I’ve always suffered mad book-love, even before I could actually read. Mama read to us for hours during long North Dakota winters, and I learned early on that even if you were snowed-in and drop-dead-bored, you could lose yourself in the world of Wonka; be comforted by Charlotte, spinning in a corner of the barn.

For most kids, summer means swimming, baseball, popsicles, games of kick-the-can. For me, summer meant books. Lots and lots of books. Mama would take me to the library twice a week and I’d get lost in possibility, studying shelves and scanning inside covers with ardent fingers. Books took me far away from myself; they made me forget that I didn’t have any friends and felt nervous all the time. I could go places without ever leaving the four walls of my room. Books were magic.

One of my favorite books was (and still remains) Harriet the Spy. I adored Harriet–every sneaky, spunky inch of her. The summer I discovered Harriet, I realized that it was okay if nobody wanted me on their kickball team–Harriet would carry me through. And she did.

I loved Harriet so much that I told Mama that I needed to try Harriet’s favorite lunch: The Tomato Sandwich. This came as a bit of a surprise, because I’d never been that crazy about tomatoes. Maybe because North Dakota isn’t exactly tomato country; most of the year, tomatoes were tough and tasteless disappointments. But dangit, I wanted that sandwich and Mama, bless her heart, was happy to oblige.

Turns out, Harriet was right. There’s nothing quite so fine in life as a tomato sandwich, particularly in the summertime, when tomatoes run sweet and bursting. To this day, it’s one of my favorite afternoon repasts. Sure, things have changed a bit–I don’t use squishy white bread and I jettison the Miracle Whip and I add an extra flavor or two–but the essence is still the same.

Once tomatoes are worth eating again, Harriet’s sandwich calls to me. It’s the first thing I crave. And then I eat too many tomato sandwiches and I want something a little different. I still want my tomatoes–I know how fleeting the season is and so I almost eat myself sick on them. Corn and peaches and cherries suffer the same summer fate; I’m gluttonous with them until I can’t stuff myself with another bite.

So I’m a greedy little piglet. Sue me.

It’s been steamy the last few days and even something as Puritan as a tomato sandwich seemed heavy. I’d gotten my hands on some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market, and wasn’t about to waste them, so what’s a girl to do?

She makes avocado green goddess dressing/dip. That’s what she does. Green goddess salad dressing normally doesn’t contain avocado. The “green” in green goddess salad dressing comes from the addition of a bucketload of fresh herbs. Tarragon and chives are essential, but the rest can be up to interpretation and what you have on hand. I’ve made it with basil and flat-leaf parsley, I’ve added chervil or cilantro to the mix. It’s all delicious, especially if you decide to add an avocado into the pool.

The avocado adds enough richness that you can actually substitute some lowfat yogurt for the traditional mayonnaise and nobody will be the wiser. How great is that?

One thing you must not skip is the anchovy paste (or regular anchovies, if you can’t find the paste). The anchovy is what gives green goddess dressing it’s quintessential umami zing. It’s salty and rich and delicious and nobody will say, “is that anchovy I taste?” They won’t, because there’s too much herb action going on and the stuff is dang delicious. Actually, it’s sort of addictive. I made up a big batch of this and I have been putting it on everything.

It’s awesome as a dip for crudites at your next summer party. It’s delicious thinned with a little buttermilk to dress leafy salads. It’s yummy on top of a piece of grilled fish (halibut and ahi tuna are particularly swoon-worthy). It transforms a pot of white rice–just swirl some in after the rice is cooked and you’ll be a believer.

And that tomato sandwich? Oh yeah. It’s the ideal thing to shmear on crusty bread for your next tomato sandwich binge. Even Harriet would approve.

 

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Avocado Green Goddess Dressing

makes about 2 cups

 

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt

1 ripe avocado

1 garlic clove, grated or finely minced

1 teaspoon anchovy paste*

1/2 cup minced fresh chives

1/3 cup minced flat-leaf Italian parsley

3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon champagne or white balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

 

In a blender, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, Greek yogurt and avocado. Whir together until blended. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Whisk in the garlic and the anchovy paste. Add the other ingredients and taste for salt and pepper.  Allow dressing to sit in refrigerator for a half an hour before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

*If you can’t find anchovy paste, substitute 4 whole anchovies and whir them together with the mayo/avocado mixture before whisking in the herbs.

Note: This dressing, made as written, will be thick–more like a dip. If you want to use it to dress a salad, thin it with a little buttermilk or even plain milk and proceed.

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I think it’s because of wicked old El Nino, but we are having mighty weird weather this summer in the Rockies. We seem to be stuck with two extremes: stormy and rainy or blaringly, stickily hot. We Rocky Mountain dwellers aren’t used to humidity; we’re an arid climate normally–almost desert-like. We’re the land of chapped lips and bloody noses and scratchy eyeballs.

This summer, we’re the land of heavy, wet air. And mosquitoes. Lord, the mosquitoes. Usually, we are so spoiled with our measly mosquito population. Skeeters thrive on wet spring weather, and usually, that means that they don’t hang around here. It’s awesome. When people on the coasts or in the South complain about being eaten alive, we cluck sympathetically and feel slyly superior. We live in the right place.

Not this year, friends and neighbors. We have some thirsty bloodsuckers out there and it freaks me out on several levels. First, of course, there’s the threat of the West Nile virus, which we almost always have in Boulder and Weld counties, even when the mosquito population is sparse. West Nile virus is nasty, evil shit and every summer I am paranoid that someone in my family will contract it. Second, if someone in this county is going to contract West Nile, it’s going to be me or Miss M., because mosquitoes find us delicious and utterly irresistible.

You know what’s interesting about that? Miss M. and I are the only two people in the family who are wildly allergic to mosquito bites. If a mosquito bites my husband or Awesome Stepkid Ro or Miss D., they scratch absentmindedly at the small bump for a minute or two and move on with their lives. If a mosquito bites me or Miss M., the afflicted limb swells up like a red, angry balloon and it itches like wildfire and YOUCANTHINKOFNOTHINGELSEBUTTHEDAMNITCHING. For hours, if not days.

Why us, mosquitoes? We are lovely, sweet, kind-hearted people and deserve some mercy.

Because mosquitoes are assholes, that’s why.

We’re trying to avoid the outdoors at dusk and dawn, and I have (truly) 6 cans of DEET bug spray in my house at the moment, but it’s inevitable that at some point, a mosquito or five wins. It’s a scratchy summer, lemme tell you.

Another result of this humid weather? The heat seems particularly potent–just a brief time out in the noonday heat and I’m red-faced and steamed like a Chinese dumpling. When heat sucks the life out of you like that, you really don’t want to heat up the kitchen. In fact, I find that I’m not that hungry after time in the sun. I want something light, something fresh, and something juicy enough to cool me down.

This salad fits the bill, and I’m loving it so much this summer that I’ve been known to make an entire meal out of it. I’ll grill up some chicken or steak and warm up some bread for the other members at the table, but all I want to do is plop a gluttonous amount of this salad into a big bowl and slurp it down. Everyone else thinks this tendency is rather revolting, but too bad. My mosquito-stung carcass wants this salad and it wants a lot of it.

It may sound like an odd combination–tomatoes, watermelon and feta cheese? I know. Trust me, though, it works. I’ve seen variations on this recipe where other add-ins are present: slivers red onion, sliced black olives and fresh mint, for example, and those are good, too. The purist in me likes this version best, though. The flavors are simple and clean and totally refreshing.

The next time the summer sun’s got you feeling as energetic as a rock, whip this up. You’ll feel better in no time, honest.

 

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Watermelon, Tomato and Feta Salad

serves 4

adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

 

1 (3-pound) hunk of watermelon, seeded and cut into large chunks

3 large tomatoes or a mixture of large tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, cut into large chunks

2/3 cup feta or buffalo feta, crumbled*

2/3 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white balsamic or champagne vinegar

kosher salt and cracked black pepper

 

Stir everything together in a large bowl or on a large platter. Season with salt and pepper and serve icy cold.

 

*Please make the extra effort to buy the block feta and crumble it yourself. The feta that’s already crumbled doesn’t have much flavor. Also, if you can find Greek feta, go for it. Totally worth the expense.

 

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Hi Readers! Over the weekend, the Listen to Your Mother Videos for the 2015 season went live on You Tube. I’d be so thrilled if you’d check out my video, and if you have some extra time, please consider watching some of the other ones–there are some amazingly gifted women and men out there. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may even pee a little. :)

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