and take it out for a walk. The odds are that people will want to pet it, they might smile and inquire about the name and, by the end, you'll almost be like old friends. Suddenly, I've also become acquainted with Berkeley at all hours of the night. While 3 A.M. strikes me as too quiet and fairly creepy (I'll confess that when I forgot my glasses one night and had taken the dog out for a bathroom break, I saw this car that sped up the street, then stopped and threw something at a house; I thought I was witnessing a crime, so I grabbed the dog and was getting ready to run home when I realized--rather stupidly, might I add--that it was just the newspaper delivery boy. Clearly, I am not my best at 3 in the morning, but, really, who is?), 5 a.m. is rather lovely. I like the sense of quiet expectancy and the neighborhood's first rumblings of movement.

Suddenly, this little face was everywhere: on the couch, on the printer below our desk, looking up expectantly, hungrily, curiously at each and every turn. We've found ourselves suddenly busier, but somehow more organized, too. The dishes now get done faster, and the laundry is folded more quickly (how long this will last, nobody can say. My not so secret hope is forever, but I'm a realist at heart and realize our limitations as people with lives). Puppy nap time has become the ultimate work time, or baking/cooking time. Most beautiful of all, there's no longer any extra time for us to dwell on dissertations or comments from our advisers, or even on that murky thing called the future. Lamenting the quickly approaching end of summer is also now beyond our reach. Quite frankly, our emotional energies are occupied elsewhere. For the past six days, life has been solely about the here and now. While I would never say that I'm not bordering on exhausted, I can't help but like this new turn our life has taken. It's both inspiring and exciting. I'm at my best when I'm busy.

Thanks to Elektra's arrival, things have been fairly simple in the kitchen recently, too. The Greek has been roasting a lot of meat (roasting is really the art of low maintenance dining). And despite what seems to be both a mutual and newly discovered need for more protein and iron, I have, as always, been trying to make sure that we balance our carnivorous urges with green things and other vegetables.

For some reason this summer, I've taken quite a liking to yellow zucchini: crooknecks and sunburst (aka pattypan) squash. They're just so radiant--emerging like little beams of sunshine in the midst of a foggy summer--that I couldn't resist them when I saw them at the market. I first bought them back in June, right before we left for Greece, and somewhat inspired by the Greek-style risotto we had made the night before with feta, tomatoes, oregano and a splash of ouzo, the Greek and I decided to cook the zucchini with almost the same set of ingredients, substituting fresh thyme for the oregano (herb fun fact: thyme is a good source of iron and calcium).

We liked it so much that we've now made it no less than three or four times this summer (and we've revisited the ouzo and feta risotto just as many. In a house that doesn't see all that many recipe repeats, this is no small feat!). The preparation is nothing short of simple and, beyond the time it takes to chop the squash into round pieces or wedges, it's one of those meals that can be on the table in under 30 minutes. While I was originally skeptical about cooking with ouzo since it's so potent and its anise flavor/fragrance can drown out the competition, somehow it works surprisingly well with the subtle flavor of the yellow squash and the earthiness of the thyme. I like pairing it with bulgur mixed with olive oil, salt, pepper and feta, but other grains or even chicken (grilled or roasted) would work just as well.

Although yellow squash isn't at all common in Greece and the Berkeley weather is much too mild for proper ouzo drinking (ouzo, in my opinion, needs heat to shine), I like that this dish combines some of the best of two worlds that are dear to my heart. It's almost like being back in Greece, but not quite. Take a bite, close your eyes and pretend to be next to the Aegean Sea. Just call this the glory of culinary fusion.

Yellow Squash with Ouzo and Thyme

Yields about 4 servings
Inspired by all things good and Greek

An important note: you can probably use whatever squash you have on hand, although I've tried this only with different kinds of yellow squash. Depending on your flavor preferences and the amount of squash you're using, you might also cut back on the ouzo, adding only a few tablespoons instead of the full 1/4 cup. The same can be said for the amount of garlic; I'm a huge fan, but I know that not everybody is. In short, as with all recipes, let your own cooking style be your guide.

2 tablespoon olive oil
3 small cloves of garlic, crushed
4 small yellow squash, chopped
2 sunburst squash
1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme
1/4 cup good quality ouzo (like Ouzo Plomari)

-Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. 
-Add the garlic and cook in a cluster for about 1 minute. 
-Add the chopped squash, some salt and pepper and cook for about 6-8 minutes, or until the squash has softened, but is still slightly firm.
-Add the thyme and ouzo and, with a spatula, move the squash pieces around so that they're evenly coated with the ouzo-olive oil-thyme mixture. 
-Cook for about 4-5 more minutes, or until the squash is tender and the ouzo has been absorbed .
-Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with grains or meat.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Seeking the Perfect Loaf: Italian Rosemary Bread

Riuscire meglio a pane che a farina. [To succeed more with the bread than with the flour, i.e. to have more success than expected.]

You could say that this Italian proverb, which I found at the beginning of Carol Field's The Italian Baker (sadly, I speak no Italian), has been the overarching theme of the week. First, there was the cake that I baked on Saturday that fell apart as I attempted to flip it (I was rushing and, as they say, haste makes waste). Although I had made this cake many times before, this was the first time this had happened. After lamenting and cursing the fallen cake, I gathered my kitchen wits about me and realized that, in such cases, the obvious answer is trifle. I never would have thought it was possible, but I think the cake is even better when crumbly bits with layers of whipped cream and raspberries. Mistakes really can lead to the darnedest discoveries.

Then, there was the small fact that the Greek and I decided to get a puppy (in this somewhat grainy iPhone photo, meet Elektra/Ellie, the baby beagle that stole our hearts). We talked, then talked some more, drove to Antioch, saw the puppy and basically made up our minds then and there. But we had to inform the building manager, who then told us we'd have to consult the building owner directly. Surprisingly, even though there are other dogs in the building, he told us no. This was last night and it was a dark and sad evening for us both. I was devastated, but prepared to give up since, as much as I loved this little beagle face, I didn't want to be evicted or have to move; the Greek, however, rallied his fighting spirit and decided to give it one more go by calling again this morning. Twenty minutes later the phone rang and it turned out that the building owner had changed his mind: we could get the dog after all. I don't know what brought him around, but I'm glad he reached the decision that he did. We bring her home tomorrow!

In between all of the cake and dog drama, I decided to press my luck even more by baking bread. Although I've watched my grandparents make perfect loaves for most of my life, this is not something I'm personally experienced at; to be completely honest, I've never even attempted to make Jim Lahey's famous no-knead bread.  In part I think it's because as much as I enjoy baking, bread has just never seemed all that exciting to me. Sweet things have always appealed to me more. So, rather than make the bread that I love to eat---baguettes, dark walnut loaves, herb focaccia--I find myself buying it instead. Making it at home has always seemed either like a hindrance or like something that just wouldn't turn out the way I hoped it would.

But, recently, I started thinking more and more about baking bread, wondering how hard it would actually turn out to be. I had the feeling that all along I had been making something rather simple seem more complicated in my mind. After all, what could be more elemental and basic than flour, liquid and yeast? I realized, however, that I lacked a book on bread making; even some of the mammoth cookbooks I have, Vefa's Kitchen and The Essential New York Times Cookbook, contain only a few bread recipes each. A researcher at heart, I started exploring my options: Nancy Silverton, Chad Robertson, Rose Levy Beranbaum? Who would be my bread guru? Ultimately, I decided to stick to the basics and follow Amanda Hesser's advice in the Essential NYTimes book: to use Carol Field's The Italian Baker. Even though the first edition came out in 1985 and bread making has changed a lot since then,  it seemed that the book was a solid guide to baking beautiful and interesting loaves of Italian bread. In a way, I even found the retro cover, a true example of old-school food photography, to be a welcome change; I love taking pictures of food and so many cookbooks today contain one beautiful snapshot after another, but there's something to be said for words--stories, advice, methodology. It was a wonderful purchase.

 Her advice to the new bread baker is to start with pani nuovi (new breads), and, as I perused that section, my eye fell on the recipe for Rosemary Bread. But it was the story next to the recipe that convinced me: "Years ago, while reading a biography of the d'Este family who once ruled Ferrarra, [the baker Luciano Pancalde] discovered that one of the numerous spectacular court banquets featured a rosemary bread with a crust described as sparkling with diamonds." Bread that sparkled?! As a lover of shiny things, I realized I had met my bread match.

 And not only was it surprisingly simple to make--even the kneading was not as fearsome as people have made it out to be--but the end result was also wonderfully fragrant and with a texture (crisp and golden on the outside and softly chewy on the inside) that could rival any loaf at the supermarket. It's really the salty sparkle on the top that makes it, though. The sea salt transforms the flavor of the rosemary, while adding a bit of crunch. Considering I thought my first loaf of bread might end up a tough little thing with minimal flavor,  perhaps even a brick that might be better suited for breadcrumbs or the birds, this was a more than pleasant outcome. 

And since I want to learn more about bread and try some of the different methods out there, I've decided that a goal for the next few months is to chronicle my adventures with bread baking. I'll aim to post about bread 1-2 times a month (obviously, this depends on how the semester treats me).  A friend has let me borrow a few of her bread baking books and I've already tagged more gems in The Italian Baker, so there is no shortage of inspiration! This will keep me on my toes and allow me to develop a bread-baking repertoire; also, while the bread does its thing, it will be an opportune moment to take the dog for a walk. In my new life with beagle, bread may just end up being my new best friend.

Italian Rosemary Bread

Yields one large sparkling loaf
Adapted from Carol Field's The Italian Baker

The original recipe would have yielded two loaves of bread. Because I was unsure about the end result and didn't want to risk wasting so much flour, I decided to halve the recipe. This did lead to a difficult moment when I was first mixing the dough: it simply wasn't coming together and, rather than stick to the original measurements, I had to trust my baker's instinct and add both a little more olive oil and water. If you try this and something doesn't seem right, add small increments of water and oil until things come together. 
      Also, despite my best efforts to equip myself properly, I ended up buying the wrong yeast. Instead of active dry or small cakes, I bought rapid-rise. This simply changed the order in which I added the ingredients since rapid-rise yeast shouldn't be mixed with water; it should be mixed with the dry ingredients instead. I will give you the recipe I used, however. I just wanted you to be aware of the changes. 

1/2 cup warm water (plus more if the mixture seems dry)
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil (plus more if the mixture seems dry)
1 packet rapid-rise yeast
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons salt
450 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, for the top of the loaf

-Stir the water, milk and oil together in a small bowl.
-Whisk together the flour, yeast, salt and chopped rosemary in a large bowl.
-Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients in 3-4 additions, stirring until the dough comes together. If the dough seems dry, add more water and olive oil in small increments. These amounts should not exceed 1/3 cup and 1/2 teaspoon, respectively.
-Once the dough has formed, knead on a floured surface for about 6-8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and slightly moist; it should also be soft to the touch. 
-Coat the bottom of a bowl with olive oil and then add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled.
-Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down on a lightly floured surface, but do not knead it.
-Shape it into a ball and place the loaf on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Then, cover it with a towel and let rise for about 45-55 minutes (do not let the dough again double in size). 
-Heat the oven to 450 F. 
-Place the loaf on either a baking stone (this is what I used) or baking dish that has been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.
-Slash an asterisk into the top of each loaf with a razor blade or a sharp knife (I used the latter, but think that the former would be preferable). Then sprinkle the sea salt into the slashes and across the top of the loaf.
-Bake for 10 minutes, spraying with water (since I lack a kitchen spray bottle, I simply used the remaining rosemary stalk, which I had rinsed in cold water. Then, I shook the stalk into the oven; it was certainly a fragrant way of spritzing!) about every 3 minutes. 
-Then, reduce the heat to 400 F and bake for about 25-35 minutes (my oven's temperature didn't decrease as quickly as I would have liked, so I ended up baking the bread for only about 25 minutes), or until golden. 
-Cool completely on rack. 
-Enjoy with meat, feta and tomatoes, or just plain old butter. It's a bread that enhances each and every meal.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Watermelon on Ice

Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled--to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. -Mary Oliver

A small but important fact about me is that, while I'm not at all a picky eater, there are three things that I'm categorically against--at least 99% of the time. The first major offender on my list is mint and, yes, I know this makes me a little weird. It certainly causes a lot of confusion; people can't understand why, after a garlicky meal, I'll refuse their kind offer of something mint flavored to freshen my breath. In the great garlic vs. mint debate, garlic would win each and every time. Even my closest friends often forget this quirk of mine, wanting to share the bounty of their gum collection with me whenever we're hanging out. Of course, what makes this doubly confusing for them is that I'll occasionally have a scoop of Mint Chip Ice Cream and I'll also never say no to a Mojito (fresh mint is definitely preferable to the "fake" kind). What can I say? The rules, at least when applied to mint, aren't hard and fast. Kiwi, however, is a different story entirely. I don't know when I started hating it because, as far as I can remember, there was a period in my childhood when I was obsessed with it. I can only surmise that something went horribly wrong in this love affair, poisoning me against kiwi forevermore.  To this day, my stomach shrivels at the sight of it. And, strangely, watermelon used to be on this list. I think it's a texture thing; I'm not all that crazy about the seeds and I'm not overly fond of its general mushiness.

 But I recently started having a change of heart concerning watermelon. It's hard to say when it happened. I had my first watermelon and feta salad a few years ago and, ever since, I've been having variations of it, sometimes with arugula and sometimes not. For some reason, this pairing worked surprisingly well for me; I think that the key was mixing things up a little and contrasting it with other flavors--that perfect blend of sweetness, saltiness and a little kick of spice. Now I'm also becoming increasingly curious about its potential for pies and tarts; is watermelon pie really an impossibility? The internet tells me it's not, although these weren't quite what I had in mind. And, of course, there's also the small fact that the Greek is crazy about watermelon (Greece is a major producer) and, when we were in Greece, they would often be sold on each and every street corner. It was clear to me that, cliche though it may be, when in Rome, one must do as the Romans do.

 This past weekend, we also found some beautiful melons at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market in Oakland and the Greek went a little crazy buying them. While I waited with the other bags by two adorable dachshunds I was longing to take home with me, he went off and bought about 30 pounds of melon. 30 pounds. Our car was nowhere in sight; it was just us and our two bikes. Needless to say, this was a little tricky, but we managed. I will never quite comprehend how the Greek biked uphill with all this fruit--plus a few eggplants--in his backpack, but I suppose it's true that miracles happen everyday.

 When we got home, however, we were both nearly dead to the world, tired and hot from the ride home with all of our bounty. The only thing we wanted to do was to drink something refreshing. As I took charge of putting things away, the Greek started assembling ingredients on the table--lime, sugar, ice and the huge watermelon that just was begging to be sliced open. Soon enough, the immersion blender, a citrus press and a huge pitcher joined the jumble on the table...and then there were two wine glasses filled with a frothy, bright pink liquid. Not quite an agua fresca or even a granita, it was more like blended fruit on ice. And I can honestly say that it was the best "watermelon" I've ever had--sweet, tart and icy cold. The mush that I sometimes object to had all but disappeared and, thanks to the bits of crushed ice that the immersion blender failed to take care of (the same can be said of the few seeds that the seedless watermelon had), the drink had some much welcomed texture.

 I think it's fair to say that the very fact that we made it again the next day is proof that this is a keeper. Something tells me that this will be making its way onto our summer table for many years to come. Perhaps next time, we'll even give it a little boozy adult zing with limoncello and lemons. I suspect that it might serve as a nice replacement for the usual brunch mimosa. If you make it and try something new, I'd love to hear your ideas!

P.S. I've been trying to be both a good dissertator/grad student and blogger recently. The former is a work in progress, but the latter is moving along nicely. I organized all of my recipes for easy perusal and also tried to give you a better sense of who I am--if I haven't already.

 Watermelon on Ice

 Yields about 3-4 servings

2 pounds watermelon
juice of 1 1/2 limes
1 tray ice cubes
1/4 cup sugar

-Slice the rind off of the watermelon and cut the watermelon into small chunks.
-Place in a pitcher and then add the lime juice, the ice cubes and the sugar.
-Blend (we used an immersion blender, but a real blender would work just as well, if not better) until the desired consistency.
-Pour the frothy drink into two summery wine glasses and feel refreshed.


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