Summer evenings in Chicago are sort of magical.
I mean, summer evenings in general are magical, but summers in Chicago send people spilling onto sidewalk patios, beer in hand, squinting from laughing and the blazing glow of another lofty pink sunset, a flip flop dangling from a crossed leg. Summer in Chicago is an exercise in urgency and spotaneity – yesterday’s weather was shit and it’s impossible to plan a social calendar around tomorrow’s “isolated showers,” so if it’s nice right now, we take a walk, we have a drink, we sit outside for far longer than our grandmothers’ mothers would have advised. We stroll for hours, freckling and roasting under afternoon sun; we haul every candle and blanket in the house onto the patio to resist a chill and, more gravely, the end of another day.
One such evening a few weeks ago, I traversed a certain stretch of Broadway not one, and not two or three, but four times in the span of three hours. First trip: I rode down from the nest at 4157 North down Diversey-ish way to a weird little vintage/art shop, made a purchase that was equal parts unnecessary and endearing, and emerged back onto a street now flushed with the gold-pink haze whose allure and the corresponding urge to try and just, like, swim in it, has, for as long as I can remember, proven completely irresistible. The summer was, it seemed, barefaced and at its peak, having waxed slowly and unhurriedly to this moment over weeks of mild and occasionally strange weather.
I can’t go home. Not yet. I have functioning legs, and the rare, it turns out, ability to guide my bike with only one hand as I walk down the street.
So Janice and I stroll down Broadway, paying attention to not very much, yet mildly amused by everything. We are – I am – technically heading homeward, but in no particular rush to get there, or anywhere else, really, for that matter. I’m thinking about what I might make for dinner, though I know I’m in possession of very few noteworthy items. In fact, one of these days I’ll weave a tale of Desperation Hot Dish, inspired by these very pantry-metric conditions. But not today.
Because today, or rather, that day, I ran into Anna. Never-really-ornery, tomato-guts Anna. My partner in lazy weekend breakfast crime, Anna. (Though, if cheese pierogies with eggs and bacon and toast are wrong, I don’t wanna be right.) The third sister I never had, Anna. And the one with whom I exchange cat-calls/schoolyard insults across Broadway Avenue at dusk, apparently. Hollering above the passing traffic, Anna clutched a 12-pack of some type of summer beer to her black deep V, and, once my inglorious reputation as a surly, conniving tart had been proclaimed to all and sundry within a 3-block radius, crossed the street and asked if I wanted to come over for dinner.
Of course I did.
Anna’s roommate Sarah and Sarah’s boyfriend Ari were making dinner for themselves and a couple of other friends, and it was (believe it or not) not really been the first time I had been veritably plucked off the street and put to use in the kitchen at their marvelously cabin-y apartment. I was only happy to oblige, since I clearly was doing nothing else with my evening anyway.
So, back south we strolled – me, Anna, beer, and Janice – for Buzz Down Broadway #3. The evening light was still glowy and winking, and I was told the fridge at the apartment held a rather motley collection of wonders, so we weren’t sure what-all was going to end up on the table. Upon arrival, our suspicions were confirmed, though Ari had roasted a chicken and put together a GORGEOUS chilled corn & roasted poblano soup and is, in general, an excellent delegator. I explained that I had been selected to help in the kitchen in exchange for some-a-that soup and maybe a beer, and he put me to work on a salad.
Like I said – excellent delegator.
See, you may have guessed from previous posts that I’m kind of a salad-person. It’s something about the assembly, maybe. There’s no heat necessary; it’s all chopping, arranging, ordering. Salads are… calming. That, and even the most random and seemingly infelicitous combinations always seem to turn out really nicely.
So Ari opens the fridge door and digs out my options: some ripe heirloom tomatoes, a bunch of green leafy business that I assumed was arugula until I tasted it (more on that in a moment), an onion, some peaches, 1/2 a log of goat cheese, a new container of mixed baby greens, two oranges, a cucumber, and some chopped pecans.
Turns out the “arugula” was a bit of homegrown radicchio that had been picked before its time. Its bitterness was, on my tongue, somewhat pleasant, but the group felt otherwise. I furthermore figured that, even if everyone was for it, its bitterness would overpower pretty much any other cohabitants in a salad, so I’d have to choose between it and… well, everything else.
And those tomatoes and peaches looked. SO. GOOD. I won’t mince words here: the height of summer is a sensual time and I wanna sink my teeth into something sweet and fleshy and juicy when I can, while I can.
So I sliced up the peaches. And the tomatoes. And threw some other stuff up in there – maybe the cucumber, definitely the goat cheese and the pecans, maybe some balsamic? There might have been another vegetable lurking in there, but it was all so slapdash I can’t – now, over a month later (AH! for shame, gra) – remember the exact composition.
And there was that salad. And there was beer, and chicken, and the chilled chowder with – hooo baby- homemade cilantro oil and a bit of sour cream. We sat on the back porch and ate (and I… thought about eating a few spoonfuls of cilantro oil) and we talked about the summer so far, and whatever bit of summer might still be left. The sky was decidedly darkening; the air was decidedly cooling, though still heavy with the weight and the smell that sunlight leaves behind even hours after it’s gone.
It was as if the summer had peaked and begun its slow wane in the same night. I cut my 4th swath up Broadway and… I dunno, I was a little sad.
And it happens every summer, to everyone – we haven’t done enough, we’ve done too much, we could be more tan, we could be more rested, we could have gone out more, we could have gotten drunker, we could have gotten closer to each other, we could have gotten further away from the things that make us fade.
But we did what we did. And there’s always next summer.
You thought it ended here! It could have. It would have been bittersweet, but, I dunno, maybe kinda nice.
But dearests: it’s the tail-end of peach season and right now is when everyone’s got tomatoes coming out of their ears. And I was so charmed by the combination of lovely, fleshy peaches and tomatoes together that I made it a point to refine the concept in order to give the highest respect to these fruits of summer.
I got some good, ripe peaches (they’re on sale now, guys), two nice, veiny, weird-looking heirloom tomatoes – one yellow, one red – and a hunk of goat cheese the size of a small cell phone. I candied some walnuts I had sitting around (I make that sound so offhand and easy BECAUSE IT IS. Srzly, look it up, and be amazed), and broke ’em up after I let them cool.
Then I assembled. And arranged. And ate.
This was from a few Tuesday nights ago. Nothing special; I ate at my desk and lazily swatted a rogue feather from my comforter (yes, the secret’s out, I have a studio) while online shopping for a 2009 day planner (needless to say, I got a deal, being practically 2010 and all).
But this salad is… so pretty. And so delightfully slurp-inducing. Make it for someone you like and impress them. Or make it for yourself and relive the rise and the fall of Summer 2009.