A pile of leaves. Jumping on the bed. A bowl of ice cream. Your mother’s arms. Your baby’s smile. Snuggles with your partner. A warm load of laundry.
So often we are in protection mode from the hard world around us. We strap on the virtual knee pads and helmets of daily life to keep out the hate, the grief, the stress. We don’t trust ourselves enough - nor the people we interact with - so we put on a brave face, fooling them and ourselves into believing that everything is ok. We hold everyone at arm’s length so that they don’t get too close and we won’t get hurt. (There is not very much comfort in arm's length, is there?)
I’m part of a daily gratitude group. We share with each other emailed lists of our daily thank yous (Gratitudes) as well as the things we are planting in the universe that we’re looking forward to (Exciteds). But we also come there with confessions, prayer requests, accountability, our triumphs, as well as our tragedies. One of our members described our group as a ‘soft place to land.’ Aaaahhh.
Those four words are like mashed potatoes for the soul! (Can you imagine a softer place to land than a plate of mashed potatoes...) What or who is your soft place to land? The safe haven that won’t judge you, that holds space for your best interests, and is also the healing ground when you take an emotional/physical/spiritual fall? That soft place feels so good when you surrender to it?
Some of my soft places to land are my kitchen, my gym, my temple, my bed, swimming in the ocean. Hugging my friends, holding my kitty, going home to Missouri... This blog is also one of my soft landing places, hopefully, it is for you too.
Because eventually, at some point or another, as we’re striving for our happiness in life, we’re going to fall. We will actually fall down and injure ourselves. We will fail someone, we will fall in and out of love. We will be fired or we will quit. Our people will die. Our pets will get sick. We will fall backward - into old habits, into old relationships that don’t serve us, we will fall from grace.
What to do?! Do we step cautiously, do we prepare for the worst and hope for the best? Do we live on high alert waiting for the sky to fall? Maybe... But what if we made virtual pillow forts of good thoughts and actions, and strengthened the shores of our relationships with faith and kindness? What if we softened our own edges and let our guards down to give soft landing places for others? What if our days were laced with prayer or meditation to keep out the temptations and obstacles?
Life can be pretty tough. But I think instead of living in defense mode and living in fear of the hard stuff flying at us, we need to seek out those soft places. Take refuge in them. Rest and restore. Indulge, even. I think soft landing places are even more important than all the ‘armor’ we carry to keep us safe.
I’m much more interested in all the good things we could do than just waiting around for the bad stuff to happen. Knowing where our soft places to land are is like knowing where the exit door is in case of emergency or knowing what to do in a tornado drill. Having a soft place to land is one of the highest forms of self-care.
This week’s recipe provides a pillowy runway of lemony ricotta for this zucchini and hazelnut combination to land. And after you make it, it will land in the soft place of your belly! Eat up, my buttercups, this is perfect summer fare!
Marinated Summersquash With Hazelnuts and Ricotta
adapted from a BON APPETIT recipe: my adaptations in Caps and Parenthesis
3 medium summer squash or zucchini cut in half lengthwise
1½ tsp. salt, plus more
¼ cup blanched hazelnuts
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1 small bunch mint
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar (I USED WHITE BALSAMIC VINEGAR FOR SWEETNESS!)
¾ tsp. sugar (I LEFT OUT THE SUGAR!)
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup fresh ricotta
Flaky sea salt
Toasted country-style bread (for serving)
Preheat oven to 300°.
Toss squash and 1½ tsp. kosher salt in a colander; set over a bowl. Let sit 10 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels. ( I SKIPPED THIS STEP!)
Toss hazelnuts and 1 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, shaking occasionally, until golden brown, 15–20 minutes. Let cool; crush into large pieces with a measuring cup or glass. (I TOASTED MY HAZELNUTS IN A SKILLET ON THE STOVE.)
Smack 3 mint sprigs ( I FINELY CHOPPED ALL OF THE MINT AND MIXED IT IN.) against your cutting board a few times to release their flavor; mix in a large bowl with garlic, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and 2 Tbsp. oil; set dressing aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high until shimmering. Arrange squash cut side down in the skillet, breaking into smaller pieces if needed in order to fit in a single layer, and cook, moving around in the pan to ensure even browning, until golden brown on cut side, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover (if you don’t have a lid use a baking sheet), and continue to cook until very tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool slightly. ( I USED MY GRILL PAN ON THE STOVE!)
Cut squash into 2" pieces and toss in reserved dressing to coat; season with kosher salt and black pepper. Let sit at room temperature, tossing occasionally, 15 minutes. Pluck out mint sprigs; discard. (I LEFT THE MINT IN!)
Meanwhile, zest lemon half into a small bowl, mix in ricotta and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil; season with kosher salt. Hang on to that lemon.
Spread lemon ricotta over a platter. Top with squash and their juices. Squeeze reserved lemon over. Pull leaves from remaining mint sprigs (you want about ¼ cup). Scatter mint and hazelnuts over squash. Drizzle generously with oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve with toast.