But then who can tell what it really is that flickers up there in the dark above the houses–the luminous name of a product or the glow of human thought; a sign, a summons; a question hurled into the sky and suddenly getting a jewel-bright, enraptured answer?
-Vladimir Nabokov (Mary)
The past week has been a lot like that rather cliched moment in novels when the word “suddenly” appears; in that one brief moment, nothing is the same, nor will it ever be so again. In a way, you might say that this has been our experience with Elektra. Suddenly she was here and, as puppies (like babies) are wont to do, she announced her presence with a bit of a bang–really, maybe more like a gentle whimper and, at a few moments, even a baby beagle howl
. Suddenly we were talking to strangers. I kid you not, in the past week I’ve talked to more people on the street than I have in my whole 6 years in Berkeley. I met a woman who used to dog-sit and who is spending Christmas in London (apparently, the Hoxton Hotel
offers a Christmas special if you’re interested in the sound of a UK holiday season); I’m also suddenly on a first-name basis with about half of my neighbors. If you want to meet people, seriously, get a dog and take it out for a walk. The odds are that people will want to pet it, they might smile and inquire about the name and, by the end, you’ll almost be like old friends. Suddenly, I’ve also become acquainted with Berkeley at all hours of the night. While 3 A.M. strikes me as too quiet and fairly creepy (I’ll confess that when I forgot my glasses one night and had taken the dog out for a bathroom break, I saw this car that sped up the street, then stopped and threw something at a house; I thought I was witnessing a crime, so I grabbed the dog and was getting ready to run home when I realized–rather stupidly, might I add–that it was just the newspaper delivery boy. Clearly, I am not my best at 3 in the morning, but, really, who is?), 5 a.m. is rather lovely. I like the sense of quiet expectancy and the neighborhood’s first rumblings of movement.
Suddenly, this little face was everywhere: on the couch, on the printer below our desk, looking up expectantly, hungrily, curiously at each and every turn. We’ve found ourselves suddenly busier, but somehow more organized, too. The dishes now get done faster, and the laundry is folded more quickly (how long this will last, nobody can say. My not so secret hope is forever, but I’m a realist at heart and realize our limitations as people with lives). Puppy nap time has become the ultimate work time, or baking/cooking time. Most beautiful of all, there’s no longer any extra time for us to dwell on dissertations or comments from our advisers, or even on that murky thing called the future. Lamenting the quickly approaching end of summer is also now beyond our reach. Quite frankly, our emotional energies are occupied elsewhere. For the past six days, life has been solely about the here and now. While I would never say that I’m not bordering on exhausted, I can’t help but like this new turn our life has taken. It’s both inspiring and exciting. I’m at my best when I’m busy.
Thanks to Elektra’s arrival, things have been fairly simple in the kitchen recently, too. The Greek has been roasting a lot of meat (roasting is really the art of low maintenance dining). And despite what seems to be both a mutual and newly discovered need for more protein and iron, I have, as always, been trying to make sure that we balance our carnivorous urges with green things and other vegetables.
For some reason this summer, I’ve taken quite a liking to yellow zucchini: crooknecks and sunburst
(aka pattypan) squash. They’re just so radiant–emerging like little beams of sunshine in the midst of a foggy summer–that I couldn’t resist them when I saw them at the market. I first bought them back in June, right before we left for Greece, and somewhat inspired by the Greek-style risotto
we had made the night before with feta, tomatoes, oregano and a splash of ouzo, the Greek and I decided to cook the zucchini with almost the same set of ingredients, substituting fresh thyme for the oregano (herb fun fact: thyme is a good source of iron and calcium).
We liked it so much that we’ve now made it no less than three or four times this summer (and we’ve revisited the ouzo and feta risotto just as many. In a house that doesn’t see all that many recipe repeats, this is no small feat!). The preparation is nothing short of simple and, beyond the time it takes to chop the squash into round pieces or wedges, it’s one of those meals that can be on the table in under 30 minutes. While I was originally skeptical about cooking with ouzo since it’s so potent and its anise flavor/fragrance can drown out the competition, somehow it works surprisingly well with the subtle flavor of the yellow squash and the earthiness of the thyme. I like pairing it with bulgur mixed with olive oil, salt, pepper and feta, but other grains or even chicken (grilled or roasted) would work just as well.
Although yellow squash isn’t at all common in Greece and the Berkeley weather is much too mild for proper ouzo drinking (ouzo, in my opinion, needs heat to shine), I like that this dish combines some of the best of two worlds that are dear to my heart. It’s almost like being back in Greece, but not quite. Take a bite, close your eyes and pretend to be next to the Aegean Sea. Just call this the glory of culinary fusion.
Yellow Squash with Ouzo and Thyme
Yields about 4 servings
Inspired by all things good and Greek
An important note: you can probably use whatever squash you have on hand, although I’ve tried this only with different kinds of yellow squash. Depending on your flavor preferences and the amount of squash you’re using, you might also cut back on the ouzo, adding only a few tablespoons instead of the full 1/4 cup. The same can be said for the amount of garlic; I’m a huge fan, but I know that not everybody is. In short, as with all recipes, let your own cooking style be your guide.
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 small cloves of garlic, crushed
4 small yellow squash, chopped
2 sunburst squash
1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme
-Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
-Add the garlic and cook in a cluster for about 1 minute.
-Add the chopped squash, some salt and pepper and cook for about 6-8 minutes, or until the squash has softened, but is still slightly firm.
-Add the thyme and ouzo and, with a spatula, move the squash pieces around so that they’re evenly coated with the ouzo-olive oil-thyme mixture.
-Cook for about 4-5 more minutes, or until the squash is tender and the ouzo has been absorbed .
-Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with grains or meat.