Monday, August 31, 2009

Vacationing at Home (or that other word I refuse to say)

Dear Boo,

Here's something I hate: The term "staycation". It's a totally bogus concept made up by a bunch of marketing executives to convince poor saps who can't afford to go on a vacation to spend money anyway, in the vain hope that they can convince themselves they're having just as much fun as they would have if they'd gone to the beach, or the mountains, or Paris. Naturally, I am one of these saps. The Boyfriend and I had planned to possibly go to Florida this weekend to visit some of his family, but time and money squashed that plan rather quickly. We'd talked about going to the beach nearby, but Tropical Storm Danny put that kibosh on that too. So we were stuck. I refused to breathe the word "staycation", but let's face it. That's what it was.

We tromped out in the rain to BAM to see the fabulous (500) Days of Summer, produced by our incredible cousin! So good. Had some lunch. Had some coffee. And decided on dinner at home. I had some tomatoes and zucchini from the farmers market and planned my meal around that.

yes, that knife says "cheese." got a problem with that?

Bon Appetit recently had a feature online on 25 things to do with a fresh tomato in this season when basically, that's all we should be eating, for every meal (yes, it included your favorite vodka-spiked cherries). On the list is a recipe from Michael Symon (sassy picture, eh?) for a salad his mother has made since he was a kid. It sounded like everything I like in a summer salad: fresh, colorful, crunchy, tangy, cheesy, herby...mmm....

And the zucchini--well, I've been kind of obsessed with sauteed squash with garlic, oil and red pepper all summer, so that was a no brainer. I thought I'd add some shrimp, but when I got to the fish counter at Whole Foods, these little buggers were staring me down. How could I say no?

Don't look at me like that.

With a nice piece of Midnight Moon goat gouda, a bowl of peppadews, and a cold glass of prosecco, I could have sworn we were having cocktail hour on our beachfront deck.

....Well, maybe not. But it was lovely. And though I still abhor the term, it did get me thinking about how to conjure up the vacation spirits when you're a few hundred miles and dollars and raindrops away from where you'd like to be.

Here are some humble suggestions:

- Make a meal using the freshest ingredients you can find. I know, I know, you've heard it all before, but really it helps. There's no better way to invoke the season, and fresh flavors = summer = vacation.

- Set your table in an unusual spot. Don't sit where you eat dinner every other Tuesday night. Spread a blanket in the livingroom and eat picnic style. Move your kitchen table into another room, by a window with a different view. Hell, fill your bathtub and eat 'poolside'--it's really none of my business.

- Dress for dinner. Doesn't have to be formal, just clean. You'd probably shower and change your shirt for a dinner out, right? Themed costumes also acceptable at your discretion. Again, not my business.

- Add something new to the menu, something you don't normally buy. The sardine substitution, while it's wreaked absolute olfactory havoc on our apartment, was an exotic (for us, at least) and summery change. It's something I'd order out on a vacation dinner, but never tried at home. It made me focus more on the presentation of the dinner and made both of us eat slower and appreciate the meal more (if only to avoid choking on tiny bones). As if--gasp--we had paid someone else to prepare it for us.

- Have cocktail hour. Make individual cocktails and don't guzzle them. Pretend they cost $12 each. Buy a nice slice of cheese or proscuitto and some melon. Eat it at least 30 minutes before dinner. Don't rush.

- Change your soundtrack. We dug up some old CDs that had been relegated to the back of the dusty album binder and put them on in a random shuffle. It shifted the whole mood. If only I could have eaten my meal blindfolded, without fear of stabbing myself in the cheek, it might have really convinced me we'd skipped town.

- Make this salad. Gorgeous summer in a bowl.

Staycation Salad. Okay, yes, I said it.
(adapted from Michael Symon)

1 half red onion, shaved thinly
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 red pepper, chopped
1/3 cucumber, sliced
1 cup kalmata olives, pitted
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped basil (recipe calls for dill but I used this instead)
1 cup feta, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Soak the onion in ice water for 10 minutes. Cut tomatoes into bite sized chunks and set aside. Drain the onion and pat dry. Place the garlic, a pinch of salt, and the red wine vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil onto the mixture while whisking. Then add the onion, red pepper, cucumber, pitted Kalamata olives, and the herbs. Let that marinate for 15 to 20 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and feta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and possibly a dash more vinegar. Place on a large platter and serve immediately. Serves about 4.

Two days later and our apartment still smells faintly of sardines. I'm trying to think of it as a souvenir from our weekend getaway.


The Mouse


Buriednova said...

Love the suggestions for making dinner at home special.

sols said...

will you explain why you soak onion in cold water? does it keep you from reliving the onion all night?

The Mouse said...

sure! Soaking the onion in ice water serves to rid it of some of it's bitter bite. Basically, after the soaking it'll taste milder and smell far less tear-inducing. it's a good trick that I just learned recently. (thanks for asking)

sols said...

thanks! ps - we are smoking local (to the NC locale I am currently dining in) pork ribs as i type this -- and yesterday we met the actual real, live pork! as much as i love pigs, i feel good about eating this guy. he had a good run.