The biggest perk of being a teacher, I’ve been told, is summer vacation. But because I’ve always needed to work, this has been a foreign concept for me. For the first time since I was fourteen (that would be 23 years ago), I found myself taking an extended summer vacation in Ogunquit, Maine. Technically, I was forced into a vacation. My daughter auditioned and earned a role as a ballet girl in the very fancy Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Because it was such a great opportunity: a chance to work with current Broadway actors, choreographers, and directors —I couldn’t say no. With forty shows in the month of July (yup, 40), we had no choice but to take a real vacation involving sun, reading novels on sandy beaches, and picnics. This, I realize, is a nice problem to have.
As I embarked upon this crazy thing called vacation, I discovered picnics are an important part of summer. Growing up on the West Side of Manchester, my childhood picnics involved a blanket on the front lawn of our little house. Neighborhood kids descended upon their mothers’ kitchens for anything that travelled: jars of pickles, slices of cellophane wrapped cheese, the butt end of bread, and glass jars of Marshmallow Fluff. We were gross.
My picnicking practices have since evolved.
Avocado, egg, and lime salad is a recent discovery of mine. It’s a Nicaraguan staple and feels beach-appropriate. Hard boiling the egg is the only heat-required cooking necessary. Lime juice and cilantro make the salad fresh and light, while the egg and avocado balance the salad with a touch of richness.
My second new beach picnic favorite is a Mediterranean edamame salad. Edamame are fresh soy beans and only recently hit the mainstream food scene. The salad is easy and requires the edamame be blanched for just a minute, so not much on the heat-required cooking side as well.
These salads each bring an added beach bonus as they are both great for your skin. Rich in vitamins A, D, and E, packed with antioxidants, and filled with polyunsaturated fatty acids (helps protect skin from sun damage), avocado actually protects your skin from the sun. And the word on the street is that soy isoflavones in edamame help with the skin damage that will inevitably occur from being forced to read a book in the sun. Supposedly, these isoflavones actually help with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles—whatever, it tastes good.
Bottom line: less cooking, more beaching–that’s my new philosophy.We spent the first three weeks of the “Billy Elliot” run in Ogunquit and are now home to our cats and garden. We now commute 90-mintues to the theater daily (except for today–Equity Day Off!!!) and we very much realize how good we had it. But it’s nice to be home. Since our return, my car began making a gut-wrenching noise that feels something like tire/brake issues, we’re sorely broke from having too much vacation joy, and squash bugs are attacking the zucchini. And I realize that the beauty of vacation is the sublime retreat from civilization. Yes, Ogunquit is seriously civilized, but my head was all beach and picnic and novels and gelato (between taxiing Matti to her shows). Like I said, it was a nice problem to have… (and I’ll post about the aforementioned gelato soon).
Avocado, Egg, and Lime Salad
2-3 avocados, chopped into ¾ inch chunks
4 hard boiled eggs, large chop
½ small red sliced north to south
1 cup tomato chopped or halved sunburst tomatoes
¼ cup cilantro
¼ cup lime juice (more or less to taste)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To hard boil an egg “properly,” cover the eggs by at least an inch of water. Bring the eggs and the water to a boil at the same time (versus boiling the water then adding the eggs—they’ll explode). Once the water is boiling, remove from the heat and let stand for 20 minutes (time this, seriously). After the 20 minutes is up, rinse the eggs in ice cold water. This will avoid the gray yolk and cook the eggs perfectly every time! Peel the eggs when still warm, but let them cool completely before chopping. Combine all the salad ingredients, squeeze the lime over the top, and taste for salt and pepper. That’s it.
Edamame Salad – Serves 8 – 10 as a side, 4 – 6 as a main
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
16 oz Edamame
8 oz marinated, quartered artichoke
14 oz can black olives, halved
1 cup garbanzo beans (canned are fine — drain them before adding)
1 cup sun dried tomato
¼ cup red onion, diced
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Directions: Emulsify the vinaigrette using an immersion blender, blender, or whisking briskly. Add all ingredients together and enjoy cold! Note: a lot of recipes ask for olive oil, but I find unless you have a really nice and thus really expensive extra virgin olive oil, the oil is bitter. Avoid this by using a much more neutral vegetable or canola oil.