It was one of those last-minute thoughts I often have when I’m procrastinating work on a late Thursday afternoon. Thoughts that are quickly followed by an overly enthusiastic text to the manfriend exclaiming, “It’s soooo nice out!!! Picnic by the lake tonight?!?!” then me realizing I have a serious, if not borderline unprofessional, obsession with exclamation points.
So, we schlepped a bag filled with a big junk salad, green smoothies and hazelnut chocolate chip biscotti, gifted from a lovely friend, to the lake just three blocks away. Last minute additions to the bag included a bottle of wine and some iced coffee for dunking biscotti…because well, you know…essentials. And we agreed: no cell phones.
The hazy pinkish glow of the setting sun gifted us just enough warmth as we watched a bunch of crazy teenagers dive into what must still be a freezing cold lake. We fought over the salad bowl and downed the smoothie and happily sipped our bottle of cabernet sauvignon, which I admit, I stole from the leftover stash at my friend’s wedding a few weeks ago.
He had one piece of biscotti, I had two.
Then, we laid.
Some unidentifiable boat in the distance was playing Lil’ Jon’s Get Low, a song I despise because my college roommate freshman year played it incessantly every day of our first semester. And yet still, I nearly managed to fall asleep on the blanket, drifting aimlessly in that dreamy half asleep state where the whole world seems so possibly beautiful and wonderful and right.
The manfriend’s bony elbow in my side quickly awakened me from my utopian slumber. Opening my eyes to the big blue sky, I felt lightheaded (I blame the wine) and impetuously appreciative. I need more nights like this, I told myself, nights of gratuitous simplicity.
My friend Sarah recently wrote, “My twenties were about adding things. Doing more, even if it felt forced or unnatural. My thirties are more about reducing things. What I can do without? How can I react less? Who are my core people? What is really meaningful to me?” And those questions, those simple yet complicated questions, won’t leave the anxiety-ridden confines of my mind.
That is perhaps the opposite of simplicity, to stir on these questions for too long. But to equate simplicity with ease would be a mistake. It’s a committed process of daily choices to eliminate what is not needed until all you’re left with are those most basic, true elements. The ones that fuel you, love you, repair you, comfort you and challenge you exactly when and how you need it.
I have committed myself to this process. So far, my list of basic needs includes Thursday night picnics at the lake and this pasta dish. I think it’s a fair start.
Lately, I’ve been making attempts to use up all the food in my kitchen. A project cleanout, you might say. A half-eaten box of bowtie pasta, an extra bundle of asparagus, frozen corn and a large stash of almonds sitting lonesome in my kitchen magically transformed on a random weeknight. Since then, I’ve made this Summer Vegetable Pasta + Almond Kale Pesto three times.
Grilled corn and asparagus. Roasted cherry tomatoes. Bowtie pasta. And an almond kale pesto, made with good olive oil, almonds, kale, parmesan, lemon and garlic. Extra garlic, because that’s the #1 cooking tip I learned from Mama Everythingtarian. It’s filled with good-for-you vegetables, all those healthy fats everyone keeps saying you should eat and carbs.
I should definitely add carbs to my list of basics too.
It’s gratuitously that simple.
SUMMER VEGETABLE PASTA WITH ALMOND KALE PESTO
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 bunch of asparagus
3 ears of corn (or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed)
1 (1-lb) box bowtie pasta
ALMOND KALE PESTO
1/2 large head of kale or 1 entire small head of kale, destemmed + roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup roasted salted almonds
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
zest + juice of 1 lemon
salt + pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place tomatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt+pepper, tossing to coat evenly. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and slightly shriveled.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.
On the grill or a grill pan over high heat, grill corn in its husk for about 10 minutes until husk is slightly charred. Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil and season with salt + pepper. Peel back the husk, and place corn directly on the grill along with the asparagus. Grill for an additional 5 to 7 minutes until asparagus is tender. Let cool slightly, and cut asparagus into 2-inch chunks.
In a food processor or blender (I just got a Vitamix!), pulse together all pesto ingredients until the mixture is smooth but still slightly chunky. Season to taste.
Drain pasta and return to the pan. Add cherry tomatoes, grilled corn, asparagus chunks and almond kale pesto. Mix until pasta is well-coated. To serve, top with chopped almonds (or chickpeas, grilled chicken, grilled tofu) and eat up.
Makes 8 servings (or 4, if you are big eaters like us)