Grilled Squash Salad

“Try a Little Tenderness” is–by-far–Otis Redding’s best song.

For those complete nubes who have never heard of the song and/or the artist, or for those who want a 1980s throwback, I present to you the classic clip of Jon Cryer from Pretty in Pink:

Few would characterize Cryer’s reaction (or even Cryer’s character’s reaction) as…well…”tender”. However, it does fit the Redding version: the song just crescendoes and accelerates as Redding proclaims more and more emphatically that all you have to do is try a little tenderness.

Now here’s where things get really interesting and where Redding truly shows his genius. Otis was performing a cover. That’s right. This song totally was not his idea. It was written over 30 years earlier, and prior to Otis in 1966, the most famous recording came from Bing Crosby.

Much more what you’d expect from the title of the song, right? It’s clean. It’s slow. You’ve got America’s favorite golf-club wielding, child-beating crooner doing his thang.

But seriously. Hands down, Otis wins this battle.

And why is that? His version is more human. It’s got soul. Redding’s singing about tenderness in a very intense way is really the POINT. Emotions and actions can manifest themselves in seemingly contradictory ways. In fact, they frequently do. You can simultaneously be tender and appear tough. Or be loving and seem brash. Or be kind and firm. And so while this song is fast and rough on the surface, it still actually is quite loving and romantic. It’s more understanding than Bing’s version. It’s less dismissive than Bing’s version. It’s more–wait for it–tender than Bing’s version.

Now we must start the segue into “grilled squash salad.”

I am a woman who on multiple occasions has been told she is “un-nurturing”. And certainly if we restrict to the arenas of teaching and mentoring, by traditional standards it’s true that I’m un-nurturing. To use a bunch of politically correct phrases, instead of “handholding scholars through their journeys of self-discovery as life-long learners” I “create an environment which fosters independence, self-sufficiency, and an internal drive to improve.” This has been very apparent to me this summer as I run an REU with an afore-mentioned pal Raj. Raj is very hands-on. He spends quite a bit of the day with his research group, frequently giving students additional lectures on background material and the like. The second any one of them has a question, he jumps to answer it in full detail.

My mentoring style?

This summer I literally gave a freshman, sophomore, and two juniors a (advanced graduate-level) book to read for background, highlighted certain sections, and said, “Let me know if you have any questions.” Whenever students (REU or otherwise) come to me with questions, my first response always is some variation of, “What have you tried to answer your own question? Have you worked through an example? Show me how you’re thinking about this and where specifically you’re confused.” [Note: on Friday my current research team sent me a detailed list of topics they still don’t feel they quite understand after a week of self-teaching, and (perhaps since some of this stuff wasn’t even on the syllabus for my Ph.D. oral exam) I will start preparing lectures.]

Comparing Raj and me, 99% of people probably would say that he is by far the more nurturing of the two of us. But I argue I’m just nurturing in the same way that Otis was tender. I’d like to think that my students haven’t seen me as cold, uncaring, or unsupportive. In fact, I have massive evidence to the contrary. But still, on the surface (and especially when you compare me to some others like Raj), I look like the exact opposite of nurturing.

We’re almost at the squash salad, I promise.

Over these summers, I live with Raj and his wife. His wife is more like me in how the world perceives her. Last year, when my mother got very sick very suddenly, that woman was remarkably kind to me (Raj was too, but you’d expect that from a nurturer). I remember her keeping me company and pacing alongside me in an airport at 11pm as I got ready to head home to be with my mother. She said, “I’m not saying I wouldn’t be here for you otherwise, but I see this as pre-emptive karma. My mom is going to get really sick some day, and I’m going to lose it just like you are now. I know I’m a bitch so I need to do all the good things I can so the universe can help me out when the time comes.”

This was a very telling, very interesting comment to me. She’s really not a bitch as evidenced by what she was doing when she said she was. But she recognizes that others may see her that way. That’s because how she shows emotion, how she shows kindness, etc., is just not typical. Her tenderness isn’t slow and soothing; it’s fierce and intense.

This week was her birthday (and of course, since she’s a bitch and I’m un-nurturing, we tacitly knew I would be included in the family celebration). She’d picked the menu she wanted, including the grilled squash salad. Her mom was going to do all of the cooking. But two days before the birthday, just as predicted, her mother fell very ill. Raj’s wife wanted to cancel everything despite even her mother telling her “the show must go on”. Thankfully her mother is now doing as well as could possibly be expected. But still, during that time Raj’s wife really needed a little tenderness (and probably the traditional interpretation of such). So (with minor help from Raj), I broke out of my comfort zone, was traditionally tender, and cooked that birthday meal so we could still celebrate.

And now here’s the recipe for that salad. I hope you enjoy it, whether that enjoyment is traditional or not.

GRILLED SQUASH SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

  • Red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Oregano, chopped
  • Garlic, smushed
  • Lemon juice
  • Mustard
  • Red pepper flakes.
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow squash
  • Tomato

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Take all but the last four ingredients and mix together to make a dressing. Refrigerate.
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  2. When you’re ready to start cooking, slice the zucchini and yellow squash and toss is the dressing. Add a few red pepper flakes for good measure.
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  3. Grill the zucchini and yellow squash until soft and until they have grill marks. Keep the dressing.
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  4. Cut the zucchini and yellow squash into bite-sized pieces. Toss back in the dressing, top with tomatoes.
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  5. Season once more with salt and pepper and serve.

 

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