Scott and Jessie are real-life people and they’re good friends of mine; I’ve known Jessie since elementary school and Scott is her husband. I’ve always thought Jessie was one of the smartest, most together girls I could ever meet and I wondered whether she would find a guy funny, sweet and charming enough to marry. And you know what? Scott is all that and more. He helps with the dishes and provides technical support and handyman services for her immediate and extended family. He once rescued a giant turtle from the pond in their backyard. He affectionately calls Jessie, “Buddy.” I’d tell you how they met (’cause you’re probably wondering where you can find a guy like Scott to marry yourself), but it has something to do with Jessie hitting on him while he was her TA in college and I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it.
Anyway, I spent a weekend with Scott and Jessie last month at Bass Lake, where Jessie’s family has a house. I’ve gone to Bass Lake with her family countless times over the years. She used to bring a whole group of us girls up every summer, in fact, and we’d get into all kinds of trouble with the local boys. We’d sunbathe by day and then sneak out of the house at night to drink beer at the home of any local kid whose parents were out of town. If only Jessie’s poor mother knew.
Now we girls are grownups, mostly married or committed in some way, and so are the local boys. So our weekends in Bass Lake are pretty civilized. Last month while I was there, our days went pretty much like this: We’d lounge on the dock from morning till dusk, taking the boat out for a spin whenever the mood struck. Sometime between 4 and 5 pm, we’d head up to the house to pack a little happy hour picnic–cheese, crackers, crudite, dip, shrimp cocktail, and a bottle of wine–and head back to the dock for sunset. A few hours later, we’d fire up the barbeque and have dinner on the deck. After dinner, a little more reading or perhaps a movie. Then bed. In the morning? Repeat.
Scott and Jess made this salad one night and I fell in love with it. It’s a surprising combination of flavors: The melon is cool and sweet but the serrano chili gives the dressing a hot kick. Feta adds a little savory saltiness and the thyme lends a touch of earthiness. Spinach is the perfect backdrop for it all. I made it myself for dinner last night and I could almost hear the gentle waves of the lake, lapping under the dock and calling me back.
10 sprigs thyme
1 serrano chili
1 small shallot
juice and zest of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 oz fresh baby spinach, rinsed and dried
3 lbs seedless watermelon
4 oz crumbled feta
Remove the thyme leaves from the sprigs by gripping each sprig with your thumb and forefinger near one end and, with your other hand, pulling the sprig away from you so that your thumb and finger run along the stem opposite to the direction that the leaves grow. Set aside half of the leaves to use as garnish. Place the remaining leaves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade along with the serrano chili (remove some or all of the seeds for less heat), shallot, lime juice and zest, olive oil, canola oil, vinegar, and salt. Pulse a few times until the chili and shallot are chopped, then process until the dressing is smooth and emulsified.
In a large bowl, toss the spinach with the dressing until it is fully coated, reserving 1/4 cup of the dressing for the last step. Arrange the dressed spinach in equal quantities among four plates. Slice the watermelon as thinly as possible and arrange over the spinach. Sprinkle the crumbled feta over the watermelon and garnish with the remaining thyme leaves. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the feta, about 1 tablespoon per plate. Serve immediately.