So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You’d think; a burr had been a treasure-trove.
No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land’s portion. “See
“Or shut your eyes,” said nature peevishly,
“It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
“’Tis the Last judgment’s fire must cure this place,
“Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
All hope of greenness?’tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute’s intents.
(Robert Browning, “Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came”)
South Texas is a capricious region. She seduces us with her sunny, mild winters and colorfully floral, sometimes delightfully cooling springs, so that we think we live in paradise and wonder who would ever choose to live elsewhere? Oh, but then: suddenly summer. Overnight, without warning, late spring turns to something akin to Hell. Death steals the blooms from the wild flowers that just the day before had abundantly crowded any patch of grass visible in every field and pasture, alongside every path and trail, and parallel to every back-road and highway. The air heats up to triple digits, so that even morning runs are Hellish as the insensitive sunshine aggressively pours itself out on the land, assaulting anyone caught without shade or shelter, making it seem much as desolate and hopeless as the wasteland described by the hapless speaker in Browning’s unsettling poem. When sunset arrives and the outside temperature falls from 102 at 7:00 pm to 95 at 8:00 pm, the condition finally seems cool enough to get in a decent run for the evening. Though still hot, with the humidity rising at this point, the slight twilight breeze that often accompanies the setting of the sun creates an environment more conducive to running or biking.
Whether one chooses to run or bike before lunch and do battle with the humidity and direct sunlight, or to run easier by running at twilight or after dark, the heat saps her appetite. An evening work-out has the further disadvantage of pushing dinner late into the night, making dinner preparation a bit of a bother. After a hot, uncomfortable run, a light dinner, refreshing and easy to prepare, is often the most satisfying. I find that summer salads are exactly the type of refreshing, simple, and healthy dishes for a post-run or cross-training bike-ride summer lunch or supper. Summer fruits and vegetables make the most delicious salads. Two of my favorites are a rice salad with watermelon, and a simple Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes drizzled with chocolate balsamic vinegar. These salads feature seasonal produce, they’re simple to prepare, and they’re light and flavorful. Best of all, these salads are naturally gluten-free.
The recipes that follow are rather general; sometimes writing specific amounts of this, that, or the other ingredient just doesn’t do justice to the recipe or to the cook’s individual taste. One reason I love old cookbooks is that they give general impressions of recipes, without being dictatorial about measurements. Cooks of old followed recipes with generalizations such as the following from Home Cookery: Collection of Tried Receipts by Mrs. J. Chadwick (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Co, 1853):
The Traveler’s Blackberry Pie
Pick your berries carefully, but do not wash them. Shake flour thickly over them. Make a paste and put on your plates, and to each pie put four spoonfuls of white sugar, or five of brown. Put the berries into the crust, pinch the edges together after wetting it, and make a slit in the top crust to let off the steam. Bake forty-five minutes.
Boil it in milk or milk and water till tender, then put it into a dish without the liquor, put some pieces of butter and grated cheese, and over that more butter and more cheese, till your dish is as full as you wish. Bake it in a Dutch oven one quarter of an hour. It is an improvement to add a little pulverized clove, salt and pepper, and a little beef-stock.
Mrs. Chadwick obviously felt that her reading audience needn’t be told specific measurements of blackberries for the pie, nor macaroni, butter, milk, and cheese for the mac and cheese dish; she left these matters up to each cook’s individual discretion!
From Mrs. Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book (New York: Harper Bros, 1846):
Cold Meat Turnovers
Roll out wheat dough very thin, and put it in, like a turnover, cold meat chopped fine, and seasoned with pepper, salt, catsup, and sweet herbs. Make small ones, and fry them in lard till the dough is well cooked.
The amount of wheat dough, cold chopped meat, and ketchup the cook should use are obviously left by Mrs. Beecher up to the cook’s discretion! These old recipes are so fun to read! At any rate, the following salad recipes, much as the vintage recipes above, are mainly general ideas to be adjusted according to the individual tastes and needs of those who choose to prepare them!
I found the following recipe on Watermelon.com, and adopted it to suit my own individual need and taste. I prepare the rice before I rnn, so that it can cool in the refrigerator while I ran. After my run, I make the dressing, chopped the watermelon, green onions, and cilantro, and assemble the salad. The amount of dressing ingredients (except for the gluten-free soy sauce) in the original recipe look too great for only three cups of rice, so I cut the original amounts by half. Also, six cups of diced watermelon look too great a volume for the salad, so I add enough to suit my taste (probably about four cups, but I don’t measure it so I don’t know for sure).
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbls toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Tamari gluten-free soy sauce
3 cups cooked al dente and cooled brown rice
Diced seedless watermelon
1 bunch of finely chopped green onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Mixed spring greens
Whisk together the ginger, vinegar, juice, oils and soy sauce. Toss the rice with the dressing. Mix in the chopped onion and cilantro. Toss the watermelon with the rice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over mixed greens.
*I serve this salad with slices of gluten-free baguette, made by Against the Grain Gourmet (which I find at Whole Foods). Since I don’t have time to bake my own bread most of the time, Against the Grain Gourmet bread is the next best thing to home-baked bread. In fact, it’s probably every bit as delicious as home-baked bread, and the ingredients are so simple: tapioca starch, milk, eggs, mozzarella cheese, non-GMO canola oil, and salt. I spread this amazingly scrumptious bread with Beppino Occelli butter. MMMMmmm. So good.
I make my own chocolate balsamic vinegar dressing for the following Caprese salad, but prepared chocolate balsamic vinegar is available. When I can find it, I use Aussie sweetie basil, which has a more subtle flavor than more common sweet basil, but tastes sweet and flavorful nonetheless. Some people believe Aussie basil is better used for ornamental purposes than for culinary. Others, however, favor its mild sweetness and use it for tea and baked goods. This basil is said to have originated in our own Austin, TX; hence its name: Aussie sweet basil. In this particular salad, I used pesto perpetuo basil.
I find the mâche rosettes at Whole Foods, but any baby or spring greens will work with this salad.
Caprese Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes
Four heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
Good quality fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
Fresh basil leaves
3 oz balsamic vinegar
½ cup organic cane sugar
1 oz good quality 71% cocao dark chocolate, chopped
Mâche rosettes (or greens of choice)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, warm the balsamic vinegar and sugar together, stirring often, until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool. Place a handful of greens on two plates. Place a slice of tomato on one end of the plate, top the tomato slice with a slice of mozzarella cheese, and top the cheese with basil leaves. Continue the pattern with the remaining tomato slices, cheese, and basil. Drizzle the chocolate balsamic vinegar over the salad. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.