Summer snuck up on me this year, and it took a little longer than usual to decompress from the rush of The Boy Wonder's daily lessons and busy activity schedule. But this week, all of a moment really, I slowed down a bit and stopped pushing so hard at life.
It is June now, after all. Time for afternoons at the pool, Saturday mornings at the farmer's market, stolen moments in the garden, less complicated meals, and most of all, time for a little breather from our homeschool curriculum.
Time to finish up some of the loose ends from kindergarten, to dig around on Ebay for our first grade materials, and time to evaluate my own expectations. Truly, I think I learned as much from kindergarten as The Boy Wonder did. I can see the fascination of science through the eyes of a six-year-old now, and I am able to join in the wonder and suspense as a little boy hears The Story of Doctor Dolittle read aloud for the very first time.
It hasn't all been fun and games, of course. I also joined in the frustration of learning how to sound out words in which letters make different sounds than a young mind might expect, and we both had to dig down deep to come up with the necessary patience to learn how to coordinate pencil and paper to form letters and numbers when little hands would prefer to doodle.
But we did it. Together we made it here, to the other side of kindergarten, where The Boy Wonder can read, can swim without a life jacket, and can manipulate a fork and a butter knife to cut a pancake into manageable, polite bites.
We feel like superheroes. Superheroes on vacation, that is.
Like I said, it is summertime now, and we are splitting our time between the garden, the pool, and the craft table at home. There is much less time for slowly-simmered soups and very little desire for elaborate dinners. Our menus tend to follow the seasons and our little garden has cooperated nicely, providing beautiful, variegated lettuces for our salads and fresh herbs for our pasta; and as the variety of available produce has grown by leaps and bounds at Athens Locally Grown, we have started reintroducing a few sorely missed vegetables to our table.
God Bless the baby squash.
This year though, with the gaping void left by my ill-conceived decision to not rejoin our beloved CSA, I have been searching for new challenges in the kitchen and while there have been the predictable misses, there have also been a few pleasant surprises. This fennel and apple salad sits squarely atop our list of recent winners.
Fennel is an odd thing, really, a little too hip for my taste in some ways, and a bit too assertive in the first few recipes that I attempted, but a lovely herb when used properly. Fennel is often described as tasting of licorice, which can sound a bit off-putting really, but the crunchy texture and refreshing flavor of the bulb is perfect for summer. Besides, the word 'licorice' doesn't properly capture the flavor.
Of course I cannot describe it any better myself. The words 'clean' and 'crisp' comes to mind, but that falls a little short when trying to evoke a sense memory of a food. Suffice to say though, that fennel marries perfectly with tart apples and a simple, well-emulsified vinaigrette. This salad is really quite beautiful on the plate and pairs well with rich, velvety sauces and, my favorite, cheese plates.
Yesterday, when The Carnivore worked late, my desk was piled with time-sensitive work, it was hot and humid, and the kids and I were in town picking up our food order during the time we normally prepare dinner, this salad came to the rescue.
From the bags of food I brought home, I pulled out a fresh baguette to slice, toast and drizzle with olive oil. We already had creamy Brie on hand, along with an imposing hunk of strong, stinky blue cheese, and I was lacking only for something light, green, and, yes, crisp to temper the richness of the cheeses.
Voila. I had picked up a few bulbs of fennel with my order and it only took a couple minutes to slice some apples and the fennel, make the vinaigrette and toss it all together. We had the perfect summer dinner. Perfect even for a family of varying tastes, but the biggest surprise was how well The Boy Wonder took to this salad. He ate two or three servings for dinner, and asked for it again for breakfast.
Maybe I should add that to our list of kindergarten accomplishments: reading, swimming, and fennel appreciation.
FENNEL AND TART APPLE SALAD, serves 8, adapted from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 tsp dried tarragon
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tart green apples (such as Granny Smith), sliced thinly
- 2 bulbs fennel (not the leafy part), sliced thinly
- In a large bowl, add the lemon juice and tarragon. Slowly whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream, and add salt & pepper to taste.
- Add the apple and fennel to the bowl, and toss well.
- Best served at room temperature.