Visiting Bergen back in the summer of 2008 I noticed something special about the Norwegians, the way they embraced the long hours of sunlight and milked the sunshine for every last drop. Out on ski boats in bikinis and swim trunks as the evening sun hovered lazily above the horizon, never seeming quite like it would ever fully set, the smiles never left their faces as their boats skimmed the surface of the golden water, bouncing along as it went. That image of pure bliss, of people relishing the moment, has stayed with me through the years, and it demonstrates a part of the Norwegian character that is not so unlike that of people in the Pacific Northwest.
Here, as in Norway, spring and summer are short, and hot, sunny days are rare. At least on this side of the Cascades. When such conditions happen, restaurants with outdoor seating fill up and the roads leading to any body of water become clogged with traffic. It seems ingrained in us to seek out the sun and to bask in its rays amongst strangers who are celebrating it as well.
Each year I make a summer list, a collection of ideas and ideals, things that seem to capture the essence of the season. This year one of the first to surface is dining outside whenever possible. Though squinting our eyes in the bright sun and enduring the goosebumps that come from the breeze that even the warmest days can bring, we can hardly imagine anything better, while in the moment, than sitting amongst friends in the little bits of nature we try to create in our urban dwellings.
Please promise me, no matter where you live, that you will embrace the sunshine this spring and summer too, that you’ll get out there and enjoy meals on your patio or deck or front porch or the nearest park. Listen to the birds chirping and dogs barking and notice the warmth of the sun mingling with the gentle breeze on your skin. Breathe in the fresh air and smell the scent of flowers and grass being carried on the wind. The winters can seem so long and so dark, and moments like these are ones to savor.
Chicken with Baked Rhubarb and Cucumber-Radish Salad
When it comes to using foods in respect to their sources and peak seasons, Danish chef Trina Hahnemann is a star. Her book The Nordic Diet–from which this recipe is adapted–celebrates locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients with a collection of innovative recipes that are always fresh, always healthy, and totally satisfying. Hahnemann would have you using a whole organic or free-range chicken cut into eight pieces, along with organic raw sugar and goat-milk yogurt. If you choose to follow her lead, please do. I have modified it below for ease and convenience. This dish only needs potatoes to round it out (I recommend six medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes).
For the chicken:
8 chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
11 ounces rhubarb
1/4 cup raw sugar
For the salad:
1 medium cucumber (about 11 ounces)
1-2 bunches radishes (about 7 ounces)
Generous 1/3 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken thighs on a baking sheet or shallow ovenproof dish and season with salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes. While the chicken is roasting, cut the rhubarb into 1-inch slices on a long diagonal and toss in a medium-sized bowl to coat. After 30 minutes of roasting, remove the chicken from the oven and tuck the rhubarb pieces underneath the chicken and return to the oven to roast for 15 minutes longer.
To make the salad, peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1/4-inch slices and toss in a medium-sized bowl. Thinly slice the radishes and add them to the cucumber. Stir together the yogurt, garlic, mint, salt, and pepper, and add to the cucumbers and radishes, stirring until well combined.