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IMG_2787AT HOME, CURRENTLY READING:  ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, BY ANTHONY DOERR

This evening, at some odd but precise moment in time, while many of us go about our regular weekday programing, summer will end with a quick tick-tock of the seasonal clock, and with just the sort of make-believe magic that comes from clicking together two ruby slippers, autumn will arrive to color our world.

IMG_2798Fall will inherit fine leftovers to build upon, with the ornamental gardens already lovely and the tomato plants still going strong.  Gardens aside and elsewhere in my life,  summer leaves behind the reality of a main bathroom that finished prettier than envisioned along with lush memories of a family vacation far better than good planning alone can make.

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While I could go on about the good happenings that have transpired since spring, with a brief mention of the few sad events that still rob me of sleep, suffice it to say that for reasons unknown, the season feels a little unfinished to me.  Alll day long I’ve wrestled with questions: Did I use my time wisely this summer… or would I make different choices knowing what I now know?  Did I make enough hay while the sun was shining?

Of no matter and with no second chances for do-overs, the final minutes of summer count down, leaving me to wonder which freshly minted summer memory will ultimately rise to the top to define my summer.  What will easily come to mind about this summer…oh, say… six short years from now… when I’m a Beatle-ish sixty-four?

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I pose this question at the risk of knowing how odd this summer has been in ways that have little to do with our milder-than-normal weather.  It’s been so unlike the eight summers that have preceded it.  Each of those were held together — or shall I say defined and refined — by some overarching theme or activity, making them easy to classify, catalog and recall.

Eight years ago, during the Summer of 2006, I had just moved back from Texas, so the big undertaking was getting us settled into our new home.  Seven years ago, it was the restoration of our historic home’s long-ignored garage.  Six years ago, the landscaping of my smallish backyard.  Five years ago, and well-documented in this blog, was one I refer to as “The Summer of Daddy.”  Four years ago I helped remodel and refresh my sister’s house.  Then, relocating twenty blocks north, I spent the summer three years ago digging gargantuan garden beds surrounding our fifties ranch house.  Two years ago I painted the exterior of our house.  And this year… this summer, I’ve no major project to show and tell about.

With a lull in big summer undertakings, I’ve whiled days away a little here and a little there.  When I wasn’t managing bathroom contractors… or living the good life in Rome and Greece… or entertaining grandchildren or reading books or watching films or performing the daily tasks of everyday life, I devoted myself to the garden. Unless I cheat and count the new fountain garden that my husband helped me add, I made no major changes, but instead spent hours and hours  tweaking this and fine-tuning that.  First on one activity, that I’ll call weeding.  Then picking up another, say, edging, and working awhile… before moving onto another, like triming or deadheading.  I’d go out for a few minutes in early morning, telling myself I’ll limit myself to completing one small task.  And before I knew it, it was time for lunch.  Some days, I came inside well after lunch.

IMG_2813 At three years of age, I liken my garden to a growing toddler.  Though it already hints at the beauty it may one day become, like a young child, it still requires much discipline and attention to keep healthy and in good form.  So I give it my time, and in return, my garden teaches me about life.  Lessons on beauty and a little something about what I can control and what I cannot.

Maybe, someday, I’ll write of lessons taken away from the garden.  But these will keep, where recipes for this summer’s two favorite salads will not.  Different than last year, I refuse to share another salad recipe during the dregs of winter.  And much like the garden from which some of the ingredients hailed, these two salads dominated many, many of our summer’s meals.  My husband might say “too many.”

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Corn, Okra and Tomato Side Salad

Combine equal portions of roasted corn (cut fresh from the cob), fried okra (cut thin and fried without batter or breading) and fresh tomato in a bowl.  Add a dash (or splash) of bsalmic vinegar.  Combine and serve.  To serve 2, combine 1/3 cup of each vegetable with one Tbsp of vinegar.  Can be made an hour or so in advance, adding the vinegar right before serving.

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Taco Salad and Catalina Dressing

Makes Two Generous-Sized Portions

Combine following in a bowl with a light toss.

1/2 can of black beans, rinsed and well-drained.  (Freeze other half)
1/2 cup of fried ground beef, crumbled
1/2 cup of roasted corn
1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup of finely chopped romaine lettuce
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup of chopped green onion
1 cup of regular-sized Fritos
1/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese (or crumbled feta, as appears in the photo)
!/4 cup (more or less) of homemade Catalina Dressing (recipe follows)

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Catalina Dressing

Add following ingredients (exdept oil) to a bowl and pulse with immersion blender until well-blended.  Add oil and blend again until emulsified.

1/4 cup of ketchup (i use Del Monte’s)
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
3/8 cup of Canola Oil
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