Everyone is on vacation except for me.
When you live in (no-place-in-the-world-better-than-this-weather) Southern California, you get a lot of visitors. Now, summer used to mean time off and vacations and overnight beach trips...maybe a study abroad thrown in there. As a young adult, I find myself in this odd stage of life where I am too old for the kind of "school's out for the summer" vacation you experience growing up, but I am too young (i.e. too early in my career) to afford the luxury of leisurely travel or even time off from work. It is a huge bummer, but Zach and I make the best of it by taking mini-trips for weekends or even just day trips here and there since there are so many great places to visit nearby.
All of this time spent locally doesn't mean I have to miss out on being a part of others' vacation travels. Every summer since I have lived in Los Angeles, I have been fortunate enough to host some of my favorite people in the world when they get some time off to travel. I absolutely love when friends and family come to visit. It is something I always look forward to, and it usually happens in the summer.
Let's see, last weekend it was Becky, Joanie and Amanda. After the shopping of the wedding dress festivities were concluded, Becky, Joanie and I floated off into the fantasy world that is Laguna Cliff's Marriott Resort and Spa in Dana Point.
I have never been more in the lap of luxury than the moment the nice pool people came by to ask if I needed my sunglasses wiped and a slice of pineapple. Our views from the balcony of our room were not too shabby either.
This past weekend, it was Zach's family who graced us with their presence. They were just happy to be out of the Florida heat/humidity they have been experiencing. We were all over the city, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and breeze. We visited the dog park, some fantastic restaurants, the Melrose trading post (a personal favorite) and the beach!
His mom took this really sweet picture of us walking ahead (for more on their trip, visit Zach's mom's blog, The Boston Lady.)
We will also be spending next weekend with them at the beach about an hour south of LA...Seal Beach. We have never been so that will be another exciting weekend trip we will get to experience.
Last night, we decided to take a more mellow approach to the LA dining experience. Zach's parents brought over some delicious pizzas from the Village Pizzeria on Larchmont. We popped open some wine (along with some Ed Hardy Sangria), and I made a fantastic tomato and bread salad. I am not trying to toot my own horn... I just need you to understand that it really was great.
I haven't been doing so well with cooking consistently recently, but making this fresh and flavorful salad inspired me to kick it back up! I adapted it from a recipe I saw in Woman's Day Magazine . I took the magazine's recipe for an heirloom tomato salad with garlic bread and turned it into the hotest summer dish around, Panzanella. Panzanella is an Italian bread and tomato salad (think: bruschetta in a bowl). I wanted to keep it lighter on the bread and full of fresh tomatoes and bold flavor. I will say the bread really does pull everything together and serves to absorb all the flavorful juices. Zach commented that it had all the great things about salad without the useless "filler" (i.e. lettuce). Now, I am a fan of lettuce, but this salad doesn't need it!
Summer Vacation Perfect Panzanella (with homemade croutons)
(adapted from a recipe in Woman's Day Magazine - serves 6)
WARNING: These instructions are long, but they are very simple. The whole thing should take no more than 20 minutes!
For Homemade Croutons:
1 thin French Baguette (should be thin, about 3 inches in diameter, and have a course/crunchy crust - do not use soft bread)
4 large garlic cloves
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil (you may need to add more)
freshly ground black pepper
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced, separated into rings
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
3 lb mixed heirloom tomatoes, cut into chunks (I did not have heirlooms at my grocery store - I used a couple different varieties of really ripe tomatoes)
1/3 c of kalamata olives (they come in a jar, not a can like regular black olives)
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped into chunks
1⁄4 cup white balsamic vinegar (I could not find white balsamic so I used regular red balsamic; The taste is similar, but the white is more aesthetically pleasing)
1⁄4 cup plus 1⁄2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄4 tsp each salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄2 cup torn fresh basil leaves
homemade croutons (from one thin French Baguette)
Start by making the Croutons:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the baguette down the middle long-ways.
Smash up the garlic, and rub it all over the bread on the inside and out, leaving bits and pieces on the bread (reserve any extra bits).
Cut the bread into cubes (The best way I have found to do this is to fold up the two long slices back on top of each other, then cut longways into three sections, basically making 6 long strips. Then cut across in 1 inch sections all the way down the strips to make cubes.)
In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with olive oil (and all remaining garlic bits). Continue adding the oil and tossing little by little until all the croutons are lightly coated.
Toss in some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Spread cubes out on some aluminum foil (I didn't even use a baking sheet).
Place the foil with the cubes into the oven, and bake for about 10 minutes.
You will have to watch them closely. They should start to turn golden and have a crunch on the outside but still remain ever so slightly soft on the inside (that is how I like them at least...you can leave them in for longer if you like them crunch throughout).
For the salad:
Place the onions, croutons, tomatoes, basil and yellow bell pepper in a large salad bowl.
Add the vinegar and oil, and toss.
Add the feta cheese, olives, salt and pepper on top and toss again.
Put the bowl in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.