Food Friday: Cool Beans!

We are still a few weeks away from Labor Day. Despite the constant heat it feels a little bit like fall is on its way. Maybe it is all the back-to-school sales. Maybe it is just wishful thinking. I have seen leaves falling in the back yard. They are probably just as exhausted and as exasperated with the weather as I am. I’m still avoiding the heat in the kitchen. I have a new Tana French mystery I would like to read, rather than wending my way around the kitchen, making something for dinner.

A perfect summer meal is something that you can prepare once, enjoy mightily, and then serve another couple of times. Poor Mr. Friday. Last night we had tuna salad-filled peppers, with a pasta dish and a green salad on the side. (Shades of my childhood!) Lucky me though – there’s enough left over for a couple of lunches. Luke the wonder dog and I can go sit out on the back porch after lunch. He enjoys soaking up the solar energy with his black coat. You’ll find me tucked back in a shadowy corner, sneaking in another chapter of The Trespasser before I head back into the Spy offices. We don’t get out for lunch much, and tuna is a step up from our usual peanut butter crackers.

Garden report: I pulled out the leggy tomato plants last weekend. They didn’t fare well when we were on vacation, and were looking very sad and droopy. And quite frankly, I was fighting a losing battle with the birds, who insisted on first dibs. I will concede that the birds deserved the blueberries that they stripped from the bushes – they being early risers where I am not. But the tomatoes were different. I had gauzy Italianate visions of fresh tomatoes and creamy burrata dinners, with tasty wine and the attentive Mr. Friday. These fantasies were dashed by the birds who were peckish, destructive and selfish. Back to the farm stand I will go for some red, ripe, intact tomatoes.

The containers that held my tomato dreams are now home to the new herb farm. Basil, parsley, rosemary, mint and a few cheerfully yellow marigolds. There are three basil plants, soon to be the basil bushes (I hope), supplying elements of interest to salads for the next month, and then forming the basis for clever warm meals come fall. I do not know if the birds have an appetite for these particular herbs. I hope not.

We are having house guests this weekend, and they are folks we haven’t seen for a long time. I’ve been getting ready in so many odd ways. Do you think they will notice that I weeded the window boxes? Or that I touched up the paint on the wall near the recycling basket? More importantly, I have laid in a supply of wine and nibbles. Which is more to the point, I think. Today I am going to do a little prep work so we have lots of time to enjoy each other, and lots of time to eat and drink and talk our heads off. I’m thinking a nice cool bean salad at dinner, that can be broken out at lunch again on Sunday. They are driving down from Connecticut, so we want to make it worth their drive time, and introduce them to a few flavors of the south.

But Mark Bittman, one of oury household gods, has something even easier: I can handle a little blanching and sautéing on a summer morning. This is a meal I can prepare in advance, and by the bushel, so we will be well-supplied for the weekend.

I am going to get a little crafty, and in honor of the solar eclipse on Monday I will be baking some homemade moon pies. Thanks, Garden & Gun for all your help this week! I will be waddling a little more than usual when walking Luke the wonder dog!

“After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would blaze an hour longer in the zenith…”
― Marcel Proust

Food Friday: Stone Fruit

Summer vacations are swift-moving bodies of water. They are cool, and refreshing. They eddy and spool around the shallows, then hurtle past, gurgling while you paddle for a leisurely afternoon or two in the dappled sunshine. And then you go home.

We have returned from a week of cooler temperatures at a little mountain house in western North Carolina. Our adventures there were much the same as here: daily trips to the grocery store and to farm stands. Everything was centered on food, but we got a chance to look up from our books, and appreciated the sound of the approaching wind through the tall trees. I sat on the porch one afternoon waiting for a rain shower to move through the little valley. It was delightful to be sitting in someone else’s creaky, listing wicker, instead on being firmly planted in front of my computer.

We were on holiday with our former Pesky Pescaterian daughter and her almost-three toddler son. She no longer shuns meat, but eats it in judgemental moderation now. She is more organic than we are, although we noticed her scarfing down the goldfish with as much enthusiasm as the Young Master. And the Young Master blithely ignored our well-intentioned attempts at serving him organic and virtuous meals by subsisting on a diet of strawberries, bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, and goldfish. He did have cheese pizza once, but only because he was held in such thrall by a parade of passing dump trunks that we could have given him liver and onions. Not that we ever would, of course.

Who knew that large machinery could be so fascinating? And who knew that there was so much construction happening this summer? We certainly managed to pick the best part of the universe as far as our toddler was concerned. On all our forays out of the house we spotted back hoes and excavators, dump trucks and steam rollers, bulldozers and motor graders, crawler loaders and trenchers. My. We all got an education. He was politely dismissive viewing all of the other sights we were so eager to point out to him: cows, goats, horses and acres of Christmas tree farms. He asked repeatedly for ducks, but we weren’t able to find any for him. Luckily there was always another truck on the horizon.

There was an intersection near the grocery store we frequented that was being enlarged. The parade of passing construction trucks was alluring enough to get him into the car seat (willingly) for our daily pilgrimage to the market, where the adults were most interested in dinner and snack fixings. Oh, and wine.

We needed a daily fix of summertime strawberries, blueberries, peaches and cherries. It was stone fruit season, and we couldn’t get enough. I had to break my summer rule about not using the stove for this recipe, but I think you will find it is well worth the momentary discomfort. You can go out on the back porch for a little while, and wait for a summer rain to come sailing through:

This is one which garnered the former Pescatarian’s approval, and it does not require a stove at all! Just a sharp knife and a major hunger factor. Have it for dinner or breakfast, after all, you are on vacation:

Peach Melba does involve a little cooking – you have to poach the peaches – but do it early in the morning. That will leave you more time to watch Jungle Book again tonight.

And we spent some time sitting in Adirondack chairs, watching the delighted future construction foreman playing with his trucks in a gravel bed, while we were sipping cocktails before dinner. This is perhaps the best use of stone fruit we could find, as cool and refreshing as the New River, in which we dipped our toes before squealing about how cold it was. Such delightful first world problems. This cocktail goes very well with goldfish.

“There is no situation like the open road, and seeing things completely afresh.” — James Salter

Food Friday: Cukes!

This is a previously published Food Friday, as I am on vacation, avoiding the kitchen like crazy! Enjoy!

Cucumbers! Cool as a cucumber! Did you know that the inside of a cucumber can be 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding air? Usually we like to think of cool as being hip, self-assured, calm and collected. With the temperatures this weekend I think I will stick with the relief found in cool cukes.

I am a lazy git, and my Gentle Readers know I do everything in my powers to avoid the heat of the kitchen in the summer. I sidle in for refreshing items I can filch from the fridge. Ice cream. Cool berries. Watermelon. Leftovers. Salads. Popsicles. Cheap white wine.

I love a good cucumber salad. It is my default dinner salad. I buy a seedless English cucumber, peel it, slice it on a mandolin where I delight in the risk of danger to my drawing fingers from the nearness of the super sharp blade. Then I add some less thin slices of Vidalia onion, and pour on some salad dressing, or oil and vinegar, and add a pinch of Maldon salt. If I am trying to impress you, I will add a cloud of fresh dill. Voila! And then I whisk it to the table. Fast. Maybe with some sun-warmed bread and good butter. Deelish.

This is a last minute salad – not one you can prepare in the morning and wander away from for your day of honest toil. It does not greet you when you stagger home and into the kitchen, overcome by the summer heat, seeking cool sustenance. Those thin, crisp cuke slices get all rubbery and flaccid unless you have steeped them in a brisk and crisp vinegary marinade.

Here is a way around the quaggy salad – smash the cukes! The salad dressing is absorbed into the cracks and crevices created by smashing the cukes, bathing every inch of cucumber with a piquant garlicky flavor. What a concept! There is probably a chemistry lesson here, but you can trust me, this is the way to go. Plus it is all the rage in New York City this summer, and since we can’t get tickets to Hamilton, at least we can ride the crest of the latest cucumber fashion.

English cucumbers, or Kirby cucumbers, are preferred. They have thin skins and tiny seeds. But if you get nice farm-fresh, unwaxed cukes, you won’t be dealing with stale, stodgy cukes with pumpkin-seed-sized seeds. Buy local!

Here is the New York Times’ take on cucumber smack downs.

Get out your aggressions and smash the cukes with your fists:

Here is a more civilized and controlled approach:

This is a more substantial cucumber salad, and it could be a nice, light summer meal:

And imagine how great your basic panzanella recipe will be if you smash the cukes? Amazing!

If you are following a Paleo diet, try the smacked cuke treatment here:

Martha doesn’t like it if you change a single blessed thing about her recipes, but I have smashed up the cukes, and substituted chicken for the pork in this salad. Mr. Friday grills a boneless chicken breast (which we split) and then we get to revel in cucumbers and watermelons. This is a perfect summer meal if ever I supervised one!

“Who coined these words that strike me numb? . . .
The cuke, the glad, the lope, the mum.”
Ogden Nash

Food Friday: Easy Peasy Pasta

Here we are smack in the middle of a blazingly hot summer. I am still trying to keep my distance from the stove. But sometimes, even I realize that we cannot live on watermelon alone. Sometimes we need to feed the pasta craving. And for that, we need to boil water.

Last weekend we found a way to enjoy wonderfully gooey gobbets of melty mozzarella without compromising my seasonal standards. We did not dine on a wintery lasagne, which delivers molten strings of ropey cheese in a very satisfying fashion – albeit after much time is spent cooking in the oven. Instead we tossed hot fusilli into a large bowl over the nest of fresh burrata. Then we added a few fistfuls of fresh-from-the-back-porch basil and another of mint, with a smattering of crunchy pine nuts and a satisfying jolt of garlic, and topped it with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Wowser. Fantastic. This has been added to our summer repertoire.

There are so many tomatoes tumbling off their vines right now. We have a small bowl on the kitchen counter, spilling over with the daily harvest from our own modest tomato farm. Since you are a better gardener, you must have truckloads of the ruby red fruit ! And look at the wonderfully arranged pyramids and cardboard containers of tomatoes at the farmers’ market. Outstanding. You will have to remember these glorious days of summer when winter comes, when all that will be available to us in the grocery store will be weak, watery, hot house tomatoes.

I read a story this week about the musician Gillian Welch. She compared vinyl recordings of music to digital recordings as being like, “fresh basil and dried basil.” Suddenly, I understood her perfectly. Fresh basil for me, please.

In the summer we are devoted to three ingredients: tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic. Vampires shun us. This recipe involves a little more time spent standing and stirring at the stove, but it is worth the effort. And why else did I buy a comfort mat to put on the floor in front of the stove? So I could whine as we sit down to a wonderful dinner that took a few minutes of my time. Sheesh. It’s not like I was kneading bread for hours. Or piping dozens of perfect macarons.

There is a recipes from Martha that has been in our summer rep for years: I cook the pasta in the morning before the world heats up, and add the rest of the ingredients, and then let them all stew together all day long. By dinner time it is a magnificent melange of richness, redolent of garlic, which, to quote Martha, “Is a good thing.” Add some bread and butter, a small green salad and lots of cool cheap white wine. Winter is coming.

“You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook’s year. I get more excited by that than anything else.”
-Mario Batali

Mr. Friday is whisking me away on vacation next week, so I will be reaching into the Spy Way Back Machine for a suitable column for your edification and enjoyment. Happy August!

Food Friday: Watermelon Reflections

The pleasures of childhood are fleeting. Do you remember spitting watermelon seeds? It was a great past time of mine. Finally I could get my older brother back for for being taller, older and more sophisticated. He could sink a basketball, shoot rubber bands, flip baseball cards and catch pop balls much better than I ever could. But I could aim and deliver a watermelon seed with deadly accuracy. At short range, at least. And sitting on the back steps, keeping the sticky, dripping watermelon juice outside, away from parental oversight, was the perfect spot for getting even. Tempus does fugit. My brother and I are not likely to try to even up the score with watermelon seeds these days. Now we tend to be very kind to one another.

Today there are seedless watermelons. Where is the fun in that? I was wandering though the grocery store today and spotted New Belgium Juicy Watermelon Lime Ale. Again, I must ask, where is the fun?

And now that I am too old to play with watermelon, I must find more adult uses for it. In pursuit of my utopian ideal of not cooking much beyond the necessary nutrients in the summer, I tried out a fantastic recipe from our fabulous culinary experts at Food52 this week. Mr. Friday has suggested that we put it into our meal rotation, so I guess he is a new fan of this watermelon and arugula salad.

We did decide that the Aleppo pepper substitute I concocted was overwhelming, and not to be repeated. The next time I make this salad I will just use a little sprinkle of paprika. I was trying to compensate for not living in the vicinity of a Whole Foods where there is probably an Aleppo Pepper aisle, but our grocery store does not stock such esoteric goods. The internets provided me with an answer – sweet paprika and cayenne combined are supposed to approximate the flavor of Aleppo pepper. Maybe I should have read all the way down to the section about the ideal proportions (4:1) instead of the 1:1 ratio I employed… (1/8 of a teaspoon of cayenne and 1/8 of a teaspoon of paprika – fire-y stuff!) Life is a constant science fair experiment in our house.

We were able to harvest the basil and mint and a few tomatoes from the back porch container garden to use in the salad. Note to self: next season plant tarragon and rosemary. The tiny little plastic shells of those herbs were hideously expensive at the grocery store. Now I am trying to root some. That’s how we got our mint plant – I rooted a couple of leafy stems from our Kentucky Derby Mint Julep episode. And I just got a hydrangea to root. Next year’s garden is going to look swell!

This is my kind of recipe:

Watermelon Gazpacho Salad

4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese, optional
Combine watermelon, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and jalapeno in a large bowl. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt, and cumin; drizzle over watermelon mixture and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour. Sprinkle with cheese before serving, if using. Makes 4

This next recipe violates my basic summer tenets, but perhaps you would enjoy eating something cooked this summer:

Back in my Washington College days we had a legendary Reid Hall party that featured a spiked watermelon. We thought we were so daring and original! At least it was a step up from our Purple Jesus Punch party. Martha never served anything so banal. Here is her spin on spiked watermelon:

Perhaps this is the route my brother and I should take out on the back steps these days:
I’ve even got the homegrown mint!

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.
Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

-John Tobias

Food Friday: Range Free Summer Meals

Summer. It is a glorious time of the year. We are going to the beach, going to the movies, planning vacations, enjoying balmy breezes at night on the porch watching the moon rise, and we are eating homegrown tomatoes. Admittedly, we have had to buy some extra heirlooms from the farmers’ market to supplement the home growns in most of the recipes we have been reading with religious zeal, and want to prepare for the evening meals with brio (and a glass of wine). Few of the recipes I have been drawn to involve a range, I am very happy to report.

Last night I did have to use the stove top. I whipped up Martha Stewart’s One Pan Pasta, which always amazes Mr. Friday. Tomatoes, onion, garlic (4 cloves!), basil, salt, red pepper flakes, a little olive oil, water, and a box of thin spaghetti. That’s it. It is a bright shiny kitchen miracle. I threw all the ingredients into a large frying pan and turned the gas flame up to medium. Once it started to boil I stirred the mess a few times. Gradually the pasta softened, the tomatoes liquified, the onions were absorbed, and a heady cloud of garlic filled the kitchen. After about 9 or 10 minutes the water had been absorbed and the pasta was lovely; slick and al dente. Full disclosure – I turned the broiler on to make garlic bread. All in all, though, the kitchen was only heated up for 15 minutes. Which is a respectable amount of time for someone who tries to stay out of the heat, and hovers near the air conditioning vents all day long.

We are gearing up for our summer vacation – which will be a modest event this year. We are renting a little house in western North Carolina. Someplace where we can look at mountains, and cool our toes in an inviting, burbling stream. Where our taxing daily activities will include visiting roadside farm stands and stocking up on all the good things that are suddenly in season: peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and squash. And after we have cooled off, we can make a little dinner, one that is easy and tasty, and supports the local farmers. (We are so noble!) And then off to Netflix or to read our trashy summer novels. Bliss.

I doubt if we will have any cocktail parties while on vacation, but I like to think about elegant parties we have missed. I am sure that Katharine Graham didn’t actually make her own gazpacho for her famous summer parties, but I bet she had a swell time squeezing the tomatoes at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market on Martha’s Vineyard.

And I don’t think we will have gazpacho just as an amuse bouche before a lobster dinner, but instead will consume a few bowls worth as a hearty main course. This was a charming story in the New York Times last week as well as some great advice:

I am not an experienced professional cook – we are still batting away the smoke fumes from the smoldering cookie sheet of bacon I set alight last weekend – and I appreciate advice. I don’t often taste my ingredients as I am cooking, but now I will. We have three different kinds of tomatoes growing out on the back porch this summer – and they all taste wildly different. There are tiny little purplish heirlooms, some pear-shaped Romas, and some hearty beefsteaks. The beefsteaks haven’t ripened yet. The heirlooms are juicy and sweet, the Romas are less moist and have firm fruit. Eventually there will be enough for a nice Panzanella salad one night:

I tossed three little heirlooms and two Romas into the One Pan Pasta last night along with a pint of store bought Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. I had harvested our little tomatoes mainly to get them out of the reach of the greedy cardinals. The damn birds have stripped the container blueberry bushes of their fruit, and now those scarlet opportunists have homed in on the tomatoes. Note to self: buy bird netting next year.

It will be interesting to see what different tomatoes we will find at the farm stands in a couple of weeks. Gazpacho, One Pan Pasta and Panzanella salad will be the building blocks for our summer vacation meals. It will all be deelish!

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
― John Lubbock

Food Friday: Summer Smackdown

Apparently Mr. Friday has been reading Food Friday, and feels as if I am taking advantage of his warm and generous nature. He seems to think I don’t appreciate his willingness to stand outside, and survive the heat and the onslaught of blood-thirsty mosquitos, while he toils, cooking meat over the back yard grill.

Well, yes, dear. While you survey your back forty when you baste and turn slabs of ribs, and when you flip sizzling hamburgers with the canine companion following your every move, I DO prefer to be inside. Sipping chilled (though economical) white wine. Listening to the The Dinner Party Download. Slicing cool seasonal fruits, whipping torrents of heavy cream, and arranging my homegrown hydrangeas. You go out there and do battle with the fire and the elements. I am enjoying the air conditioning. The alternative is clear – grilling or take out pizza.

Apparently it is my turn, in his estimation, to step up the summer dessert game. Sure, sliced organic strawberries served in vintage cobalt blue glass bowls are tasty – but could they be better? The pressure is on. Mr. Friday has a new gas grill, I have a massive new Kitchenaid mixer. We will observe BBC rules of engagement from The Great British Bakeoff – good manners at all times, with gasps of admiration and warm murmurings of encouragement throughout.

Night One:
He grilled admirable locally sourced Italian sausage and garlic Parmesan bread. Deelish. I made a rather exquisite Strawberry Fool. A cool, light, amuse bouche.

Night Two:
He grilled exquisitely marbled petit filet mignons and roasted baby potatoes. I assembled light-as-a-cloud Eton Mess. Jolly fine.

Night Three:
Rain. Out came the wok, and all the myriad bottles of soy sauce, rice wine, miso sauce, and garlic, jasmine rice, hot chiles, chicken, green onions, oyster sauce, fish sauce and mysterious incantations. I twirled up individual Peach Pavlovas. Alliterative and refreshing.

Night Four:
Mr. Friday skillfully grilled gourmet all-beef, grass-fed hot dogs with perfect grill marks for the Fourth of July. As a change from fresh fruit – I baked all-American chocolate chip cookies. From scratch. Humble, yet magnificent.

It was an escalation of desserts – starting small, sweet and simple; adding texture and layers as we went along. Fruit, whipped cream, meringues and then chocolate. A natural progression, as summer evolves.

The Summer Dessert Smackdown is in full swing. Join in the fun!

Strawberry Fool

It does not get much easier than that! Watch the video:

Eton Mess

This says four servings – I think it was closer to eight – meringue-wise. We had plenty of leftover meringues for the next night and individual Peach Pavlovas, and I still have 3 meringues in a bag waiting for the next Summer Dessert Smackdown. Egg whites stretch forever apparently…

Peach Pavlova

Note: We made individual pavlovas with the leftover meringues from the night before. And the amount of sugar in the peach mixture can be reduced by half. But this we found was a super clever way to use some of the basil from our burgeoning basil farm. So sophisticated! Yumsters!

“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.”
― Alice Walker

Food Friday: Summer Squash for Everyone

The Fourth of July has snuck up on us again. It is a four-day weekend this year, and everyone in the Spy Test Kitchens is poised to flee the office early, and get on the road to dream destinations. There is no better time to be celebrating with all the squash in your arsenal at picnics, family reunions, neighborhood potlucks, parades and fireworks festivals you will be attending. It is time to unload all your spare squash.

This is an excellent opportunity to use all that squash that is starting to crowd your humble garden beds. That one packet of squash seeds you planted can probably take care of a family of four from now until next planting season. The prospects are daunting. But do you want to be the former-favorite aunt who brings zucchini ginger cupcakes to the picnic at the lake? Not if you want those kids taking care of you in your old age! They never forget so-called “gourmet” baking experiments, or deliberate kid slights.

This zucchini salad requires time in the kitchen, which is not my favorite place to be these hot summer days: Be warned!

But roasting vegetables can be swift and painless – you can do it in the morning, before you go off to the parade: And if you are going to be hanging with your in-laws, it never hurts to look impressive.

Bon Appétit stops the squash dead in its tracks with this pretty ricotta-stuffed squash blossom:

You can tiptoe out the back door and pick the blossoms early in the morning, before the rest of the house is stirring. Squash blossoms always look so summery and pretty, a natural progression from putting garden nasturtiums in your salads.
For a seasonal appetizer Bon Appétit also suggest a Grilled Summer Squash Baba Ghanoush, which is worth preparing if only for the delight in rolling “Baba Ghanoush” around on your tongue.

Here is a conversation starter for the neighborhood picnic: squash pickles. You can hand out goodie bags of squash with printed recipe cards, and rid yourself, ahem, redistribute, that surplus squash: So creative! Be sure to use recyclable bags! Be that neighbor!

Or you can serve an elegant cool gazpacho, and never get near a stove, oven, or grill. You can entertain the fantasy of floating around in cool, wrinkle-free linen, while tossing witty bons mot to your admiring and sycophantic guests. Or you can have a nice cool soup, and get in all your veggies for the day, for once: Or, depending on how annoying in-laws and neighbors’ children are, pour the gazpacho in a tall glass, add a shot of vodka and a straw and go about your buzzy business…

If our fecund squash plants are any indication of the manifest destiny of summer squash, you had best have a rotation of squash recipes lined up: breakfast, lunch and dinner. You are going to be working on a veritable squash assembly line. And you will look back fondly on these wacky summer squash follies when you are scraping ice off your windshield come February. Honest.

“The trouble is, you cannot grow just one zucchini. Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables. At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt.”
-Dave Barry

Food Friday: Sangria!

This is a column from the Spy Way Back Machine. I am out of town for a week. Happy Friday!

I used to listen to a sporadically produced podcast called “Crimes Against Food”. It was a hilarious and irreverent take of making, growing, buying and eating food with two whack jobs named Gloria Lindh and Mia Steele. They podcast from Leeds, in Western Yorkshire, England, and are the polar opposite of some of the toffee-nosed podcasts I usually listen to on the BBC. They are young, and sometimes hung over. Their unscripted chats are peppered with words that we would not use in front of our mothers, but these occasional gaffs make for their cheeky charm. (I am certain I have heard one of them smoking once). I always imagine them sitting in the front room of a small urban flat, with window boxes of herbs, discussing the greater food issues of the day. Periodically there is a siren in the background. They advocate buying local, eating healthily and foraging for fallen crabapples, yet they have also gone on at great length about the mystical properties of bar snacks. Clearly, they are my kind of women.

Beside the subject of eating disorders they also discussed a universal topic: the weather. They nattered on about how miserable a summer it has been in England this year; nothing but cold and rain since June began. But looking on the brighter side they opined that winter should be there soon, so then they will have had 18 months of winter. Poor Gloria. Poor Mia. I would send them some of our heat if I could. Instead, I will channel them, and what they might like to drink if they came stateside this week: Crimes Against Food

Sangria is generous and forgiving and easy peasy. You don’t have red wine? Use that stash of cheap white wine, which is our personal fave. No lemons? Those peaches are going to work very nicely. You can use what is on hand, and what is in season. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries. Just be sure you have plenty of wine and an abundance of ice. Everything is more delicious in Sangria.

Basic Sangria (from Spain)

3 1/4 cups ( 26 ounces) dry red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice of 1 large orange
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 large orange, sliced thin crosswise
1 large lemon, sliced thin crosswise
2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
1 cup (8 ounces) club soda

Combine all the ingredients except for the club soda in a large punch bowl or serving pitcher, mixing well. Refrigerate overnight. Immediately before serving, mix in the club soda for added fizz. Ladle into cups with ice cubes.

Emeril Lagasse’s Sangria

1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup orange flavored liqueur (recommended: Triple Sec or Grand Marnier)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 orange, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 unwaxed apple, cored, and cut into thin wedges
1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling water, chilled
Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large plastic container or glass pitchers. Cover and chill completely, 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, add the sparkling water.

In this baking heat I cannot think properly about cooking. Tonight we are going to have Panzanella Salad. Doesn’t that sound appropriately exotic and labor intensive? “Ha!” I say. A trip to the Farmers’ Market for cukes, tomatoes, sweet onion, bread and mozzarella. I usually toast the bread or fry it up into croutons, but I am avoiding the stove this week. So I will just cut the bread into chunks and let them get a little stale in the nice, hot summer air. Peel and chunk the cucumbers, quarter up the tomatoes, cut the onion up into generous wedges, and deal with the mozzarella (or Feta, if you prefer) any way you like. Add a little oil and vinegar, toss in the newly stale bread cubes and pour out the Sangria. Find a shady spot in your back yard and wait for the evening breezes to roll in off the water.

“Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be.”
– Nora Ephron

Food Friday: Grilling for Dad

It has been so warm this spring that I can barely think about eating, let alone cooking. I am daydreaming about nice cool, summertime foods that do not require a lick of cooking: watermelon, strawberries, icy bowls of bobbing crimson radishes, Good Humor Bars, freshly shelled peas. I am not musing about meat loaf, spaghetti, beef stew or roasted chicken.

What I do need to do is organize is a Father’s Day Sunday Dinner, one which does not involve any of my time spent in the kitchen. I will have to see if Mr. Friday is amenable to tossing some kebobs on the grill. There is nothing quite so delightful as the charred, crispy edges of  chunks of pepper and onions combined with chicken or steak.

We will gather on the back porch, where we have a few Adirondack chairs (which are never as comfortable as they are picturesque). I love the al fresco nights, when we can elude the mosquitoes and enjoy candles and strings of white lights. We can watch the last of the sun’s rays gilding the tops of the pecan trees and listen to the cardinals squabbling in the hedge. It will be time to slow down and the enjoy the lengthening purple shadows. There is no television news in the background. It is a pleasantly warm, humid summer evening.

Kebob skewers dress up anything and everything. Mr. Friday loves to cook on the weekend, thank heavens, and he says he enjoys it on Father’s Day, too. I suspect that is because he can control the menu selection. Everything he touches becomes a carefully designed and choreographed production number. On the weekends The Girl from Ipanema typically streams tunefully as Mr. Friday rummages through the fridge, taking out jars and bottles and containers of wine, mustard, horseradish, capers, lemon juice and olive oil. From the spice cabinet he selects honey, allspice and cilantro. He snatches up a hefty wedge of garlic, too. He pours everything into a glass bowl, testing the wine first, of course, and adding the chunks of chicken. (He has another elixir for steak that involves lots and lots of garlic.) That’s it – no recipe. Just instinct. (Disclaimer: once I had to stop him from using olive oil for cooking pancakes, so sometimes these impromptu food experiments do go awry.) This freedom from recipe structure leaves us time to wander into the back yard and toss the ball for the dog, testing more of the Chardonnay. Excellent planning.

Drifting back into the kitchen, Mr. Friday threads the chicken chunks onto metal skewers. (We used to try to use wooden skewers, but never remembered to soak them, so a lot went up in black puffy smoke.) He also skewered mushrooms, red peppers, green peppers, yellow pepper and red onions, separately. (Although we like slightly charred vegetables, it makes sense to cook the vegetables and the meat separately otherwise the vegetables can incinerate while the meat cooks.) And then he tosses the meat, and then the vegetables, onto the hot grill. Another moment of cooking deflection triumph.

Mark Bittman (who is about to start writing for New York Magazine! had a great graphic in the New York Times a couple of years ago – all the myriad possibilities for kebabs: You don’t have to be boring and suburban sedate like us.

Our house might be different. Happy families and all, the father you fête on Father’s Day might like a little fuss. Think of the tofu, mango, okra, eggplant skewers you can present to your dad on Sunday night. Yumsters!

“Ah, summer – what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”
– Russell Baker