It’s finally, finally spring around here.
The skies above this island, and the entire Puget Sound area, are fickle at best in March and April. Much of the time, those skies glower in dark grey, with rain falling down sideways. A glimmer of sunlight raises everyone’s hopes. An afternoon of clouds clearing away leaves everyone positively giddy. You can feel chests opening to the warm light, smiles widening, faces softening. People talk to each other in line at the grocery store.
We are animals, first. In winter, it’s easy to forget. Maybe it’s hard to recognize that we’re hibernating.
Usually, however, in spring, we have a few days of blue skies in a row. This year, not so much. In March, on the day we moved, we lugged our couch into the truck in the middle of a sleet storm. In April, before we left for Santa Fe, the temperatures never rose above 48 degrees. We were beginning to despair. Would our skin ever feel warm to the touch?
The other day, while waiting in line for the ferry, I suggested to Danny that we turn on the air conditioner. It was actually hot in that car. Lu’s hair, as she sat in her car seat napping, was plastered to her forehead. My October-to April pasty-white skin was suddenly the color of caramels.
May, I love you.
We’re going back to cold weather again. We seem to always have this week of faux-summer around here. I remember it from the years of high school teaching. The temperatures rose above 70, we arose to cloudless blue skies, and every teenage brain was incapable of retaining a single piece of new knowledge. We were forced to discuss The Great Gatsby on the green lawn in front of our classroom. By the time June 1st rolled around, we were dutifully back in the desks, heads bent down studying for final exams. The first month of summer in Seattle is really late winter.
But it doesn’t matter right now. The window is open at 9:45 at night, the sound of peacocks echoing in the night air. (Apparently, there’s an animal sanctuary near us now. We hear donkeys braying, geese emitting their nasally honk, and peacocks preening with their voices.) This afternoon, Lu danced on the deck without any pants. We pirouetted then hit the t-ball far then played Candyland then sat down to read a dozen books together before Danny brought us dinner. Outside, in the warm air, for nearly two hours.
Soon, she’ll barely remember the days we had to sit inside to read, the rain trailing down the windows.
All that rain served one purpose, however. The spring-green vegetables are here.
We wait months and months for the year to begin. Okay, sure, technically the year begins in January. But seriously, people. May. This is when it all begins.
There should be English peas in the farmers’ market soon. We’ll do a little dance around here.
It seems that every winter I doubt my body. I descend into torpor, moving slowing from room to room. This year, I pushed it. I kept up on my vitamin D. I forced myself to move more. Still, I wanted braised meats, roasted potatoes, and sweets. That’s what my body seems to need in the dark and dreary months.
In May, like the sky, I threw off the heavy clouds. Suddenly, eating vegetables at every meal is no longer an ideal. It’s a demand from my body. Kale, asparagus, baby arugula, peas — these are the drumbeats to the song of my day. And quinoa. Lovely quinoa. It’s the spring season of whole greens.
These days, when Danny and I sit down to lunch with our daughter, we’re sitting outside on the deck. The plates that I set down in front of us are covered in a tumble of quinoa, spring vegetables, something pickled, and the dressing we’ve decided is our favorite that day. We three munch happily, satisfied.
After all that rain, let the light shine.
SPRING QUINOA SALAD WITH PICKLED RED ONIONS
These ingredients are really only suggestions. We’re keeping cooked quinoa on hand for lunches these days. When it’s time to eat, we grab whatever vegetables we have at hand, some kind of interesting protein, a pickled something, and whatever dressing or vinaigrette we made that week. I could eat this salad, in slightly different variations, pretty much every day this spring.
12 medium-sized stalks raw asparagus, woody ends removed
1/2 pound fresh baby arugula
1 tablespoon neutral-tasting oil (such as canola or safflower)
2 links already-cooked andouille sausage, diced
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups cooked quinoa (see this video for ideas for how to cook it)
1 cup pickled red onions (see recipe below)
Preparing the vegetables. Slice the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. (If you can only find regular-size arugula, tear it up into bite-size pieces.)
Cooking the sausage. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil. Put the diced andouille sausage into the hot oil. Cook, stirring, until the sausage is thoroughly heated. Set aside to cool a bit. Keep the small amount of fat in the skillet.
Making the vinaigrette. Combine the champagne vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small jar. Put on the lid and shake them together. (You can also do this in a bowl with a whisk.) Pour in the olive oil and shake the jar vigorously until the vinaigrette is thoroughly combined.
Assembling the salad. Put the cooked quinoa in a large bowl. Add the asparagus and arugula, the cooling sausages, the pickled red onions, and the dribbles of rendered fat from the sausages. Slowly drizzle some of the vinaigrette around the sides of the bowl. Mix the salad with your hands until every part is evenly coated with the vinaigrette.
You may not need all the vinaigrette for this salad. Keep it in the refrigerator for other salads. It will keep for at least a week.
PICKLED RED ONIONS
We seem to always have something pickled in our refrigerator. These days, it’s these pickled red onions. I adore them in a salad, since the taste adds a briny depth, a salty sweetness, a something unexpected amid the greens and grains. They’re easy to make, sit in the refrigerator waiting for you, and last a long time if you feel like giving them a pass for a day. Really, a perfect food.
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
pinch kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 pinch red chile flakes
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2 red onions, French sliced
Heating the ingredients. Set a pot over medium-high heat. Pour in the red wine vinegar. Add the sugar, salt, bay leaves, chile flakes, rosemary, peppercorns, and garlic. Heat them all together until the red wine vinegar comes to a boil.
Pickling the onions. Add the slices of onion to the pot. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat.
Allow the onions to sit in the pickling liquid for at least 8 hours, and preferably a day or two, before eating. They should last in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 weeks.