(almost) summer corn salad

I feel like a stranger in my own life, and wonder if I’ll ever fit in again. The more I walk the streets of New York City, a reality is settling in. I’ve said this to friends, but somehow saying it here is going to make it feel real. Saying it here means I really have to face this fact, and figure out my next step…

My story feels finished here in Brooklyn, in New York City, in fact. The thing is I can’t really go anywhere until next summer. Isabella has one more year left in elementary school, and for all she’s been through, she deserves to close that chapter with her friends. They’ve come so far, and to move before then would be robbing her of precious moments and memories.

This feeling of unrest in NYC is nothing new. Years ago, back when she started kindergarten, Mikey and I talked about a five year plan. Even then we were tired and battered by this city. People travel from near and far to catch a glimpse of the excitement, the energy, but for two city kids, the hustle and bustle was beginning to wear us down. Just writing about this has thrust my heart into my throat. I feel a little nauseous thinking about leaving my friends, my family, my home…

One of the reasons I love going to Paris is that I feel so anonymous there. I can be anything I want, anyone I want. I hunkered down there for a whole month last summer because I needed to prove that I could drop myself some place completely new and unknown, and learn to swim instead of sink.

I’m not sure where life is going to take us Perillo Girls. And, honestly, I don’t wish for a crystal ball to see the future. The journey is what life is all about, and if we knew what the future held, perhaps we’d be too scared to follow the path for which we were meant. I think about this a lot in regards to Mikey. I’m not a gambling woman, and if someone had told me 18 years ago that I’d meet a great love, finally feel safe and secure, build a family and life together, and then suddenly have it disappear…well, I probably would’ve asked to see what was behind door number two.

So, this is the path I’m on, walking somewhat blindly, trying to figure out each move one step at a time. Sometimes the steps seems to magically appear, painting themselves, pulling me in a direction to which I don’t know, but am not afraid to explore.

As you can see, these are such heavy thoughts for a Monday. To take my mind off things a bit I made this salad for lunch. My other option was to sit down and sort through six months of receipts for my assistant. Going into the kitchen to cook seemed like a much more exciting alternative. I poked around the kitchen, looking for something to inspire me. I opened the fridge, which is incidentally exploding with leftovers, but it wasn’t a physical hunger I needed to feed. I needed to work out these feelings of gliding through life without any direction. I needed to create something to remind myself I could do this—I’ve always been doing this.

I had a few cherry tomatoes on the counter, and found a bag of corn in the freezer. They were in a ziptop bag, and the telltale strands of silk stuck to the frozen kernels were a clue I must’ve cut them from a fresh cob. I contemplated when I would’ve done this since corn isn’t in season, let out a sigh, and moved my attention back to the fridge. I had a thread going here, and was convinced I bought cilantro at the farmers’ market this past weekend.

Bay leaves, check.

Parsley, check, and check. Why did I buy two bunches? Oh, well.

Basil, yep, had that too.

There was a fat bunch of lemon thyme also, which I used to make this pesto.

But no cilantro. Hmph.

I settled on the lemon thyme for my salad, then went about prepping the rest of the ingredients. I love, love, love making salads, and always gravitate to them when I dine out. In my opinion, being able to put together an excellent salad is the sign of a great chef—not that I’m saying I’m one, but a girl can still aspire, right? So, what elevates a salad to greatness? For me, it’s all about texture and diversity of flavors, and also how those tastes play together to create a harmonious marriage with each bite.

A fancy restaurant might’ve put their best brunoise forward for this salad—chef speak for an 1/8-inch dice. Maybe they would’ve settled on a larger dice, say 1/4-inch. That would certainly work here, but I wanted a more rustic feeling. I decided to thinly slice the onions, and cut my zucchini into thin half moons—I forgot to mention I found zucchini in the fridge too.

Since the corn was frozen, I had two choices—boil it quickly, or just throw everything in the pan to make a warm salad. The latter option won out because I figured a quick saute in the pan would coax some extra sweetness from the cherry tomatoes too. A splash of sherry vinegar added just enough acid to pull all the other flavors together. I know some of you will ask “can I use another vinegar”? My best guess would be balsamic could work here, but next time you’re shopping, I really do encourage you to buy a bottle of sherry vinegar. It has a more nuanced flavor, less bracing, than apple, red wine or even balsamic vinegar.

Less than thirty minutes later, my anxiety had waned a bit. I spooned the salad onto a platter my auntie gave me recently. It belonged to my nana. I stared at the crack in it for a few minutes, realizing time is the glue that will fill the cracks I feel in my heart. Time is the salve that will one day make me feel whole again. I just need to stay more in the moment, and stop being so anxious wondering what’s next. It’s only a matter of time before I find my place in this world again.

Music Pairing: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper

corn salad 2

Sautéed Corn, Zucchini & Cherry Tomato Salad

serves 2

I used frozen corn kernels here, but fresh cut kernels would work well too.

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 small zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch thick half moons

1 cup (115 grams) of corn kernels

10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

4 sprigs lemon thyme, leaves removed & roughly chopped (discard the stems)

Splash of sherry vinegar

Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a 9-inch skillet over a medium-low flame. Add the onion and saute until lightly golden and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook until it’s lightly browned, stirring a few times so the onions don’t burn, about 3 minutes.

Add the corn and give the pan a good shake to mix everything (you can use a spoon to stir it too). Cook for 1 minute, then add the tomatoes and lemon thyme, giving the pan a good shake again. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the tomatoes start to wilt and break down slightly (not completely). Stir in the vinegar, and season with the salt and pepper. Cook for 30 more seconds. Spoon onto a platter to serve.

You can make the salad up to one day in advance, and store it covered in the fridge. It can then be served cold, or at room temperature.

Comments

  • Srlfish Mom: Some of my favorite vegetables, and one of my favorite songs! I will definitely make this. But OMG, how were you possibly hungry for lunch after our feast this morning?

  • Mama’s mama: I’m already feeling “nauseous” at the thought of you “moving ” away . I know you have to do whats best for you & my angels but it doesn’t mean I have to like it! luv u all so much. :) xoxo

  • Lynn: Jennie,

    I love your blog and your recipes, and admire all you accomplish. You are a wonderful mother as well. At this point in your life you must follow your dreams. Paris is where you belong. Go for it! You and your beautiful girls deserve it. Just be sure your apartment has a spare bed for family and friends.

  • Denise @ Creative Kitchen: Exciting to have a new adventure building…albeit scary too. Selfishly I say move to Florida….we’ve given our girls such an amazing life here. The beaches, Disney, and the friends we’ve made have proved to be the biggest blessing of all. I live in a beautiful area. Maybe come check it out next time you’re down this way.

    I have a feeling though you already have somewhere in mind, or at the very list a couple ideas. I’ll be praying you find the right place to put down roots. Of course…you’ll always be Jennie from Brooklyn to me. And I’ll miss picturing you there. Sniff :(

    xoxo,
    Denise

  • Auntie Joan: Don’t have to tell you my feelings on a move. You know them already. Take me with you! However, my head tells me you have to do what’s best for all my girls, but the heart will be broken. Love you all.

    xoxoxo

  • Denise: Major decisions never come easy, but there is something truly beautiful in recognizing how you feel drawn to something different. I wish you the best in your journey, where ever the path may take you. (on a side note, you should bring the girls to colorado for a visit!)

  • Mard (eat. live. travel. write.): I am sure wherever you end up, you will make a wonderful life for you and the girls. This salad looks fabulous and I totally get the need to cook, even when there is no physical hunger present. XO

  • Beth Gallagher: Thanks for yet another great recipe, Jennifer! As usual, your post is so very inspiring. The way you have held on through such unbelievable heartbreak, to bend at such an angle yet not break, to continue to cherish and mother your children in the face of tragedy….. well, I don’t know that I have the herculean strength you do, though I would hope that I could find just a sliver. A new place may bring a little peace to your hearts, new adventures to share with each other, and definately new people. I wish you all nothing but happiness, and hope that you can find it wherever you land.

  • Stephanie: Jennie, I think you are already knowing what you want to do, move to France? I think it is a wonderful idea. I am sure you know it will be the start of a brand new life for all three of you and you worry about “leaving” Mikey and all of your friends and family. You won’t be leaving them, they will always be there in your heart. I would take this next 12 months to prepare for your move. Its a wonderful idea to let Isabella finish her school in NY; it will give you the time to make the changes and close this chapter for all of you. You will still have blogs, email, skype and the yearly trip back to NY to re-connect with family and frankly, who could resist a visit to you in France? The girls and you would have this wonderful goal: a life in France. It will be a scary step, but a wonderful adventure!

  • Rocky Mountain Woman: the mountains can be very healing….

    just saying…

  • Liz: Oh, that salad – beautiful and sounds so refreshing.

    Moving is something I have always loved – not the packing part, but I now hire that done!

    I realized some years ago that I will always have a bit of wanderlust and while I’ve found a home in MT that I love, the purchase of a motorhome – which I only intended to keep for a short time opportunity – well, I fell in love with rving and with the ability to take that rolling house and park it wherever I wanted. I can live “like a local” and live outside of established habits for as long as I like. I find it incredibly freeing.

    **Disclaimer The above is not a potential answer to a question not asked, just sharing my own wandering experience :) ! And as a self-employed computer programmer, my job goes along for the ride.

  • Elizabeth Dodd: How much corn do you use?

  • Jennifer Perillo: Elizabeth, the recipe notes 1 cup (115 grams) of corn kernels.—Jennie

  • Adri {Food-N-Thought}: I recently discovered your book and site while your promotional times for the book and I am soooo glad I did! Got the book and love it! and love the site! Specially your writing… I connect to it so much, not only because I also like to be honest with myself and engage in deep thought about life, but because my dad died when I was 6 and my mom raised me as a single mom, during which time we moved countries a couple of times. I can almost feel through your words what her feelings and her motivations for the moves might have been. But I do know that she never gave up and that she was always there for me and all her strength paid off real well.
    I also went through my own crisis and made a move only to realize it wasn’t the exterior circumstances the cause of my heart condition, and until the interior weren’t address I wasn’t able to move on. Which is why these days I make sure taking care of my soul is a priority.
    You are so honest, not only with your readers, but with yourself and I find that very admirable. I am sure you will be able to sort through it all, and like you said, the destination will never be known, the journey is what is all about.
    Praying for your brave heart and your beautiful family.

  • Paige Phillips: I had a major event in my life, and I wanted to move away. It wasn’t running away; it was a feeling that if I could just get somewhere new, I could start over and feel renewed in my life. If moving to Paris feels right, then it probably is. NYC will always be there if you need it.

  • jan: Since you are a writer, I must tell you to correct something. Change the hear to here in the first paragraph. Twice.

    Being a former school teacher, I just had to tell you.

    I love your blog and check it regularly for new posts.

  • Blossom: Jennie – Do what your heart tells you. You may not have a crystal ball and you’re probably right, but who wants to know what ‘may have been behind door number 2′ if ‘door number 1′ led to a great path.

    The fact is, Paris is a wonderful place for losing yourself and then finding yourself all over again. Mikey may not physically be here with you but I’m pretty damned sure that he’d be proud of who you are and what choices you’ve made (for you and your girls) and if Paris is calling you, then go for it.

    It’s not going to be an easy road but in the end finding yourself will be a worth it.

  • Jennifer Perillo: Yes, I caught those typos too Jan, but my website keeps saving the old version. So frustrating, and hopefully the changes will take affect soon. Thanks, though.—Jennie

  • Glenda: My dad died when I was 13. We lived in NYC. A year later my mom packed us up (I had a younger sister 9) and we moved to Puerto Rico. A new slate…for a year. Then we moved back to NJ. At the time I didn’t get it, but as I became an adult, married and had children of my own… I so got it and I get it.

    Follow your heart!
    Best to you and the girls always.
    Mikey will be right there watching over you 3!

  • Tricia: Love how you cook-through things. That’s beautiful and nurturing as is your sharing of it.
    I can imagine the unrest has as much to do with what you were feeling for the kids future while Mikey was still alive – and now as this major milepost for your daughter nears, seems a perfect time to be shifting gears ready to make the move.
    And i’d wager, the change will just present itself – who knows where, how, etc. A year is still a long time and as you know too well, anything can happen. (This time — good stuff!)
    It’s more that you’ve obviously got your hand on the gears and ear to the ground ready for the switch. Exciting.

  • Staci@LifeAtCobbleHillFarm: I have to tell you that I just purchased your cookbook this past week and I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed reading every bit of it. It is beautifully done – from the cover to the paper to the photos and, of course, the very personable writing style. I’m hoping to try a few recipes next week – that ricotta using whole milk and cream is DEFINITELY at the top of my list! Thank you for putting together such a beautiful book. :-)

  • Michelle: I don’t know if you read all of these comments, but I wanted to throw in my two cents. I know you enjoyed your visit to Raleigh earlier this spring, and if you are even considering relocating there, it really is a great place to live. I moved there when I was a couple of years younger than your oldest daughter (we previously lived in Chicago), and I thought it was a wonderful place to grow up. Living in the suburbs, it was great to have the outdoors to run around in, but we were not that far from the culture of the downtown area. I went to a really excellent magnet school for both middle and high school, and the state university system was top-notch. Plus, the cost of living is SO MUCH cheaper. I live in the NYC area now, and it is mind-blowing how much more expensive everything is. I wish you the best of luck with your next chapter, and I look forward to more of your insightful posts and lovely recipes!

  • Jennifer Perillo: I read each and every comment Michelle, and thanks so much for your input. I do love Raleigh, and it’s even more enticing because one of my closest friends lives there too. And yes, my mind was blown at how much less expensive everything is there, too.—JP

  • Amy: I can sense your longing for France — I love it, too. But though I will be the lone voice of caution here, I feel I must express it — moving to France, especially Paris, is HARD. Long-term visas are not easy to come by. The bureaucracy really is Sisyphean. And finding a job (or an apartment, or opening a bank account) if you aren’t French is nigh impossible. Most of all, I’ve found that you can move to France, but your troubles will only follow you. I’m not saying don’t do it — I’ve done it and so have many friends and it has been wonderful and frustrating. But living in Paris is nothing like visiting Paris.

  • Jennifer Perillo: Amy,

    I really appreciate your honest advice. It’s funny, that so many people assume Paris is where I want to be long term. For the many reasons you’ve mentioned, plus a few others, it is not on my list for places to move. I love being there as a visitor, and am fully aware that my view of it is so different from the realities (especially being a single mother, and not speaking the language). Paris will always be a place I gravitate to, for it does feel like a second home in its familiarity.

    Cheers,
    Jennie

  • Terry Covington: I recently had a loss; not of the magnitude you did, because I was not married; but it was a 12-year love, so a long time. I just wanted to say that I read your blog sometimes, have followed along, and wish you all the best. I kind of thought it wasn’t Paris. I do think you have the wisdom and insight to trust yourself on this, and trust the timing. I’m middle-aged and it has taken me a long time to learn to listen to my inner spirit and trust it. I’m still learning; I guess we always do. I’ve been considering uprooting myself for a while, too — just for a while. I’m not decided yet; it’s too soon, for one thing, and I don’t want to try for a geographical cure. But there’s more to it than that, and I think that’s what you are getting at here, too — not an attempt to leave your problems behind, but an attempt to trust your heart and instincts, to risk, and to see what comes of it. Sending warm thoughts and best wishes your way.

  • Carla: I lost someone I loved very much 10 years ago. I was still a kid in college and did not have the maturity to handle my pain so I acted like a brat (a selfish, out of control brat) to mute it. And then I moved away from what my life had been and could have been and made a brand new one for myself in a different country. It is true that moving did not magically erase all problems and the every day challenges but it allowed me to reinvent myself, be a better and more balanced person for myself and for those who care for me. There is still a lot of work to do. I don’t think there ever will not be but re-building can start with a bold decision and changing the tangible parts of your life that can allow you to *be* again.
    Even if we don’t know each other personally, your family’s story resonates with me and I wish you all the best for your new adventure and hope it helps your girls and you as much as it did me.

  • Melissa: Jennie,

    I’ve been reading your blog for so long, before and after the tremendous change in your life. I’m blown away by your courage and your outlook on life. From reading, I can tell that you are an amazing mom and that wherever life will take you, you will make it special. I am also a mom (of two small boys). We just recently left the city. And what a difficult decision it was. But just like you say, daily life in the city was wearing us down. We had mixed feelings on the wonderful experiences the city brought our boys, and the simple existence that we all were missing. Around 3 months ago we made the move (not very far, just to CT), but I can tell you that my heart explodes every time I hear the boys shrieking and running in the yard, simple things like playing catch and tag outside. It’s been an adjustment, but so far I can assure you, we have no regrets. We miss the city and will visit it often, but it’s been a wonderful move for us. I look forward to reading about your next adventure.

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