These are the days, aren’t they? These days that sit in the heart of summer, the days that are bursting with heat and sunshine and the earth pulsing with life. These are the days of summertime produce, fresh-picked and juicy and in need of nothing more than a few quick strokes of the knife, a drizzle of olive oil, and a shake of salt and pepper.
These really are the days.
We’ve had a little bit of a cool spell here in Texas, meaning that it feels almost pleasant outside. I’m enjoying it, this temporary reprieve from stifling triple-digit temperatures. It may be temporary, but I’m growing accustomed to enjoying temporary pleasures, such as full-time employment. Have I mentioned that I may not have a job in October? Yes, it’s true. I’ve been avoiding the subject here for a while, fearful that saying anything would mean that I’d have to say everything. In addition, I’ve been too busy actually working to say anything coherent about my work life. But I’ve decided that I’m tired of secrets; I wanted to tell you the truth. I won’t divulge the gory details, but I will say this: after weeks and weeks of anger, tears, anxiety, sweat, frustration, and working my tail off, I am at peace with whatever happens. Job, no job, Texas, no Texas: I’ll be okay. I still have a PhD and plenty to offer professionally, so I know that I will be okay. And knowing that I will be okay has loosened the death grip that worry had on my heart. It feels a little bit like that day I sat in a garden, contemplating my future when the truth dawned on me like so many clouds parting to reveal the sun: everything is going to be okay.
But that’s not to say that things are going to be easy, especially if and when it’s time to leave College Station. I have an uneasy relationship with this town. I don’t love it. It’s not really my kind of town. Maybe that sounds snooty or condescending, but it’s the truth. I’m a city girl, and College Station is not my idea of city. Chicago is my idea of city, or Austin, or any place with farmers’ markets and urban hippies and Whole Foods and queer folks and intellectuals and single people over the age of 25. College Station is a little lopsided. It’s college students and families, a place run by white men for white men. I work here, but I’m not sure I belong here.
It will be with mixed emotions that I say good-bye to College Station, which I am sure I will do sooner or later. But it will be with real sadness that I say good-bye to the few good friends I made during my time here. The friend I will miss the most is my best local friend, Amutha. She’s a good one, Amutha, with a big heart, a bright mind, and a great sense of humor. We’ve grown close since I moved here, and I treasure our friendship, which we’ve built slowly but surely, over hallway talks and shared lunches and the occasional homecooked meal.
A few weeks ago, I invited her over for dinner. She e-mailed me, “What should I bring?” I wrote back, “Salad? Or your favorite summer vegetable recipe? Or surprise me :-)” She showed up with ingredients for one terrific little summer salad, which I wanted to share with you today. Perhaps you, like me, are into chop-and-mix cooking during these long summer days. It doesn’t get too much easier than a six-ingredient salad in which three of the components are lime juice, salt, and pepper. Can you say easy-peasy?
Out of her bag, Amutha pulled a cucumber, a yellow bell pepper, an avocado, and a lime. She peeled the cucumber, then sliced it into juicy little disks. The bell pepper was quickly transformed into bite-sized pieces. Using a spoon, she carved the avocado into chunks, scattering it over the cucumber and bell pepper. Finally, she dressed the salad with a squeeze of lime, a few pinches of salt, a quick grind of black pepper before gently tossing everything together.
The combination was phenomenal: juicy, refreshing cucumber; bright, crunchy, herbal bell pepper; and cool, creamy avocado. The lime juice added a sparkle of lip-puckering acid, and the salt and pepper rounded out the flavor palette. I took one bite, and I was hooked.
So I made it again this week, and I’ll make it again next week too. It’s so easy and so good, healthy and satisfying and the essence of summer. It won’t be nearly as good once cucumbers and bell peppers are out of season, so like all pleasures, this one is temporary. But it’s so worth it.
Amutha’s Summer Salad
Serves 2-3 as a side salad
Amutha told me she also makes an all-green version of this salad by swapping the bell pepper for celery. To a celery-lover like me, it sounds great, so I can’t wait to make that variation too.
1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced into disks
1 large yellow bell pepper, diced into small dice
1 medium or large avocado, cut into bite-sized chunks
Half a lime
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1) In a large bowl, mix together the cucumber, bell pepper, and avocado. Squeeze some lime juice over everything, then toss to mix.
2) Sprinkle a few pinches of salt over the vegetables, then add a modest grind or two of black pepper. Toss again and serve. Leftovers of this salad will keep for at least a day or two if refrigerated. I think the lime juice helps keep everything tasting fresh.