The last week or so our whole family has been out with a horrible stomach virus. It's bad to get sick any time of year, but it somehow seems worse when it's in the 70's and 80's outside, sunny with a light breeze, and when it's your last week of summer vacation.
All week I have been subsisting on Saltines and Sprite, but yesterday I began to feel I had to eat something real, something substantial. Something that tasted like summer and that required time spent in the kitchen.
The Barefoot Contessa's Summer Garden Pasta fit the bill quite nicely, with simple ingredients that I already had on hand (tomatoes, Parmesan, fresh basil, olive oil). A salad and a loaf of ciabatta with olive oil for dipping were easy accompaniments. For dessert, I tackled something a little more time-consuming.
These shortbread bars were everything I don't have time for in the crush of a busy semester: they take several hours to make, they require your full attention, and they are definitely a "for fun" food (meaning, I do not need this to survive, and it carries basically no nutritional value, but it will be fun to cook!). This is a good recipe for cooking when you have a slow day, when you can open the windows and listen to the birds outside while you're measuring and mixing. Even the wording of the recipe is leisurely: the cook is advised to "heat gently" and "let the dough rest for an hour." I followed the recipe to the letter: from 8:00 in the morning until 2:00 in the afternoon I smushed bits of cold butter into flour with my fingertips, ground up sea salt in a mortar and pestle, slowly swirled brown sugar and cream into caramel, and tempered dark chocolate over simmering water. The dog slept in a pool of sunshine while the preschooler built a cave in the living room with pillows. It was a good day.
Next week I will again be scanning websites and cookbooks for recipes with that magical set of descriptive phrases: "quick and easy," "kid-friendly," "make ahead," and "vegetarian." But today, I'm making myself an espresso and cutting a large square of shortbread.