July was a blur. We were away fulfilling obligations of work, family and of home-building contracts, selections and construction crisis management. We have also moved again, to a location more convenient to the bases — the last before our sparkly new home is finished.

You know, I can’t remember fully what happened last month. Some days I’m not positive it happened at all. Maybe it’s a bad thing, maybe it’s a good thing. All I know for sure is that we’re almost settled into a new rhythm. Nearly recovered from the disruption of our usual routine.

I’ve learned it’s not always easy to eat well in a distracted or stressful environment. In fact, such conditions can, and usually do, impact normal eating patterns substantially — “how to deal” is often a question that comes up. Having a great deal of both academic and practical experience, it’s a question I’m intimately acquainted with, and uniquely qualified to answer.

I suppose in some odd way I should be grateful for the many exhausting stretches in our nearly three years together. In overcoming the obstacles, I am provided with the opportunity to hone a coping method: Make sure a nutritious, delicious meal finds its way to the table. Often these meals are quickly prepared or thrown together last second, but they are always good tasting, good for us and dripping with love. Most of the time, the meals are re-purposed leftovers or riffs on a previous recipes.

Recently it was a panzanella salad dreamt up two summers ago that started the wheels turning.

The original began with a bowl of toasted bread cubes, shot through with ripe peaches and fistful of garden fresh basil. We like it this way very much, but a different set of circumstances led to warm barley tossed with olive oil, minced parsley, and equal parts lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. To this, a scattering of scallions and a few clutches of torn basil at the last moment.

At the table in our furnished apartment, squeezed between errands, wedding planning, chores and (likely) dozing off on the couch, it was a true comfort. Several minutes to decompress, be together, and eat well.

Peach Barley Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Basil [serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as a side]

Printable recipe

2 c cooked barley, see below

1 large peach, chopped

1 medium scallion, minced

1 1/2 T minced flat-leaf parsley

3 T thinly sliced basil leaves (chiffonade)

1 T fresh lemon juice

2 T good quality balsamic vinegar (if you have aged balsamic, this is the place to use it)

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a serving bowl, mix together the cooked barley, peach, scallion, parsley and basil. Pour two-thirds of the vinaigrette over top; toss gently and thoroughly. Taste again, and adjust seasoning and/or add more dressing to suit. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Cooked Barley [makes 2 cups]

1 1/3 c barley

2/3 c cold water

a pinch of kosher salt

Place a medium pot of water over high heat. When the water has come to a brisk boil, stir in barley and salt. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender.

Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

A squirrel bread original

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