Summer starts slow, all languid strolls, swims, and easy meals on splayed-out quilts.
The pace will quicken soon enough, but for now we clothe ourselves in quiet, in stillness, in blessed ease.
One night we picnic at the local park, our entrée plucked from the farmers' market's rotisserie truck. The line's always long and the heat's intense, but a ten-minute wait for a free-range bird is a fine trade for not cooking on a sweat-drenched California evening. It's a cross I bear in one hand while the other wipes wet beads from my brow.
I watch the muscled men man the spits. They move the chickens around -- this one here, that one there -- taking pains to ensure even cooking. The poultry spins, its glossy juice anointing potatoes underneath. The spuds accept this benediction like so much holy water.
When my order's ready, I grab the chicken, the warm potatoes, and make my way across the market. I move towards corn, towards spinach, bell peppers, and peas. Not for tonight, of course -- there will be no cooking on this torpid eve -- but for tomorrow, when I'll chop the leftover meat, toss it with shells, with veg, with a dressing that bathes it all in the sweet breath of early summer.
At the park the boys run, all stretchy limbs and teenage speed.
Colin and I watch them from our perch on a yellow quilt, our food spread out in a haphazard jumble.
A dog sprints by.
I move to protect the chicken, but there's no need.
An hour later, a breeze blows in, just this side of cool.
We pack up our things, toss out our trash, and take our time on the short walk home.
Recipe for Early Summer Chicken Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
This high-yield summer salad covers lunch and dinner for several days. I've given instructions for roasting bone-in chicken breasts, but if you have access to a high-quality rotisserie chicken, pull the meat from the bones and use that instead.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
3 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts, preferably organic
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more for finishing
1 small shallot, minced
1-2 sprigs fresh tarragon or other soft herbs
1 pound small shell pasta
1 cup shucked English peas, raw or blanched for 1 minute
4 cups packed baby spinach (4 to 5 ounces), chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 cup pea shoots, for garnish (optional)
Rub the chicken breasts with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle assertively with salt and pepper, easing the seasonings under the skin. Roast on a foil-lined baking sheet in a preheated 375°F oven until the skin is dark and crisp and the flesh is opaque, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool and shred.
Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large serving bowl, whisk lemon juice, shallot, tarragon, and a good pinch each salt and pepper; stream in 1/2 cup olive oil and whisk until emulsified.
Cook the pasta until al dente in well-salted boiling water; drain. Transfer the hot pasta to the lemon vinaigrette and toss to coat.
Add the chicken, peas, spinach, red pepper, and red onion. Toss through and taste, adding additional salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice, if desired. Garnish with pea shoots. Serve warm or at room temperature.