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The New York Times has a great article with “recipes” for 101 different summer salads. I don’t know about you, but I always feel proud of myself when I make a salad. Sure, they’re not as simple to put together as, say, a Hot Pocket (for which “putting together” means unwrapping, microwaving, and scalding one’s tongue on lava-like cheesy filling), but most of the salads on this list are pretty fast and easy. And salads are good for you. We could all stand to eat more salads. And many of these recipes require only the sort of ingredients that you probably already have in your fridge and pantry…unless, of course, you ONLY eat Hot Pockets. And if that’s the case, then you’re on your own, fatty.

When I was younger, living under the same roof as my mother, and thus benefiting greatly from her arsenal of cooking skills, I could always look forward to a big, seemingly bottomless pot of hearty vegetable soup in the winter. In the summer, it would be a big, refrigerated tub of fresh gazpacho, or as Mom called it, “gazplatcho” (the woman could fill a dictionary with made up words). Regardless of the season, Mama always made enough soup to feed us for a week. Yeah, I know, that’s a lotta soup, but it was always so delicious we never got sick of it.

Now that summer appears to have officially struck Los Angeles, I’m thinking it might be time to make my own vat of gazpacho. It makes for a great summer lunch, and is best served with crusty bread for dipping.

Mama’s Gazplatcho

(makes about 6 servings)

2 large tomatoes, or about 1 pound

1 large cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded

3 cups tomato juice

1 medium red onion

1 large roasted red pepper (roast a fresh one yourself, or buy jarred)

half a cup fresh chopped cilantro

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/8 teaspoon Tabasco (Mama’s favorite hot sauce; others will work)

salt and fresh ground pepper

Chop tomatoes, cucumber, and half the onion into coarse pieces and place in blender or food processor along with roasted pepper. Pulse to desired consistency (some people like it more pureed, but Mama made it chunky). Transfer to bowl. Add tomato juice, cilantro, vinegar, oil, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper, then refrigerate. Serve well chilled with crusty bread.

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I am deeply envious of Mark, one of my most brilliant, witty, and charming writer pals. He lives in a beautiful home (the kind that makes me worry I’ll never be a “real” grown-up) where he occasionally hosts gatherings for his terribly fortunate friends. Mark’s partner, Darryl, is always creating the most delectable spreads of food and drink–inventive sushi, handmade pizzas with creative toppings, adorable mini burgers, and different seasonal libations. Everything is homemade and delicious. I figured Mark must be using devious methods to bend Darryl to his culinary will, but apparently threats and scare tactics aren’t necessary…Darryl just really enjoys whippin’ it up in the kitchen.

Yesterday was the first ridiculously hot day in Los Angeles (with many more to follow, no doubt). Mark and Darryl went for a hike through the hills and when they returned home, both of them were jonesin’ for a refresher–something cool and delicious that would provide them with that delightful Sunday Afternoon Buzz (don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talkin’ about).

Being the pro that he is, Darryl headed into the kitchen and created this delightful concoction with just four ingredients–all the fruit was fresh, naturally. These measurements will get you a pitcher’s worth…trust me, you won’t want anything less.

Mark & Darryl’s Sunday Afternoon Pineapple Margaritas

1 1/2 cup fresh pineapple juice (Peel, core and cut the pineapple into large chunks. Wrap the chunks in cheesecloth and squeeze to extract the juice. If you use a juicer or blender, the juice will be pulpy and won’t work)

1 cup fresh lime juice

1 cup (or more…) quality agave tequila

2-3 tablespoons honey or organic agave nectar to taste

Pour over ice and enjoy responsibly…or not.

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