It’s been an uneasy summer, afraid to commit. Brilliant, glaring days are chased with sky-wracking thunderstorms that dissolve into cloudy cold and chill. The wind is a fierce prickle or a wet sigh, like hot breath fogging up a glass. We’re all wearing too many clothes or too few, and the city is like an endless striptease GIF. Now we’re dressed, now we’re not.
Yesterday, we rode our bikes down to the beer garden at Schlachtensee, a lake on the southern edge of the city. It was warm riding down on our bikes. There was a comfortable breeze, but the sun was shining, and as we moved, we peeled off sweaters and jackets and threw them in our baskets. By the edge of the lake, sitting at a table dappled with shade, it was almost too chilly. We guiltily slunk our sweaters and jackets back on as we gazed out at the sun paparazzi-popping over the waves.
There are a few things summer is for me – or at least should be. There should be time spent reading in the sun, big glasses of milky iced coffee and cold beer dimpled with a lemon slice. There’s the smoky smell of a rack of ribs on the grill, soft grass beneath bare feet, ice cream melting down the side of a waffle cone.
When the weather is so indecisive about what season it wants to be, it’s hard to really get into the swing of summer. How to have a weekend cookout when it won’t stop raining? Why bother reading outside when it’s misty out and you’re wrapped up a few sweaters?
Summer is supposed to sweep you off your feet with its lethargic charms. Sometimes, I’ll wake up early to get work done so I can spend a lazy afternoon out in the park. But more often than not, by the time lunchtime rolls around, the sun has disappeared behind clouds, and the heat has dropped. There’s no good reason to torture myself by sitting on damp grass in chilly wind, so I just keep working.
When I think of summer, I think of lolling around like a pug with its belly up. But as time goes on, I think this idea of summer is just a vestige of long-lost school days, where summers meant no homework, no class, no waking up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus. In the real world, there’s no break from work unless you’re proactive about creating one – and with weather like this, what’s the draw?
I’ve been trying to get myself into a summer mood. I spend a lot of time staring at the tomato plants I’m growing in the window box. I love how they’ve sprouted from little fuzzy seeds into strong, slender stalks. I love their verdant perfume, heavy, forbidden-smelling and sweet. The first white flowers are just peeking out, and maybe soon I’ll have my own homegrown tomatoes.
I’ve been wearing my pretty summer dresses (with sweaters, of course) and biking everywhere I need to go. In the evenings, I lounge by the open French balcony with a cocktail in one hand and a book in the other. I’ve been snatching up my fair share of ice cream and making myself a lot of salads to eat. Somehow the freshness of lettuce and crisp vegetables makes me feel like summer isn’t just a dream.
A few weeks ago, we went shopping on the Ku’damm, Berlin’s less glitzy version of Broadway and had lunch at Dean & David, which always makes me think of Dean & DeLuca and wonder who this Dean fellow is and how he must really get around.
There were a lot of sticking points to my salad, as in, I didn’t think the lettuce had it going on, and the dressing was all wrong. But the grilled, marinated beef that topped it off was absolutely lovely, and made me want to recreate the salad at home – but better.
I kept its red pepper and green onion, but replaced the tinny balsamic vinaigrette with a creamy peanut sauce. I ditched the astringent romaine for softer, friendlier mixed greens and marinated the beef in a mix of rice wine vinegar and soy, with just a kick of lemongrass and chili. I added crunchy red cabbage and radishes for texture. So really, by the time my salad was done, it wasn’t much like the one I’d eaten, but something totally new.
Maybe that’s the way I’ve got to look at my summer, too. It may not be what I think of as summer, with its sweltering gray days or chilly sunshine hours, but it has elements of all the things I love – just in a different combination. I may no longer have three long months of no responsibility, but I still have my window seat, my tomato plants, my dresses, and ice cream. Somehow, I’ll make summer work.
Asian-Style Grilled Steak Salad with Peanut Dressing
I highly recommend grilling the steak if that option is available to you. Sadly, it was not available to me, so I prepared my steak in the skillet. It’s also excellent that way, but just tastes a little less like summer. Serves 2.
For the marinade:
¾ lbs. (320 g) steak
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, diced
1 tsp. ginger, diced
1 tsp. lemon grass, diced
1 bird’s eye chili
½ tsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
For the dressing:
2 tbsp. peanut butter
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. olive oil
For the salad:
2 large handfuls mixed lettuce
1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely diced
8 radishes, quartered
2 green onions, sliced
Crushed roasted peanuts, to garnish
Sesame seeds, to garnish
Slice steak into 1-inch-wide strips and place in a medium-sized bowl. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, bird’s eye chili, and maple syrup. Stir to combine and allow to marinate for ½ hour or while you prepare the rest of the ingredients for the salad.
Prepare the dressing: Mix peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl until peanut butter is fully incorporated into the more liquid ingredients, and a smooth paste forms. Whisk in olive oil until smooth. Set aside.
Combine lettuce, red cabbage, bell pepper, radishes, and green onions in a large bowl and toss to combine.
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over high heat and add the steak, trying as best as you can not to get marinade into the skillet. You’ll most likely have to pour off excess marinade as the beef starts to cook. (This can be avoided by grilling your steak [yum!] if you have a grill, which I do not.) Cook beef until browned.
Assemble salad: Toss vegetables with beef and dressing. Garnish with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.