One Last Hoorah

Before you start reading today, think for a second. How many true friends do you have? Not how many friends you have on Facebook, or how many follow you on Twitter, but real, honest-to-goodness friends. Because that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. That, and zucchini fries, of course. But I’ll get to those.

I used to think I was loaded with friends. I suppose I am, really. I mean, I know a lot of people, and I like them; I figure they like me too. We talk here and there (or text or g-chat, is more like it), we eat and drink together, and sometimes we’re in each other’s weddings or taking trips together. That’s friendship, right?

The trouble, is that my own vision of friendship is so warped lately. Things happen, people drift apart, and as I’ve realized over this last year or so, people change and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it. It sucks, quite frankly. It sucks bad.

But in having those experiences, I’ve realized a thing or two. As a result, this is my advice to you: cherish the time you have with the ones you love, be a good friend to those who reciprocate your friendship, and don’t let something as silly as distance tear you apart. There is nothing more sad, more depressing, than looking back at a friendship that used to be rock solid, and realizing that in the blink of an eye it was ripped from one end to the other, and tossed out like a dirty rag. Don’t let that happen.

The difficulty in having friendships, is keeping them. Life happens – we grow up, we get married, we have children, we have busy jobs, we text instead of call, and sometimes we have to take opportunities that are offered to us. Leaving our friends in NC was so hard when we moved to Chicago 6 years (6 years!) ago, and now that we’re settled in here, we’re realizing that now, people will leave us. Being on that side of the coin feels so different, and not in a good way.

Our friends, Hope & James, are moving tomorrow. Apparently Hope (yes, the reigning Iron Chef) is interested in getting the letters M and D behind her name, and James is looking into a career in whittling (sorry James, I had to do it) unless he decides to work the valet at the VA once they’re settled into their larger-than-life apartment house in the “Deep South” state of Mississippi. I will miss them both, but I’ve learned over these last few years that distance doesn’t have to change a friendship and real friendships will make it, even if you can’t go to Irazu together every month or sit lakefront, drinking wine and watching the fireworks. All it takes is a little bit of effort, a long road trip here and there, and a flight when Southwest posts their specials (hmmm… does SW fly there? probably not.). Plus, I’ve never been to Mississippi, so there’s that, too.

Interestingly enough (or not so), this is where zucchini fries enter the story. With their move right around the corner, we were in need of one last hoorah. We had H+J over for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and if you can believe it, I repeated a dish. Gasp! Truth is, I’ve never met a fry I didn’t like, and having some zucchini lying around reminded me of this snack-type recipe I’d made almost 2 years ago (before my kitchen resembled a photo studio) – resulting in baked zucchini ‘fries’ with one of the best sauces since Ranch dressing – spicy, smoky, Spanish romesco.

If you’ve never made or eaten romesco sauce, you should certainly check this out. Smoky paprika, sweet roasted tomatoes and peppers, and nuttiness from, well, nuts (almonds, to be exact) make this an extra special mixture that will last well beyond these crunchy, cheesy fries; it plays nicely with seafood, but I like it best aside a big ol’ pork chop.

The rest of the night’s dinner, you ask? A simple salad with poppyseed dressing, mushroom-tomato lasagna (with smoked mozzarella), and a peach-almond galette. One tasty dinner, and a perfect excuse to hang out with two lovely people. You certainly don’t need good food to have good friends, but sometimes they just go hand in hand.

Zucchini Fries w/ Smoky Romesco Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2008; serves 8

printable version

ingredients
romesco sauce
3  medium red bell peppers
2  plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2″ thick slice of bread from a baguette, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 T almonds
1  T evoo
1  T  red wine vinegar
1/2  t Spanish smoked paprika
1/4  t  kosher salt
1/4  t  ground red pepper
1  large garlic clove

zucchini
3  large zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1  c  dry breadcrumbs
1/2  c coursely ground almonds
1/4  c  grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2  t  salt
1/2  t  freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
cooking spray

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare sauce, cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place bell pepper halves and tomatoes, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten bell peppers with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop, reserving any liquid.

Combine bell peppers, reserved liquid, tomatoes, and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. Refrigerate until ready to use (can be made a couple of days in advance, if needed).

Preheat oven to 400 F.

To prepare zucchini, cut 1 zucchini in half crosswise; cut each half lengthwise into 8 wedges. Repeat procedure with remaining zucchini. Combine breadcrumbs, almond meal, cheese, salt, black pepper in a shallow dish. In another dish, whisk eggs until combined. Dip zucchini in eggs; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place zucchini on sheet pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat zucchini with cooking spray. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately with sauce.