New Jersey visit and a salad to recover.

I am back after a week long visit with family in New Jersey. Both Brian and I grew up in Bergan County, New Jersey; and it is where our parents still reside. Over the last several years Brian’s brother and his family have moved an hour away, and in the last few so has my sister. She also lives about an hour away (in and opposite direction from Brian’s brother) with her family. So even though we visit for a week, we spend it traveling back and forth along Northern New Jersey trying to see and spend personal time with them all. It is great to see everyone, but there is never enough time to catch up with everyone. Noelle and Uncle Brian. (Noelle just woke up from her nap!)

I will say that our time with the family on this trip was well spent. I had two days with my sister and her family. We got to meet our newest little niece, Noelle (10 months old).That was thrilling; staring at this chubby, curly haired little one and noticing that everything she looks at seems to fascinate her. Noelle’s older sister Gia (6 years old) has recently formed quite an interest in cooking and baking – yes, I am thrilled! I promised I would bake with her during our visit, and we did just that. I showed her how to make made French bread; she was amazed by working with yeast and learning about it. She took the bowl of dough that was wrapped for resting and rising to show her mom and my parents. Whispering to them - “It’s the yeast in there. It is working to rise the bread.” We also had to make cookies, as I brought her a new cookbook all about cookies. Of all the recipes she picked out Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies …a girl after my own heart.  The days went by too fast, but we cherished every second we had.

Gia and I measuring out ingredients for our afternoon of baking.

Gia and I tasting the cookies she made and enjoying them.

On another night we went to Brian’s brother’s home to eat dinner. Brian’s niece, Lora (13 years old), told us about the latest trends in fashion (she is a little fashionista).  Lora then asked us about gnocchi. She remembered eating them and thought it was with us. We were not sure if we did, but Brian explained to her that I make them and they are not too difficult to make. A couple of days later we were in his parent’s kitchen rolling out gnocchi dough from scratch. It was fun to show her how to make them and I think she was impressed how easy it was. She asked a lot of good questions about the process, but more than anything I am so happy Brian and I got to spend that time with her. We then all sat around the table feasting on gnocchi and sharing family stories. It was a good time, and many memories were made. (Recipe for the gnocchi can be found here, and the tomato sauce can be found here.)

Gnocchi production underway with my niece Lora.

The Gnocchi Lora an I made.

Besides the back and forth with family across the northern half of New Jersey, we did escape for a day to New York City. We spent a few hours in the Guggenheim, stopped in at a favorite bakery, finally got to drink some really great coffee (I’ve lived the Pacific Northwest too long and we are spoiled here when it comes to coffee. We toured Chelsea Market, and then in the evening we got together with some of Brian’s old high school friends. It was a great evening together, and while we were there we realized that we have not all been in the same room together for 13 years! We made up for the lost time, laughing and catching up on life. It was time extremely well spent.

Brian and his high school buddies. An evening well spent!

By the time we got home to Seattle we were exhausted. The week went by like a cool breeze on a warm day. It was enjoyable, yet too quick. Before we knew it the time was gone, and our regular life started back up. We had a great time with all our visiting, but I think we ate way too much! I walked to the market and picked up some really nice seasonal veggies and felt that a hearty salad was in order. We needed the boost of veggies after the crab heavy diet we indulged in while we visited. We ate one too many pasta dishes, pastries, bagels, gnocchi, pizza, ice cream, and more. I guess that is what vacation is all about? So in the meantime Brian and I will be happy with a hearty salad or two. This particular one was great with fresh asparagus that was just picked from a local farm, sweet English peas, and a tarragon dressing. The brightness of the fresh tarragon gives this salad more depth than any ordinary oil and vinegar dressing. If you are like us and needed the break from all the heavy eating you will not be disappointed. It was light and fulfilling. I am missing the family and few friends we got to catch up with. (And there were so many we didn"t get to see.) Hopefully it will not be too long before we see them again, but will eat more veggies in prep for our next trip!

Hearty  vegetable salad, with asparagus, peas, and quinoa.

Asparagus and Pea Salad with Tarragon Dressing (serves 4)

**Note: if fresh peas are not available, feel free to use the frozen ones. They will work out just fine.

½ pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 cup fresh peas

1 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp mayo

2 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp Sherry vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

4-5 leaves of lettuce (romaine or green leaf), chopped small

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled

First; place a pot of salted water over a high flame and bring to a boil. Next, cook you quinoa to its packaged instructions. When quinoa is done cooking place in a bowl and set aside to cool.

Next; in a bowl place your mayo, Dijon, tarragon, shallot, garlic, and sherry vinegar in a bowl. Whisk it all together then slowly add in the olive oil. Your dressing should become thick and emulsified. Season it with sea salt and black pepper and set aside. At this time your salted water should be boiling. Place your asparagus and peas into the boiling water. Let them al simmer together about 3 minutes. You veggies will turn bright green and be cooked perfectly. Strain the veggies into a colander and rinse several times under cold water to chill the veggies and stop their cookie process.

Then; toss the veggies and the quinoa with a bit of the dressing. Again season with sea salt and black pepper if you feel it needs it.

Finally, upon serving place the lettuce across the bottom of your platter. Pile the dressed quinoa and veggies over the top of it. Sprinkle it all with the crumbled goat cheese. And drizzle with the remaining dressing if you like.