Berlin public schools let out for summer last week and the city emptied out almost immediately. The streets feel empty and quiet now, parking spots abound, rush hour is muted, the air is thick with the scent of the blossoming linden trees. The smell, heavily floral and intoxicating, hangs in our apartment too, the windows yanked open day after day in the hopes of catching a faint breeze. Hugo's school closes for summer tomorrow and next week the boys and I leave for Italy, where the heat has already scorched the grass yellow and my mother awaits us.
I am desperate to be there, itching with anticipation, actually, after having skipped our annual trip last year in an attempt to regain my sanity a little and write. These days, I feel different. I want to soak up every minute with the children, hold them close, watch them flourish in their happiest place, wild mint crunching under their feet, skin salted from the sea. I cannot wait to be where I feel most free and held, listening to the cicadas sawing away from morning til night, eating meal after meal of drippy melons and tomatoes, the rituals of summer anchoring us so firmly to that place.
Until we leave, my calendar is filled with dinner dates and lunches and a picnic and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries. We fling our arms around each other again in greeting and to say goodbye, promising more time together when everyone's back again in August. It feels delicious and indulgent and restorative and frightening and wonderful; totally banal and strange as hell at the same time. We weren't allowed to hug for so long. Is it safe? Meanwhile, tomorrow I will have a rising fourth grader and a little one with just one year left in Kita. It is nearly July. Wasn't it just January? Time is flying. Carpe diem.
The heat means that we mostly eat things I barely have to cook. Melon and ham, tomato and mozzarella, beans and tuna, peaches gulped down over the sink. The other day, I made a wonderful salad from Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons of wafer-thin zucchini and a whole array of cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of raw zucchini - I really love its velvety softness once boiled - but here, the zucchini is cut so thin and then salted and left to rest for a while. The zucchini slices are silky and nicely sweet against the fiery, lusty sauce, the crunch of the peanuts, the fruity burst of the tomatoes. This is the perfect salad to be piled high into a plate and eaten for a meal on hot summer nights when appetites are low, but the belly growls and is in need of satisfaction.
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Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Adapted from Six Seasons
3-4 medium firm zucchini
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced on a sharp angle and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes
1 small handful basil leaves
1 small handful mint leaves
1/4 cup Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce (recipe follows)
1. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice or cut the zucchini into thin slices, either lengthwise or crosswise. Toss the zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and place in a colander to draw out moisture for 30 minutes. Then blot the zucchini with a paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt. Place in serving bowl.
2. Add the tomatoes, peanuts, drained scallions, basil and mint. Pour over the spicy fish-sauce sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately.
Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
1/4 cup seeded, deribbed and minced fresh hot chiles (mix of colors, if possible)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Stir everything together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved. The sauce will keep in a bowl in the fridge for up to 2 months.