I’ve been flying solo for four days.
John’s been on a business trip, so my only company around the house has been my (somewhat spoiled) crooked-eared sidekick, two overly aggressive magpies that are ravaging my bird feeder, an unseen creature in the driveway at night that is probably a giant porcupine, and a rather large spider (who is still lurking in the kitchen somewhere).
John returned late last night, and I’m so glad he’s home. I have more sympathy for his temporary-bachelor ways during my weeklong trip to California. I actually enjoy time by myself, but when you’re accustomed to being part of a duo, “me time” can be an adjustment.
I’ve learned that the trick to making the time go by quickly is to stay busy. I brought out all of the outdoor furniture to the patio. I potted some new plants. I tried (and failed) to tire out Cholula with the tennis ball multiple times. I did a lot of writing and worked on the blog. I got caught up on nagging chores around the house. I watched a few movies. I explored a new hiking trail, finished my book, and started another one.
Cholula’s a great companion, and my days were pretty full. But by the time I’d microwaved spring penne leftovers for three meals in a row, I realized it was time to get busy in the kitchen.
First, I had a pile of lemons that I didn’t want to go to waste. While I was in California, Nancy told me that her mom used to juice lemons and freeze the juice in ice cube trays to use for by-the-glass lemonade later- just add water and sugar or honey.
I totally did that. Brilliant!
(Please note my husband’s box of Steak-Umms in the freezer.)
Remember when I mentioned that Nancy had served a side dish with dinner one evening, a sort of barley-pea-feta-garlic-herb salad? As I’ve said before, she’s one of those cooks who opens the fridge, pulls things out, and somehow magically combines them into something scrumptious. She doesn’t really use recipes. When I asked her how she made the barley-pea salad, she attempted to write it out for me. The recipe includes lines like, “I think I put in about a tablespoon…” and “Add as much as you like!” There are very few measurements and it ends with this sentence: “Aaaaand, THIS is why I don’t write out my recipes… cuz it’s all, ‘Um, just add as much as you think will taste good!’”
Spoken like a true chef.
I deciphered her notes, made a few tweaks, and dove right in. This would be my first date with barley, which looked similar to brown rice. I cooked it with chicken stock for extra flavor!
While the barley did its thing, I prepped the garlic and herbs. I like garlic, so I used two big cloves, mincing it as finely as I could. Nancy’s directions: “The trick is to smash the garlic with the flat side of the butcher knife. It makes a juicy mash, so you won’t bite into a spicy chunk later.”
It was about this time that I realized I couldn’t just eat barley salad for dinner, so I pulled out some chicken breasts and seasoned them up. I hadn’t manned the grill since I made swordfish last June, but my Grill Master wasn’t around!
Nancy said to use any fresh herbs I liked, the more the better. I chopped up some mint and thyme, and pulled a couple of leaves off of my new sage plant. I just love the smell of fresh herbs!
Once the barley was cooked, it was really just a matter of mixing everything together. I snuck a taste of the barley, which had a nice al dente texture. Following the recipe, first went in the peas (“This cools the barley and thaws the peas at the same time- magic!”). Next, the garlic, then the herbs. Salt and pepper to taste, plus I gave it a couple of shakes of crushed red pepper for a little kick.
The feta cheese came next, adding a salty bite. The barley salad doesn’t have a dressing, so I drizzled some olive oil over it, then squeezed in half of a lemon. As I stirred, the warmth from the barley softened the feta just a tad. It mixed with the oil and lemon and became slightly creamy, almost like a light dressing.
My chicken was looking good- grill success! I sliced it up, gave it a squeeze of lemon juice, made myself a pretty plate, and sat down to dinner. Not bad for a solo meal at home, right?
With dinner, the barley salad was still warm. It would be perfect for a picnic, because it’s just as delicious cold (which I discovered when I ate the rest of it for breakfast). I really like the barley’s slightly chewy texture, too!
Next time, I’ll add more herbs, maybe a bit more feta- lemon zest would also be yummy. Oh, but less garlic. I could have repelled vampires that night. Maybe it was a good thing that John wasn’t there.
Scratch that. It’s always better when we’re together- garlic face and all.
Nancy’s Barley-Pea Salad with Feta and Herbs
- ½ cup barley
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- ½ bag of frozen peas
- A tablespoon each of chopped mint, thyme, sage, oregano
- 1 clove garlic, minced and smashed
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Juice of one half of a lemon
- Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
Combine the barley, stock, and water in a pot. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
Place the cooked barley in a large bowl. Add the frozen peas. Stir in the garlic mash and the herbs. Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste.
Add the feta cheese. Drizzle olive oil over the barley and squeeze in the lemon. Mix it all together and adjust seasonings if necessary. And remember: add as much of anything “as you think will taste good!” YUM.