Ravenous Fig

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Whole Wheat Couscous, Squash, and Goodness Salad

Three weeks ago I was busy making caramels, wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts, and waxing nostalgic about Christmases years ago, when my family would pack up and head to Memphis for our annual Christmas gathering. I truly miss Christmas in Memphis, all of us under one roof for a few precious hours. I jump at any chance to spend time with my cousins and their beautiful children nowadays. The chance at sweater weather makes it all the sweeter.

Best grandma present ever

The past few years have been the beginning of new traditions, though; traditions that are bound to change as the shape of our family eventually changes. We've paved a backwards checkmark across the US for the past few years, visiting West Palm Beach, then Pueblo, then West Palm again before driving home New Years day. This year, the plan was no different. But the story always changes, even when the plan is the same. Doesn't it seem that way?

Christmas in West Palm was warm and familiar. We shared a smoked turkey and cranberry sauce, stuffing and Papa's famous mashed potatoes. I received more than I could have wished for; an All-Clad pasta pot, The Fat Duck Cookbook, and a pair of TOMS shoes, to name a few.

Driving is hard. But it's so pretty!!

By the time we made it to Pueblo, we had probably eaten enough calories to last us 'till New Years, but we didn't let that stop us. We turned a vegetarian Shepherd's Pie into a more standard Shepherd's Pie using the beef raised on a family farm in Oklahoma. We followed that with a few helpings of Vance's grandmother's potato-free gnocchi and at least two bean burritos bathed in organic green chili. We learned about baking at altitude, putting the expletives back in Cranberry Cake. By the time a week had past, I was so glad to have come and refreshed my sensory memory with the flavors of Colorado, but ready to be back at home as well, curled up with Chester and a glass of wine.

New Years Eve is always an interesting time to fly; people crowd the bars to get a peek at all of the college bowl games that are going on, flights are more scarce but fully-packed, and everyone just wants to be home before the clock rings 12. We boarded a tiny jet from Denver to Memphis, four seats across, and I held out hope that we'd be "bumped" off our second flight and score a free stay in Tennessee with a free plane ticket for later. About the last hour of our flight, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and informed us that there were severe thunderstorms in the area — we'd be flying through Arkansas and coming up from the south to land in Memphis. And we'd be landing about an hour late, as oh-by-the-way we've been stalling for a while.

[caption id="attachment_575" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="Outside the gate, waiting to hear from Delta what the status of our flight home was."][/caption]

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Heirloom Tomatoes with Peaches

The Season's Pick box from our local co-op has been pretty hit-or-miss lately. We've gotten some bizarre and exotic stuff in there, but very little that we would normally include in our typical cooking repertoire.

This week, however, I was delighted to find two huge, perfectly ripe, flawless heirloom tomatoes waiting in the bottom of the box. Normally I would just slice and top them off with a little light vinaigrette, so as not to take away from the perfect flavor tomatoes have this time of year. But this week I was inspired by the newest issue of Food & Wine, which is filled with southern recipes reinvented for the modern cook.

[caption id="attachment_194" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes, two from our Season's Pick box and one from Whole Foods"]Heirloom Tomatoes[/caption]

I grew up in the South… ish. Most of my extended family was centrally located in Memphis, Tennessee, and our family vacationed in North Carolina nearly every summer. It goes without saying that I was exposed to a great deal of southern food in my formative years. My grandmother's macaroni and strawberry cake recipes are legendary. (At least the Gillespies — myself included — think so!) And while I wasn't exposed to collards and okra until I joined the co-op many years later, I have fond memories of black-eyed peas, corn bread, and sweet potato casserole (smothered in toasted marshmallows, of course) from Christmases past.

There are few food genres that have a worse reputation for health value than Southern cooking (or is that cookin'). Rightfully so, perhaps. On my most recent trip to Memphis, the smell of southern fried chicken was in the air seemingly from the moment I stepped off the plane until I boarded again two days later. Which is why I was surprised to find a (mostly) healthy heirloom tomato salad in the middle of last month's issue of Southern Living magazine. (I know, I said I was inspired by this month's Food & Wine, but that's what made me pick up the Southern Living in the first place… Track with me, people.)

Peeling the Peach

Normally I change a few things about a recipe before posting it here — things I'd change if I made it again, or substitutions I had to make based on what I had on-hand at the time — but there's very little I would do to change this one. If you have amazing tomatoes and peaches at your farmer's market this time of year, this one is definitely worth a shot. If it's the middle of the winter and your tomatoes are like cardboard, put this on the shelf until tomato season hits!

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="540" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans"][/caption]

Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans

This will take about 20 minutes to prepare and make 6 servings, but my husband and I ate the entire thing right off the platter.

Simple Tomato Salad

A simple tomato salad is perfect on a hot summer day.

Since this blog went live a couple weeks ago, I've started actually reading cookbooks. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to skipping straight to the recipes, but it's actually quite interesting getting to know the personality behind the food before pulling out the measuring cups.

This is especially true when it comes to Earth to Table (Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann). I read through the Summer introduction last night as I was soaking off the week in a bathtub with a glass of wine.

Cooking is easy in the summer; just don't ruin the way the food already tastes. What is easier than boiling some corn, or preparing some berries? A tomato salad is easy. Grilling is easy. Life is good in the summer.

In that same vein, I've put together the simplest tomato salad recipe that, if you're like me, can be made nearly start-to-finish with ingredients grown within a hundred miles of your kitchen (even better, in your backyard). I'm constantly playing with the vinaigrette recipe, using whatever we have on hand; if you don't have the type of vinegar I've listed below, substitute whatever you happen to have in your pantry.

Simple Tomato Salad

This will serve 4 as an appetizer/salad course, or 2 as a main course for lunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey mustard
  • 1 pint organic grape tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
  • 1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
  • 5-7 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Feta cheese (optional)

Preparation

Pour the vinegars into a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and honey mustard until well-combined. Roll up all of the basil leaves together and cut into a chiffonade. Add the basil, the sliced onion, and the tomatoes to the bowl of vinaigrette and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like, serve with some crumbled feta cheese on top.

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