I stare at the green poplar trees swaying in the wind out my back windows. A few of the trees shimmer golden, leaves beginning to turn yellow, still hiding among lush green. The first sign fall is around the corner.
But summer hasn’t left us just yet, and I’m determined to savor it. We fill paper bags with peaches and nectarines at Johnson Orchards, timing our visits in hopes of snagging a freshly made cookie. The juice from the peaches runs down our hands as we eat the warm fruit on the drive home; windows down, music up, letting the hot wind whip through our hair and drying our sticky hands.
My garden, always an exercise in patience and hope, is accidentally thriving this summer. Big orange pumpkins wink at us through silvery green vines. Another sign fall is just about here. The heirloom tomatoes are pumping out beautiful yellow, green and red wine colored fruit daily and we cut thick slices, sprinkled heavily with kosher salt and pepper before piling on top sourdough toast, hamburgers and BLTs. We can’t keep up with the cucumbers or zucchini. I’ve been on a summer-long quest to remake Ramen Ya’s swoon-worthy cucumber salad at home, so I’m grateful for the abundance.
The children remind me a little of the garden these days; messy, growing like crazy, minds of their own, full of surprises and delight. The summer was spent shuttling them between sports and activities with friends, the Naches Pool for swim team every morning, and down a few mountains as they hurtle along narrow trails on bikes and I shuffle behind, praying and bouncing, hoping we all end up in one piece at the bottom of the trail.
Cooking and writing took a backseat to family life the past few months. It was an honor to do it and maybe a little bit necessary to pull back from the “extras” for a while. I had to quite literally dust off my computer (no pun intended) to scratch out a few words. And although my hands feel a bit out of practice and my kitchen a bit on the quieter side still, I feel the stir of creativity edging along the peripheral of my brain. I find myself absently flipping through cookbooks again, puttering around the kitchen here and there, concocting this or that, just because. It’s a good feeling and a welcome change. So while I savor and relish the last of summer, maybe fall with its new season and fresh perspective is exactly what I’m looking for and need.
It’s been much too hot to even consider turning on the oven for so long now. But that’s quite all right because Yakima has an abundance of local ingredients that need almost nothing to make them delectably delicious with the simplest of touches. Juicy sweet peaches, ripe tangy heirloom tomatoes, fresh crunchy sweet corn and creamy mozzarella cheese are gently combined with crunchy homemade croutons and a big handful of fresh herbs. This is the only salad you need for the end of the summer and the perfect recipe to enjoy all the best parts of your garden and the Yakima Valley’s summer harvest.
4 cups cubed day-old French or sourdough bread
2 tablespoons salted butter
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of granulated sugar
2 medium peaches
1 large heirloom tomato (1 pint cherry tomatoes are a nice substitution)
2 ears corn, kernels cut from the cob
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed or sliced into bite-size pieces
¼ cup minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Start by cubing the bread into bite-size pieces. Day-old bread makes for the best croutons and soaks up all the best flavors.
In a cast iron pan, heat 1 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, stir it around so its evenly spread across the pan and add the bread. Allow the bread to sizzle and toast on one side for about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to turn and flip the bread, cooking for about a minute on each side until the bread is toasty and golden brown on all sides. Sprinkle with a liberal pinch of salt before turning the heat off to the pan and removing the bread crumbs from the heat. Set aside.
Wash and cube the peaches and tomatoes. Cut the corn from the cob and gently combine with the peaches and tomatoes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
When you’re ready to serve your salad, combine the toasted bread crumbs, peaches, tomatoes, corn, fresh basil, parsley, and mozzarella cheese. In a separate small bowl, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried thyme and pinch of sugar. Stir well to combine and then pour over salad. Gently stir to combine. Garnish with one last sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper and a bit of fresh basil for color. Serve immediately. Serves six small portions.