Grilled Corn + Bell Pepper Salad

A friend dropped his phone in the crevices of our couch a few weeks ago. He started reaching between the cushions and my internal alarms sounded. Fear and panic washed over me like a tidal wave, and I immediately issued a warning: “Be careful! I have no idea what you’ll find down there!”

Would he reach for his phone only to discover stale popcorn and animal cracker crumbs? Or worse yet, would he unearth a scary, sticky, mysterious substance whose only home should be a laboratory? Would he ever sit on that sofa again or return to our home without a hazmat suit? We laughed at the thought of what he might find, and despite my fear of the creatures beneath the cushions, I found the situation amusing rather than stressful. That would not have been the case a couple years ago.

Before having kids, inviting company over meant the house had to be immaculate, at least at first glance. I thought I had to make complicated recipes and I would fret over the thought of serving dried-out chicken. I’d overanalyze the dinner conversation, praying it would flow easily, with no one talking too much, no one left out, and none of those dreaded awkward pauses. I tried to hide all that was going on in my mind, but my insecurity shouted from the rooftops. Entertaining became a source of stress rather than joy.

When my twins were born, our home became a revolving door of visitors (for which I am eternally grateful). I became accustomed to others seeing me at my worst, because I didn’t really have a choice. Friends and family brought meals to my home, scrubbed my toilets, and folded my laundry. I desperately needed whatever help was being offered, and I quickly gave up caring if I smelled like spit-up or if my boobs were hanging out for the world to see. The place where I once sought to impress with fancy meals and tidied rooms became the place where others took care of me.

A year and a half later, with two toddlers in tow, my pre-baby attempts to entertain are still not an option. If I waited to have friends and family over until all my ducks were in a row, no one would ever step foot in my home. Of course, I do attempt to clean periodically because it’s easier to relax when your hand doesn’t rub against squished avocado, and you don’t have to worry about navigating the minefield of toys on the floor. But my goal is no longer to achieve the appearance of perfection. I’ve been down that road, and it’s just too stressful.

Instead, I want to build relationships. I want the environment, the food, the décor, and the conversation to help provide nourishment for body and soul. If the meal burns or I run out of time to clean the bathroom, I may be slightly embarrassed, but my world will not implode. Ordering takeout won’t destroy my sense of worth and a messy house doesn’t mean I failed. I want to invite others not just into my home, but into my family – and family is hardly a polished product.

I’ve since cleaned between the couch cushions out of fear that another guest may lose something in the abyss. But while I clean, my kids are simultaneously wreaking havoc elsewhere, hiding who-knows-what behind who-knows-where. It’ll probably be an unsuspecting visitor who finds that buried treasure, and I hope they’ll laugh with me. Because you know what? Welcome to the family.

Grilled Corn + Bell Pepper Salad
Yields 4-6 servings

4 ears of corn, shucked

1 red bell pepper, diced

¼ cup finely diced red onion

3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, roughly chopped (plus more for garnish)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Heat a grill to medium-high. Place the corn on the grill, and cook for about 4-5 minutes, until some of the kernels become charred. Rotate the corn and continue cooking for another few minutes. Rotate again if needed until all sides have slightly charred kernels, about 10-15 minutes total.* Remove the corn from the grill and allow it to cool off enough to handle.

Cut the kernels off each cob. Add the kernels to large bowl, along with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with fresh oregano.

You can serve this salad immediately, but I think it tastes best if it sits for at least an hour (and up to overnight) so the flavors have a chance to blend. Serve cold or at room temperature.

*If you don’t have a grill, you can broil the corn. Position an oven rack about 4-6 inches from the heat source. Preheat the broiler to hi (if you have a hi/low setting). Place the corn directly on the oven rack and cook just as you would if you were using the grill.  

Words and photos by Sarah Hauser