[Bodega Head, Sonoma Co. coast, July 2009.]
It’s scarf-and-sweater weather again in San Francisco (What’s that you ask? It’s July? Yes, it is indeed July. I know that’s weird but that’s just the way things go around here.) which means I’m shivering my way to and fro the bus in the mornings and gusty afternoons and looking for any excuse to turn on the oven. Shockingly the other night this did not involve baking sweets (though tomorrow is another day) but a mix of vegetables and cheese that I wasn’t sure would be good but was, absolutely.
Last weekend up north, however, was hot; I lost my mind a little bit and thought running 6 miles at 12.30 p.m. (when I came home sweating and parched I looked at the thermometer my parents keep outside the house and clutched my ipod: 95 degrees! Um, oops?) was a good idea. I love my usual route along the back roads — if I’m lucky I’ll see hawks perched still and silent on the power lines, Mt. St. Helena visible in the distance on clear days, and one particular house has planted its front yard with lavender that is the perfect pick-me-up perfume when I pass it during the last 2 miles — but perhaps I should have waited until later.
But I couldn’t really have waited until later because there was talk of going for a hike at the coast and I was anxious for it. After my shower I stuffed myself quickly on my mom’s good vegetarian chili and an avocado-with cheese sandwich, sucked down lots of ice water, and then drove the winding, sunny roads out to Bodega Head.
Out there it wasn’t hot but it wasn’t particularly cold. I wore shorts, even. We walked all along the high trail to the part where you can hear the seals barking on their little island and see the moored ship in Bodega Bay still listing faithfully on its side (a funny story, this, and if you go to the bar at the Tides Wharf and ask nicely as you’re sipping a g&t you’ll get to hear it). Then we crossed over to what a friend of mine used to call ‘Ireland’ and hiked up through the yellow wildflowers to the rim of the hill.
It was a grand afternoon.
This is all to say, of course, that I’m pining for that stolen bit of summer as I peer through the fog and wish away the wind rattling my windows every night. This morning I woke up to the drip-drip-drip of water coming off of a neighbor’s balcony where he keeps plants and I swear I thought it was raining. But it’s July, I told myself sleepily and pressed snooze two more times. Rain in July? Where’s my umbrella?
Northern California is dry as a bone pretty much from June through September and yet! And yet it’s actually a bit drizzly out there this morning and — agony! — in the lower 50s. So because it’s not warm and maybe won’t even be thus this weekend, the other night I did what I had to: I made a sort of casserole with potatoes, squash, and cheese to warm me up both inside and out.
A weekend away is followed by a week of not having a lot in the fridge and mostly that’s alright and I can make do. Fortunately I had a few holdovers from the market a few weekends ago (cauliflower, onions) but not the greens I was wishing for (yes it’s true I have a Thing for chard. Also spinach.). But I had enough, and I took out everything I had and thought about what I could cook. Mostly my brain was repeating chilly chilly chilly over and over again so I listened to the poor thing and turned on the oven.
What I did was simple: thinly-sliced potatoes layered with zucchini, portabello mushrooms (just a little bit), a handful of peas, garlic, and cheddar and parmesan cheeses baked for about a half-hour. I may have yearned a little for some wilted spinach to tuck under the top layer of potatoes (and don’t you think that would’ve been delicious?) but it didn’t much need it. I made a salad with the last of the market goodness (greens, one lemon cucumber, 1/2 carrot, 1/4 avocado, lemon-tahini dressing); with a glass of orange juice and a new book I was well-contented.
July in San Francisco often hurts my feelings. It’s damp and chilly, the fog socked in interminably. You curse the impetus that ever made you think you could live here. Come September I’ll have changed my tune of course: Oh San Francisco!
, I’ll sigh, as I try to squeeze out every last bit of daylight before the time change. You I love! I shall never leave you! I won’t be able to imagine living anywhere else and will annoy all my East Coast friends with my dreamy amour.
Right now, though? Yeah. I’m eating dinners-from-the oven and piling on the blankets and cursing the infernal marine layer that makes us long for the summer, as my coworker so astutely remarked, that’s taking place elsewhere. A little bit I feel like I’m marooned on the ship that is San Francisco, drifting in a quiet, windless fog, lights (i.e. sunshine) blinking somewhere in the distance. I know I’ll reach land eventually — and really it’s misting about quite prettily — but some days it feels so awfully far away.
Good thing I have lots of leftovers to heat up, perfect for a cold weeknight when you’d rather be doing other things — like, say, pulling on another sweater or brewing another pot of tea.
Potato-Zucchini Weeknight Casserole
Add wilted spinach, corn from the cob, tomatoes, even a faux Tofurky sausage … anything goes, I think.
6 red potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced, or one onion
1 portabello mushroom cap, sliced
1 zucchini or 2 summer squash, thinly sliced
1 cup peas
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
4 Tb. parmesan
1/4 cup milk or vegetable broth
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a pot, boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Meanwhile, in a few tablespoons of olive oil saute the garlic or onion with the mushroom and squash until tender.
In an oven-proof baking dish, place about half the potatoes in a layer. Add the squash-mushroom mixture, the peas, the cheddar cheese, and 2 tablespoons of parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Layer the rest of the potatoes on top and sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top. Carefully pour in the milk or broth.
Bake for about 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly and the potatoes are a bit crisp.