Some days, I have this little fantasy of escaping the buzzing rigors of day to day life, of taking a brief break from the “regularly scheduled program” and weekly grind for just a short whisper of time. On days like today, when my surroundings are gently warmed by the pale-golden rays of the season's fresh new sun, and the breeze, bursting with the sweet scent of purple, is gentle enough to carry even the lightest little honeybee from one vibrant blossom to the next without so much as a wing out of place, I close my eyes for a quiet moment and imagine myself resting on the northern shore of the Mediterranean sea, somewhere in the south of France. And for that moment, I am there. I can feel the heat radiate upwardly into my lower back as I sit there on the warm sand staring out at the blue water, feet buried in that soft, thick plush, and watch the waves curl over, one after another, like slick, 50's pompadours. Contentment fills me as I rest there warming my bones, as does a relief in the knowing that sweet solace can be found in life by just sitting in silence for a few moments with my Creator, there on the shore that He has created for just such an occasion; all that is required of me is to simply breathe the healing, salty air in and out of my lungs. Ah…I love getting lost for a moment. Isn't imagination a gift to us? When reality isn't necessarily on board with a particular longing, the imagination has a way of creating an “as if” and suddenly—magically—one finds ones self transported, if only for a moment. And that's good enough for me, for now; I'll take it. Imagining a little piece of heaven is a gift, but how about when you can actually taste it? Then it becomes a small step in creating a delicious reality.
Food can transport us; there's no doubt about that. It can help us to remember some of the places we've been, and aid us in more colorfully imagining the places that we'd like to go. It is a part of our memories, as well as an element of our hopes and dreams. It informs how we feel in any given moment, and makes itself available to our every whim. Beautiful food begs to be used in creative ways, ways that will both inspire and satisfy the hungry soul. And if there's a place that the heart longs to go, food can give taste to that imagined desire and allow it to have a flavor that is real. When I consider all of the gorgeous, healthy foods that the Mediterranean has to offer—the crisp, bright flavors and colors—then I know that not only will the dreamer in me enjoy a dish that will plant me in the warm sun on a lazy afternoon while waves crash and retreat, teasingly, in front of me, but that my body will appreciate the benefits of those very ingredients in all of their simple and uncomplicated glory. The tang of a juicy lemon; the freshness of green herbs; the sharp poke of a hint of garlic; the golden depth and subtle sweetness of smoky, grilled vegetables and briny kalamata olives, drizzled with the fluid silk of good olive oil; and the creamy, salty-sharpness of crumbly feta cheese, all implore me to lose myself in my daydream, to be transported for a few moments and lost in the flavor of another place that I long to get lost in.
Imagining the taste of that little, personal piece of heaven is so very good for the human spirit. It's good to get lost in a daydream of another place and another space, and in touch with some of the quiet and the stillness that connects each of us, individually, to our Creator. That's all that He really longs for from us. The imagination is indeed a gift that has been given to us to use to better our lives; it creates a longing, and a sense of direction. And food is the gift that gives the flavor, the taste, to where we long to go, and to where, of course, we have already been.
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Warm Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Grilled Vegetables, Crumbled Feta Cheese, Kalamata Olives and Grilled Chicken, Tossed in a Creamy, Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette
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(Serves about 6)
8 ounces Torchiette pasta, or any “twisty” style of pasta, uncooked
2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, butterflied in half to create 4 thinned cutlets
• Black pepper
• Olive oil
2 small zucchini, quartered and cut into ¼”- ½” thick pieces
2 small yellow squash, quartered and cut into ¼” - ½” thick pieces
½ small eggplant, quartered and cut into ¼” - ½” thick pieces
1 cup small cherry tomatoes, halved
• Creamy, Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette (recipe below)
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, for garnish
-Prepare the pasta according to package instructions; drain well and lightly oil, then turn out into a large bowl and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
-Prepare the chicken cutlets by sprinkling them with a few pinches of salt and pepper; place a large grill pan over medium-high heat and add about 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil in, and once the oil is hot, add the chicken and grill for roughly 2-3 minutes per side, or until the chicken in golden and cooked through; set the chicken aside on a plate, and once cool enough to handle, slice into very thin strips; set aside, keeping it warm.
-To grill the veggies, place the same grill pan onto medium-high heat, and add in about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; once the oil is hot, add in about half of the zucchini and squash, and do not move it in order to allow it to brown/caramelize and grill for about 3 minutes; sprinkle with some salt and pepper; then, toss them over and allow them to grill/caramelize on the other side, as well; turn them out onto a plate or bowl and keep warm, and repeat the process with the remainder of the zucchini/squash.
-Next, add another 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil to the grill pan, and add the eggplant into the pan along with a couple of pinches of salt and pepper; allow the eggplant to caramelize and grill, like the zucchini/squash did, for a few moments on each side, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking; once golden brown and soft, turn out into the same bowl/plate as the zucchini/squash, keeping it warm.
-Grill the tomatoes in the grill pan last, with a touch more oil if necessary, and a pinch of salt and pepper, for about 1-2 minutes, just to warm them through and lightly char/blister their skins; add them to the other veggies to hold.
-To finish the pasta, drizzle in as much of the Creamy, Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette as you'd like over the warm pasta, and gently toss to combine; add in the grilled chicken slices and the grilled veggies, and once again, gently toss to combine; add more Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette if needed, and check to see if any additional salt/pepper if needed, as well.
-Serve portions of the pasta in bowls, and garnish with a few of the halved Kalamata olives, and a sprinkle of some of the crumbled feta cheese and fresh dill.
Creamy, Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette ingredients:
1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
¾ ounces fresh dill (about 1 small package), roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup water plus 2 tablespoons
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup olive oil
-Place all of the ingredients through the black pepper into the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth; next, with the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, and process until well incorporated and smooth/creamy. Use immediately, or store in a container in the fridge until ready to use; left-overs of this sauce are delicious as dressing/sauce/dip for salads, veggies, etc., as well.