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creamy millet corn chowder with greens


“Does this rye have wheat in it?” my coworker asked me last Saturday night. One of her tables had asked for a rye-based drink, but the woman had a wheat intolerance.

“Well, rye IS wheat technically, so yes. Maybe ask her if she drinks a certain type? I don’t know…” I replied.

A few minutes later I saw her pouring the whiskey of choice for the table. Full on rye. Wheat in the glass. That woman, with her laundry list of food sensitivities, was full of shit. “She’s an idiot” I said and we had a laugh.

So yeah. In one move I completely wrote this stranger off as a human being over a libation choice essentially. I feel like working in hospitality tends to encourage that kind of dismissiveness in even the most genuinely wonderful people. You see and feel the wrath of it all. I’m working on avoiding the motions that always lead to scorn and the whole empathy thing, I swear. It just takes time and and some intention in terms of arming yourself with better stress-coping mechanisms–sipping the good tea, staring at the trees, laughing, carving out time alone to lose yourself in books and other pursuits. It’s all been good.

***EDIT!: It’s been kindly brought to my attention that the distillation process of whiskey-making may very well remove the glutenous/wheat-y properties of the grain that cause digestion/overall living troubles for many. I really, really, big-time send apologies for the ignorance and like I said, totally working on trying to understand/not being so fast to judge thing. Hope we can still be friends :)***

One of the books I’ve been spending time with in a cozy chair just leisurely flipping through is Makini Howell’s Plum (link). It’s a most fitting inspiration right now as we slowly transition into fall. Lots of hearty recipes and simple strategies to make good and honest food even better, right out of her restaurants. I generally aim to choose plant-based and organic foods whenever possible, but I also tend to eat A LOT of that high vibe stuff. I have a fairly active job and have been amping up the workout routine lately (feeling amazing, thanks), so when I’m fixing something up for myself, I’m usually bordering on ravenous. Flipping through this book reassures me that people understand the whole veggie-focused-but-hungry-like-a-wolf thing. There are unusual flavour combinations and full, FULL plates of goodness for all levels of cooks. I’ve already bookmarked the apple tempeh fillets w/ fennel and garlic, the barbecued oyster mushroom sliders w/ pickled onions, the chai-spiced yam bruschetta w/ crunchy kale, and the tiramisu pancakes. I would say that the soon-here fall season is shaping up rather beautifully.

And this soup! I tend to not eat corn very often or shy away from items that feature it because we’re completely spoiled by the best corn EVER in the summertime. My dad plants rows in stages so that we can lengthen its season. Not exaggerating. Truly the best. I had a culinary instructor who explained seasonal cooking like this one time: “If I wanted to make you some corn, like the best possible corn, I would bring a portable stove out to a corn field and we would pick, shuck, and boil it right there. That’s how delicate the situation is.” I was fist bumping that sentiment with my mind before he even formed the entire thought. SO crucial to get it fresh while it’s on. The sugars fade to starch and just like that–chewy, dry corn experience. Frozen kernels would be just as tasty in this soup if corn isn’t so fresh where you live.

I was rather pleased with the outcome of this though. The addition of millet fills the bowl out and the ratio of greens was spot on. So satisfying and perfect in these late summer evenings. It was nice to hover over the pot while it simmered, quieting all of the busy thoughts. Summer’s typical cooking/non-cooking techniques seem to lack those clarifying moments, so a return is rather welcome. Maybe a few more sliced tomato lunches first though :)

creamy millet corn chowder with greens
C 2013 By Makini Howell. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro by permission of Sasquatch Books.
serves: 4
notes: I only made a couple minor changes to this recipe. Howell specifies baby spinach for the greens component, but I didn’t have any. So I clipped a bunch of baby leaves from our chard, kale and beet plants outside and threw them in at the end. I added a bit of smoked paprika and decided to blend a portion of the soup for extra creaminess. After I cut the kernels off, I slipped the cobs in with the millet cooking water for extra corn flavour vibes. Lastly, we have mammoth chives in the garden currently, so I swapped them in for the specified green onions. I’m also going to add that you shouldn’t be afraid to use some salt in this recipe. The millet and potatoes tend to soak up a lot of it and I mean, corn seriously loves the stuff–it amplifies the flavour quite a bit.

3/4 cup millet, rinsed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small hot pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 baby potatoes, diced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (reserve the cobs if you’re using fresh)
10-12 blades of chives, chopped (or a bunch of green onions)
2 cups small greens (baby spinach, small kale + chard leaves etc)
salt + pepper
+
extra chives, paprika, extra virgin olive oil and fresh pepper for garnish/serving

In a medium stockpot, bring 7 cups of water to a boil along with the stripped corn cobs. Add the millet and a pinch of salt. Cook until the millet is barely tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs with tongs and drain the millet, reserving the liquid.

Wipe out the pot and heat the olive oil in it over medium. Add the garlic, hot pepper, cumin and smoked paprika. Sauté the mix until the garlic starts to appear golden in spots, about 30 seconds. Add the diced potatoes and 6 cups of the millet/corn stock to the pot. bring the soup to a boil.

Add the cooked millet and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes or so. At this point you can purée 5-6 ladlefuls of soup in the blender and add the creamy mix back into the pot if you want a creamier consistency. Your call! Then add the corn, chives and greens to the pot, give it a stir and allow the greens to wilt just a tiny bit. Serve the soup hot with extra chives, sprinkles of paprika/pepper and drizzles of olive oil if you like.

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thecitygourmand21/08/2013 - 4:44 am

A brilliant photo series + beautiful ingredients!

Harriet21/08/2013 - 5:18 am

Oh man, hospitality brings out the best and worst in people for sure. I share your sentiments! But soups like this look like that could fix anything that ails anyone. I’m yet to try millet, but I love the look of it in this soup.

Kiran @ KiranTarun.com21/08/2013 - 6:06 am

I could easily down a few bowls of this delicious and comforting corn chowder!!

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar21/08/2013 - 7:39 am

This looks fabulous, and lovely photos as always!

Emma Galloway21/08/2013 - 8:33 am

Love the sound and look of this chowder and stoked to see the addition of millet, it’s one of my favourite ingredients and I can see how it’s creaminess would be a welcome thing here. I hear ya on the hospitality thing too, I once took a woman into our kitchen to show her the recipe we used for our chutney, assuring her it was gluten-free. And then she ate cake. With wheat. Sadly it’s people like those who give the rest of us ‘gluten-free’s’ a bad name :-/

Nicole21/08/2013 - 9:31 am

This looks incredible! I’m always looking for a new way to use my CSA greens. So pretty, too.

erin21/08/2013 - 10:40 am

I never thought I would miss living in the midwest but not having good sweet corn is a downer- I could never get over how sweet and delicious freshly picked sweet corn taste! I’m putting this soup on my to-make list anyway and I’m thinking I’ll try cracking the millet first for a bit of extra creaminess :)

Megan Gordon21/08/2013 - 11:31 am

YES!!! This looks so, so wonderful. I’m a millet fan through and through and would’ve never thought up this recipe. Lovely photos, as always. And a much needed hit of inspiration.

Danielle21/08/2013 - 1:01 pm

This sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing. I also appreciate your honesty. It’s hard to maintain empathy, especially in the hospitality industry, so I think it’s so important to be conscious of our immediate thoughts and opinions about others.

Renee @ Nourish The Roots21/08/2013 - 1:57 pm

Oh, I can definitely relate to dealing with customers in the restaurant world…it’s a funny thing isn’t it? Gorgeous recipe and photos, as usual. I have to get me some fresh corn stat!!! Much love to you. ~Renee

This looks incredible! What a great idea to use millet in a soup.

Lindsey22/08/2013 - 8:59 am

This soup is super. I love how textured and layered it is, totally different from a pureed cold corn soup I had the other day. It’s amazing how important freshly picked produce is. I know I won’t have an opportunity this summer, but hopefully next summer I will find myself in a field of corn, near a pot of boiling water!

Gabby22/08/2013 - 1:26 pm

I made this dish yesterday, fantastic. I had never had millet before I tried this recipe. Fresh squeeze of lemon on top really brightened up the dish!

The corn chowder sounds to-die-for!And these photos are GORGEOUS, doll! xo

carey23/08/2013 - 8:28 am

Owning a large enough plot of land to be able to grow massive gardens that include rows and rows of corn is a dream of mine that will one day happen. I’m now considering seriously looking into this husband-finding thing so I can put a portable stove on the wedding registry.

I’m hovering in that almost-fall limbo place when it comes to food, and a not-too-hearty soup filled with late summer flavors like this is the thing I want to eat. (Like, right. now. For breakfast. Because it’s cold, and I woke up early, and reading the phrase “veggie-focused-but-hungry-like-a-wolf” has made me extra hangry.)

Laura Wright25/08/2013 - 9:04 am

That’s such a great idea, Gabby. I froze a bunch of the soup to enjoy when things get colder here. Will totally be hitting the reheated bowls with some lemon or lime. Thanks!

Chiara M25/08/2013 - 11:32 am

Would you think you could replace the millet with bulgar? I’ve never cooked with millet so I’m not sure how it cooks up or compares.

Laura Wright26/08/2013 - 9:50 am

Hey Chiara, bulgur tends to not go as creamy or break down as much as millet. Also the cooking time is much shorter so you would have to adjust for that too (I don’t think it would need the pre-cook like I do with the millet in this recipe). The bulgur will make for a fairly different result than what you see here I think. You might want to purée a larger portion of the soup to get that creamy quality. Hope that helps!
-L

katheryn @ wineandthyme26/08/2013 - 9:03 pm

I wish customers could be recommended for “restaurant sensitivity training”. I would volunteer to teach the classes if it meant a generation of people who were more patient because they realized what went into their meal.
Also, my former roommate who had celiac disease (I know its a step above intolerance) stayed far away from whiskey so it definitely doesn’t remove everything. This makes me wonder.. can the gluten intolerant eat regular oats? Or share toasters and non-stick pans with us glutenous folk? So many questions!

Nina29/08/2013 - 5:07 am

Oh, I don`t blame you at all for your reaction, I tend to react in the same way. But seen as I am wheat intolerant I wanted to explain that while rye is a member of the wheat tribe and closely related to wheat itself, people who are wheat intolerant can usually eat it. Just like spelt. :) That soup makes me look forward to fall, millet is one of my ultimate comfort foods.

Kulsum01/09/2013 - 2:10 am

I am so envious of your access to fresh corn. Dream like!In general we all need to be less judgemental, atleast I do :)

[…] creamy millet corn chowder with greens […]

Lauren08/09/2013 - 9:10 pm

I made this tonight and it didn’t quite turn out like yours. For one, it seemed a lot thicker. I kept adding more water because it almost had the consistency or grits. I didn’t cook it longer than the recipe required. Also, I found it REALLY needed salt. Otherwise it was nice. My boyfriend loved it. Thanks.

Laura Wright09/09/2013 - 8:35 pm

Hey Lauren,

Thanks for your feedback and for making the recipe! I wonder if your corn had a touch more starch in it than mine? Can’t figure out why it would thicken up so much… Also, I’m with you on the hefty salt. Corn, grains + potatoes looooove it. I always write the salt amount in a recipe as a “to taste” context but somewhat secretly generally use a lot myself :)
-L

Kimiko12/09/2013 - 1:33 am

I had high hopes for this soup, but it turned out tasteless. I used super fresh corn, which is delicious on its own, but it seems to have lost all of its flavor in there. :/

Laura Wright12/09/2013 - 8:23 am

Hey Kimiko, I’m so sorry this didn’t work out for you! Especially because your corn was super fresh. I found that this soup needed a heavy hand with the salt because the millet and potatoes really absorbed a lot of it. This could be a part of the issue. Also, my chives from our garden are more similar to green onions, so that could have accounted for more flavour. I’m going to add a few notes to this recipe to hopefully help others out. Thanks so much for your feedback!
-L

Emily14/09/2013 - 9:23 pm

Thanks for this beautiful recipe, Laura! I also found it a bit thick, and I read the comments about the salt, so I added an additional cup of liquid — veggie broth — and also tossed in a Parmesean rind. Perfecto! I’ve always hated corn chowder because it’s usually rich and heavy on the milk. This was divine. :)

Laura Wright16/09/2013 - 1:49 pm

So glad you had success Emily! I’m going to add a note on the liquid content. I SO appreciate that feedback :)
-L

dalyn18/09/2013 - 6:38 am

I made this last night with corn, potatoes, and radish greens picked right from the yard, and, like other commenters, found that it was a bit on the bland side. I added plenty of salt and it still didn’t help. What did help, however, was the addition of some jalapeno brine that I had left over from canning candied jalapeños. So, maybe a bit of sugar and more heat? Anyway, it turned out terrific with some tweaks but I thought you’d want to know…

Weekly Wants04/01/2014 - 7:01 am

[…] This Creamy Millet Corn Chowder with Greens. The super delicious and comforting-looking vegan soup makes me crave summer fresh corn. Looks like I’ll just have to buy a bag of frozen in the meantime! […]

Cecilia27/01/2014 - 7:34 am

I am making this for dinner tomorrow!

Dawn27/03/2014 - 12:33 pm

I made this tonight and it was fab! I used sweet potatoes instead as I don’t use the white ones and I made it using veggie stock. Skipped the chilli because of the kids but my husband I drizzled ours with chilli olive oil. Came out beautiful, so tasty!

Brian05/04/2014 - 7:54 pm

Beautiful soup. I used some lime juice to up the acid level just a bit and topped with fresh tomatoes. Will definitely make again.

[…] Recipe and Photo credit to thefirstmess.com […]

caponata panzanella


I know, more panzanella. And another dish with a trillion vowels and syllables. I had the idea for this in my mind last week and could not let it go, couldn’t let it wait until next summer. Caponata is this irresistibly rustic Sicilian eggplant  and tomato stew/condiment that comes together with some minor rough chopping and simmering. It brings out the meatiness of the eggplant to the point of serious questioning sometimes. There are wonderful salty bits, cooked out summer-tomato juices, a scatter of parsley leaves that have barely been grazed by the knife. Sweet, sour, salty–perfect on any and all toasts once it’s cooled, maybe with some charcuterie and cheeses if that’s your thing. I thought I could cut to the chase and just throw the toast component right in there, mix it up real simple with another dose of olive oil, bursts of fresh tomato and even more grassy, peppery parsley. That thought was correct. So correct.

There is a pre-fall cool blowing through town, so I didn’t mind flipping the oven on to make the croutons while I sipped some tea and hung out by the stove. I donned a sweatshirt on my morning run today and marvelled at the pace of the clouds drifting on by while the whoooosh in my ears never ended. I have plans for soups, cookies and hella roasted summer squash next week. The pup shivers a little bit when we try to enjoy a little coffee/tea break outside and requires snuggling (OBV). My jorts preferences have faded to actual jeans-wearing. Maybe this isn’t so much the same where you live (especially on those jorts). Tuck the thought of this hearty salad into your back pocket for September if that’s the case. So simple, wonderful and lightly warming. Doubling the caponata for other uses/eating straight from the pan still-warm is a fine idea too.

So with that, I’m just going to keep it short today. This is my favourite time of year, this micro/in-between season of bright, cool and dry days. Maybe a little summery thunderstorm here and there. It tends to make me a touch sentimental while giving a clear focus for what’s ahead at the same time. Renewed purpose, eyes up to the moon, creativity and inspiration is everywhere you could find it. It’s a generous time in my corner of the world. Hope you’re all wrapping yourselves up in it too :) xo


caponata panzanella salad recipe
serves: 4-6
notes: It’s pretty crucial to cook the eggplant until it’s way tender, like a solid 15 minute simmer. Also, there’s a lot of salty bits in the caponata so maybe taste the finished product before you season the whole thing.

caponata ingredients:
big glug of olive oil
1 large eggplant, chopped into big pieces
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 small red onion, small dice
1 clove of garlic, rough chopped
big splash of red wine vinegar
1 tbsp capers
handful of green olives, pitted + rough chopped
2-ish cups diced fresh tomatoes
salt and pepper
handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

panzanella ingredients:
4 cups torn up bread pieces
olive oil
salt + pepper
handful of small tomatoes, halved
more chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the pieces of eggplant and oregano. Stir the pieces around to coat them in the oil and herb. Stir the pot here and there until the eggplant is browned on all sides. Add the red onions and garlic to the pot. Stir it up a bit, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary to avoid sticking. Once the onions are soft and translucent, add the red wine vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pan and stir the mix until the vinegar has evaporated. Add the capers, olives and tomatoes to the pot and stir. Allow the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the eggplant is tender and the tomatoes have let out a bit of juice. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, season to taste, and set aside to cool.

Place the bread pieces on the parchment lined sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Slide the tray into the oven and bake until golden brown on all sides, about 12-15 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Set aside to cool.

Combine the caponata with the croutons, stirring gently until just combined. Garnish the salad with a healthy drizzle of more olive oil, the halved tomatoes and extra parsley. I also like to scatter the crouton crumb-y bits left on the pan over the top of the salad for more crunch.

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Harriet15/08/2013 - 4:56 am

Wow! This dish is seriously resonating with some tomato vibes I’ve got happening this week – definitely going to the top of my to make list when the eggplants come into season here in Australia! And the salt-hound in me loves the olives and capers!

Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche15/08/2013 - 5:40 am

This is a fantastic idea! And a great way to turn caponata into a full meal. Your photos are gorgeous too :)

Johanna15/08/2013 - 8:21 am

This looks delicious! I can’t say I knew what caponata or panzanella was before actually looking at this, but now I’m convinced I need to make this :) You always have such great recipes.

thelittleloaf15/08/2013 - 8:26 am

It’s cold here in the UK but I’m not ready to admit the end of summer yet! I’ll hold onto this recipe for autumn though, it looks gorgeously fresh and full of beautiful flavours.

Jennifer Barnaby15/08/2013 - 9:09 am

Thank you for reminding me about Panzanella! I haven’t made it in yonks but it will be perfect for a dinner party I’m hosting this Saturday. I loved your photos too. I hope mine looks as pretty as yours.

Ashley15/08/2013 - 9:33 am

Your optimistic words are refreshing and always make my day. And this recipe? Showstopper (OBV).

Heidi @foodiecrush15/08/2013 - 10:18 am

Thankfully for us you didn’t let that idea escape your head, what a stellar combo. But then I’d eat anything with capers in it. Beauty.

fashionablecollections15/08/2013 - 11:10 am

wow this looks INCREDIBLE.

Shanna15/08/2013 - 1:01 pm

You can never have too much panzanella! Love this!

Ashley15/08/2013 - 1:25 pm

Seriously cannot wait to make this!! You have the best recipes, stories, pictures EVER! Thank you for an amazing blog to read :)
~Ashley

Kathryn15/08/2013 - 1:36 pm

This is a magical kind of dish, just absolutely perfect for this time of the year. I can’t think of anything I want to eat more.

Eileen15/08/2013 - 2:11 pm

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with another panzanella–especially when it’s as beautiful as this one! Roasted eggplant and tomato sounds so good right about now. :)

Big wow, this looks truly amazing.

Steph @ This Chick Eats Clean16/08/2013 - 12:01 am

Holy cheese and rice!!! Or should I say, holy panzanella! This looks ahhhmazing and I can’t wait to give it a shot! And your photography is gorgeous!
xo, This Chick

What a gorgeous looking panzanella. Sounds delicious!

Jeanine16/08/2013 - 10:46 am

yum! I love caponata and panzanella, genius idea to combine them!

Kasey16/08/2013 - 3:45 pm

Ahhh! This makes me want to go back to Sicily so bad! I have what felt like 100 different versions of caponata there – some more salty, some sweet. The combination of caponata + panzanella is brilliant! Also, that is helluvalotta vowels. xo

Emma16/08/2013 - 4:44 pm

Caponata and panzanella are 2 of the most fabulous things! I have an Italian friend who makes a simply incredible caponata- I keep meaning to ask him how he makes it. I bet the hearty, crunchy bread is the perfect foil to the melting aubergine and rich tomato base here.

Adri16/08/2013 - 8:12 pm

What gorgeous photos, and what a wonderful dish! Complimenti1

Angharad16/08/2013 - 9:18 pm

We just made this for dinner and it was an absolute delight! Our caponata was a bit more liquidy because our tomatoes were just that juicy but adding uncooked tomatoes at the end was a genius fix for that.

We added in some fresh basil too, just because we had it, and garlic. And then proceeded to wolf the whole thing down! Delicious.

HolliDe16/08/2013 - 10:29 pm

I am soooo glad that I found this fab recipe today. How could you go wrong with both of those mixed together? I subbed 4 Japanese Eggplant for 1 large one and toasted an olive oil/rosemary rustic loaf for the bread part. It was out of this world; we finished the entire platter!

Abby16/08/2013 - 11:48 pm

these photographs are absolute perfection. so, so gorgeous… wow. i adore ALL your work but the first photo in this post? and the third one…
seriously incredible!!

Juliette17/08/2013 - 3:56 am

This looks very tasty! Enjoy the first chilly days!

Juliette

Valeria17/08/2013 - 4:06 am

Uh, caponata -love! You didn’t dare frying the eggplant for the caponata – I almost never do, too, I have to say, as I live in the smallest tiny flat and couldn’t cope with the smell of it. I find it works nicely without frying the eggplant as well, but oh gosh, the Sicilian oily real-deal thing is something I die for.
I really like this combo – a bit of Sicily and a bit of Tuscany revisited and mixed into such a lovely dish. It has been moderately warm here in London but evenings are fresh and the oven on is more than welcomed.

Julia18/08/2013 - 9:03 am

brilliant post. brilliant panzanella. thx:)

sarah18/08/2013 - 9:51 am

‘It’s a generous time in my corner of the world.’ – Love that. I feel the same – it was cool here for over a week, and that ‘just before fall’ feeling is lovely! Fall is my favorite time of year, and while I hate to rush the end of summer, I don’t mind the cooler temps. I always feel more creative/inspired, too. Your panzanella is beautiful! Another good idea for dinner tonight. :)

Amy S21/08/2013 - 8:32 pm

Serious goodness. We made this on Sunday with the eggplant, red onion and super sweet grape tomatoes in our bushel this week. Fantastic, enjoyed every bite, and will put it in the “make often” category when eggplants are plentiful.

Amrita22/08/2013 - 2:03 pm

Seriously?

With your food photography, I feel like walking away from my computer screen, turning back around, and taking a running jump to dive right into the screen so I’d land smack-dab on your food. Face first and spread-eagle.

Total bliss.

menningen liên24/08/2013 - 5:21 pm

thank you for this refreshing vegetables “bouquet”of garden, we feel the earth, love of cooking, tasty and delicious, life and love of sharing, thank you again and have a good day, liên

Laura Wright25/08/2013 - 9:03 am

Amrita! Best. Comment. Ever. Thanks for making my day :)

Kathryne29/08/2013 - 3:17 pm

What Amrita said!

[…] blog that has to die for recipes. Along with this one, I spotted Lemon poppyseed pancakes, and Camponata Panzanella Salad that I can’t wait to […]

[…] of recipes that I wanted to make, uh, immediately. Given our very changeable weather this week, her Caponata Panzanella seemed just right. I made it that very […]

[…] Recipe and Photos credit to thefirstmess.com […]

a simple balsamic melon salad


We had just arrived back at the canoe entry point after about 6 hours of paddling and portaging. We packed up our tent life, ate a simple breakfast as the sun rose and took in the park’s stillness for a few more minutes while we brushed our teeth in the lake. The first leg was calm in the early light. We wrapped ourselves up in its cool quiet, making our way. Some winding rivers and gear-hauling jaunts later, we were at the final lake stretch of the trip. The wind was blowing right at us. Irritability started to creep up. My shoulders were hurting. All of those little cottages that dotted the lake, with their paddle boarding teens and solar panels hanging off the dock, seemed so ridiculous in their luxury. I had been dying for a coffee since we got out of the truck at the same launching point three days prior.

Obviously we made it and everything was fine. We washed up onto the sandy bit next to a convoy of very pale dad-types with ALL of the gear, reeking of Banana Boat and talking about optimal vegetable preservation methods (like straight out of Portlandia). We were bringing everything back to the truck and strapping the canoe onto the roof. There were two families milling about right beside us starting on their adventure. The kids were watching us lift and flip the canoe onto the roof of the truck, just seemingly fascinated by the whole thing.

Mark asked me to push the canoe forward, to center it on the roof. I tried with some emphatic might. Wouldn’t budge. “I can’t,” I said “You’re gonna have to come over here and try.” Now the parents were distractedly watching this whole gear-up thing go down at Access Point 1. One of the mothers, in a way that most certainly suggested a girl-power sentiment, volunteered this in my general direction: “Yes you can…”

I was still orienting myself after the effort. I smiled at her in a way that could only be described as polite. I was tired, kind of grubby, and had been interacting exclusively with the one person who knows me better than anyone else for the last four days. Maybe I wasn’t ready for human contact, or maybe I just read into it too much, but her comment kind of threw me. I kept circling back to it on the long drive home.

It seems obvious–the act of pushing the boat two inches to hit the right point of balance on a pickup for optimal highway driving is not a firm claim on my status as a strong woman. Her encouragement was positive and in terms of social graces, was offered rather easily–which is surprising and wonderful when you’re thinking about the human race in general. Maybe she drew a little fast on it though. Showcasing brute strength at any moment isn’t a statement of equality. I don’t want to cross that line, if it exists, either. I have a hard enough time negotiating the path to being a good and effective person on this earth, let alone trying to measure up with some “other” entity that’s just as human, and no doubt sincerely grasping to find the way just as hard as I am. What bothered me about her comment, possibly implying that if I dug a little deeper I wouldn’t need a man for the given task, was that it spoke to division and separation. It was that routine backing away from an attempt to understand what we all share in our humanity, which is everything. In that moment, I needed him because I was mentally spent and aching down to the bones; not because I lacked for anything in any regard.

Rather predictably, we didn’t end up moving that canoe the extra couple inches. It got strapped in right where it lay and arrived safely. There was nothing to prove. Everything leading up to that point, the actual physical effort, those human interactions that come from deeply rooted experience, the focused and visceral wonderment of the untouched world, the community feeling that is restored upon return… in the boat, the parking lot, and in my human life, had been enough.

When we came back, I found myself craving a lot of fresh things, all in the name of a slight life/body reset of sorts. So this salad came to be. I wanted it to be real easy. Even a little jam jar shake of some dressing seemed like too much effort. A lazy smear of aged balsamic vinegar on the serving plate keeps it cool and fancy-free. I’m not sure how hip melon ballers are these days, but I will always insist that it keeps pieces of the fruit very juicy. The presentation possibilities can be nice too (they can also be ridiculous) if you try to stay natural with it. I just scatter the scoops and thin wisps of cucumber and onion around, break up some herb flowers and give it a faint sprinkle of flaky sea salt. This time of year, the goods don’t need much fussin’ around anyway.

simplest balsamic melon salad recipe
serves: 4-6
notes: I use an aged, good quality balsamic vinegar for this. The kind that lightly coats a spoon and has traceable sweetness from the first impression. The taste and consistency of it negates the need for any other additions to this simple salad. If you have a thinner variety in your pantry, simply reduce it in a saucepan until it’s thickened up a bit and concentrated. Also, I intended to throw some halved cherry tomatoes in here too, but… just kind of forgot. Might be delicious if you have them around (and you remember them!).

3-4 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
4-5 cups small melon balls/chunks
1/2 english cucumber, thinly sliced/shaved with a mandolin
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced in half-moons/shaved with a mandolin
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
thinly sliced basil + mint OR broken up basil + mint flowers

Pour the balsamic vinegar onto the base of your serving dish and spread it around evenly with the back of a spoon. The idea is that, with every scoop of salad, a little vinegar catches on the bottom of the serving over to the plate. This maintains an optimal appearance and it ensures even distribution.

Scatter the melon balls, cucumber slices and red onion slices over the balsamic vinegar-coated plate. Season the whole thing with flaky/crunchy salt and pull apart the herb flowers/leaves over the top. Serve immediately.

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Simple flavors are magical. Nice story.

Emma08/08/2013 - 5:35 am

Gosh, this is beautiful! I’ve been crazy for melon recently and was thinking about turning it into a salad of sorts…

Lucie08/08/2013 - 6:23 am

Wow, it looks sooo fresh and beautiful! I love all kinds of melon. And fruit with balsamico is my favourite combination :P

Charul @ Tadka Masala08/08/2013 - 7:25 am

Lovely colors. And loved the pics too.

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar08/08/2013 - 8:12 am

This sounds soooo good!

Blaine08/08/2013 - 9:07 am

No fussin’, I’m all about that! AND some aged balsamic, I’m all about that too.

Until I tried true aged balsamic vinegar I didn’t really “get” it, but when I did I completely understood the compulsion to pay $50 for a smidgen of aged grape vinegar. Yeah.

This looks pretty freaking spectacular…

Ashley08/08/2013 - 9:11 am

Stunning!!! These photos are beyond gorgeous. I love the shot of the honeydew with the melon baller [so hip] punctures. I could use this reset salad right about now but have about a week until the kitchen is ready for me.

Ashley08/08/2013 - 9:11 am

p.s. the link to the watermelon with the face on it…..AH-mazing.

autumn08/08/2013 - 9:17 am

I was totally going to affirm your use of the melon baller before you even questioned it. Thank you for this. I’m now craving the outside like whoa.

annie08/08/2013 - 9:49 am

This sounds so simple and refreshing! Can’t wait to give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

Trisha @ Vignette08/08/2013 - 12:15 pm

What a gorgeous summer salad! So simple and fresh. I love that you paired it with balsamic. Now I need to go out and buy a melon baller. :-)

“Maybe I wasn’t ready for human contact…” I feel like that, well, pretty much every day. I dig that photo of melon ball divots. Beautiful salad – I especially like the combination of melon and cucumber.

Deb08/08/2013 - 1:35 pm

I am also a happy “melon baller” owner! An irresistible recipe, bright with seasonal flavor and easy to prepare. A fragrant summer treat!

Shelly08/08/2013 - 4:12 pm

Love the simplicity of this and the mix of textures / shapes – so gorgeous!

hungryandfrozen08/08/2013 - 11:34 pm

That top photo is dazzling! And um, my melon baller need no longer be maligned!

Thanks for sharing the story, too. It’s a theme I think about a lot, perhaps because there is so much more for women to navigate because of how we’re framed and discussed and expected to be…anyway, thanks. And glad you had this juicy-fresh salad to bring you back to life afterwards!

Ruth09/08/2013 - 12:46 am

I just tried this with nectarines instead of melon as that’s what I had. It was delicious. Nectarines, onions, cucumbers, herbs all grown in the garden. Delish! Guess I need to make my own vinegar now!

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Trisha09/08/2013 - 5:24 am

looks scrumptious and so fresh. I would definitely make this. Might try it this weekedn! x

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hannah11/08/2013 - 12:05 pm

This looks sooo gorgeous, you make me WANT a melon baller!
Bet this would be nice with some grilled tofu – how did you serve it?

Laura Wright11/08/2013 - 12:54 pm

Hey Hannah! We just ate it as is for a light lunch :)
-L

Irina @ wandercrush12/08/2013 - 11:41 pm

Hey Laura :) Beautiful colours, as per usual! So crisp. This post reminds me so much of the anecdote my mom always tells me—how her first job after moving to the USA was a melon-baller in her university cafeteria. She got her freshman 15 from all the free food they paid her with in return :) Anyway, I want to make this for her! Melon is one thing I haven’t tried with balsamic.

Elizabeth13/08/2013 - 4:37 pm

A canoe is so on my list. I feel like if I can just push off and sit out in that water, I’ll be just where I need to be. But, boats are pricey so I’m adding it to next year’s list. Easier to procure is a melon baller, which you have single-handedly made cool. I’m looking at a giant watermelon on my table right now, and am pretty sure I have everything I need to make this amazing salad on the spot.

Chelsea//TheNakedFig16/08/2013 - 11:23 am

All of my favorite foods in one dish!

miya20/08/2013 - 4:45 pm

Balsamic and melon is a match made in heaven! Melon salad is perfect for summer, and since summer is almost done in Norway I need to hurry up and try this recipe!

EmilieMurmure21/08/2013 - 3:20 pm

Wow! What a recipe!! And amazing pictures (as usual!) :)

Kathryne29/08/2013 - 3:16 pm

Sometimes there is nothing to prove. And, you make melon balls look sexy. :)

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