Food Friday: End of the Summer

Fall is here, although it doesn’t feel like it. Hurricanes are churning their ways up the coast from Florida. It is still sub-tropically warm and damp. And yet I am anticipating cooler weather and warmer foods. I know, come February, I will be pining away for summertime treats. Sometimes I feel like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, always longing for the next experience. I should be like the cat, happily napping in pools of warm buttery sunlight, but in truth I just flipped through the L.L. Bean winter outdoor clothing catalogue with relish!

Cooler weather means I will return to the kitchen and will rummage about for the big stew pots, the loaf pans, the Crock Pot and the recipes that will stick-to-our-ribs. And, I fear, enlarging our expanding waistlines… Stews, chilies, spaghetti sauces, meatloaves, lasagnes, breads, brownies and pot pies. Spices swirling in the air. Baking. Anticipating Thanksgiving. I’m dreaming of a change from the hot, all-too-familiar sameness of this stinking hot old summer. And then there are the sugar plums that arrive in December! Plus having to figure out what to do for the Christmas card this year!

I love trailing through food halls, peering through shop windows and admiring perfectly arranged still lives of fruits, vegetables and meats, getting ideas and inspirations. In London at Selfridge’s palatial food hall a couple of years ago I marveled at the goose eggs, duck eggs and quail eggs artfully displayed in small packages in a case that also included tubs of duck fat. Interesting. Perplexing. Nearby there were the picture perfect piles of roasted meats and strings of sausages, and acres of fish and pretty shiny red lobsters, too. Much easier culinary concepts for my addled tourist brain to absorb.

Closer to home we have a butcher shop where all manner of imported specialities are stacked on every surface, and they are fascinating to contemplate while standing in line for my two pounds of Italian sausage; one hot, one sweet. Perched on counters and shelves and under the counter are day-glow pink pickled eggs in Jeroboam-sized jars, capers galore, an abundance of olive varieties, huge cafeteria-sized tins of La Bella San Marzano Italian Plum Tomatoes, gallons of imported light, plain, virgin and extra virgin olive oils in varying-shaped bottles and vessels, dusty packages of pastas, trays of fresh mozzarella, and I could continue the inventory all day. I always feel humbled when confronted by all the ingredients of what must be the potential for many feasts, when all I want is some sausage.

We do not ease our way back inside from the summer spent cooking on the grill. It is done abruptly. Labor Day has come and gone. The white shoes have been banished (except for sneakers). Football games occupy the weekends. I’d prefer to have my sausage and chicken cooked on the grill, but the grill is in semi-retirement. It will only cook steaks and hamburgers until the spring rolls around again, or if our Connecticut friend comes to visit and we prepare Big Love Pizza as a threesome. It is back to the kitchen for me – the summer holiday is over.

The End of Summer
Chicken, Sausage and Peppers

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 large bell peppers, cut into strips (We like the sweeter tasting red or yellow peppers)
• 2 medium onions, sliced (I like Vidalia or any sweet onion)
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 pound hot Italian sausage
• 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
• 1 pound boneless chicken breast, cubed
• A generous sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers, onions, garlic and sauté 10 minutes. Cook until tender, about 5 -10 minutes. I like to singe the edges of the vegetables.

Cook sausages in another heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until brown and cooked through, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes. Ditto with the chicken cubes. Scoop the peppers and onions onto a platter and pile the meat on top. Add a salad, a crusty loaf of bread, a tall glass of wine and candles.

This is a good meal to make on the weekend, because you can toss the leftover sausage and chicken with pasta or rice, and voilà! Dinner is made for a dreary Monday, when no one (least of all me!) wants to cook.
Summer is almost a dream again.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck

Food Friday: Falling for Apples

Happy first day of Autumn! I hope you have unloaded the last of your zucchini on the unsuspecting, and are ready to roll into fall harvests. Do not consult the weather app on your phone – I know it is still warm outside, but the light is changing, the dogwoods are starting to turn red, and some leaves are floating airily past the Spy Test Kitchen windows. It is time for apples.

I had the good fortune to meet chef Vivian Howard last weekend, and have been binge-watching her PBS show A Chef’s Life ever since. I cannot recommend it too highly. Go support your local PBS station so you don’t feel too guilty about watching this delightful time sucker. It is informative and innovative and heart-warming.

Vivian Howard is a Peabody Award-winning chef, restauranteur and raconteur. She’s not the first farm-to-table chef, but her approach is clever and hyper-local for her corner of Eastern North Carolina. She is a genius at adapting old-timey recipes to the our slightly more sophisticated tastes. We have more resources than our mothers, because we have been able to travel farther, and watch television cooking shows, and order fancy ingredients from Amazon. I am adding Vivian Howard to my list of cooking gods: Julia Child, James Beard, Nora Ephron, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson and the dream team at Food52.

Vivian Howard is almost able to time travel in her quests for authenticity. She finds an old lady who whips up sheets of biscuits by hand, without measuring the ingredients. No Cusinart food processors, or KitchenAid mixers, or rolling pins, or even biscuit cutters are used. Then Vivian (I can call her that, and you will, too) tracked down another woman whose family ran the tiny café where Vivian first delighted in Apple Jacks – little hand-held, pan-fried apple pies, wrapped in white grease paper. (The recipe is included with the video link.) These are foods we can cook ourselves, and reinvigorate our repertoires. You don’t have to bake a perfect apple pie like Martha. Try Apple Jacks, and have some fun. There is nothing old-timey about the sprinkle of rosemary sugar as a finishing touch.

Vivian Howard honors the unsung home cooks and her Eastern North Carolina heritage. We cooked (Vivian’s mother’s) Scarlett’s Chicken and Rice for dinner last Sunday. It is updated slightly from her mother’s original recipe. It is twenty-first century chicken and rice. Not only was it deelish, but we had enough leftovers that we ate it again on Wednesday night, and have frozen two more dinner-for-two-sized portions. I love that peace of mind, knowing there are a few meals stashed away in the freezer. We have both Vivian and her mother to thank.

Vivian Howard’s rural southern upbringing meant home-cooked meals of pork, chicken, lard, collards, butter beans, blueberries and apples. Some of these were grown in the back yard, or came from a nearby farmer. And now that it is fashionable (and good for the environment) to shop locally, imagine what great dishes you can make this fall with apples from the farmers’ market. There are recipes in Vivian’s book, Deep Run Roots, for dried apples, apple chips, apple pie moonshine, lentil apple soup with bacon, vinaigrettes, cookies, and slaw. You can be as busy as you want.

P.S. Vivian Howard has two restaurants in Kinston, North Carolina.

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
― J.K. Rowling

Food Friday: Zucchini Fest

Have you started sneaking zucchini onto your neighbors’ front porches under the cover of night yet? If you have a garden, you have been harvesting tomatoes with an greedy heart, thinking about jars of spaghetti sauce you will enjoy this winter. But what about that ever-expanding green mountain of zucchini? If your neighbors are hiding behind their lace curtains when you come tippy-toeing up their front walks, then you need to put on your thinking cap, and find some creative culinary solutions. Zucchini fest!

Nobody is fooled by zucchini bread. Least of all small children into whom you are trying to stuff healthy vegetables. You might fool them once, but never twice. Here is one recipe for you to try, you shameless exploiter of small children. Lemon Zucchini Bread:

One of the best ways to reduce your zucchini surplus is to invite unsuspecting houseguests. Breakfast is usually a good time for a surprise zucchini onslaught. The white wine from last night isn’t out of their systems yet, and the coffee hasn’t kicked in. They will need food. A hot and cheesy frittata, please. If they were raised to have minimally good manners, they will eat whatever is placed in front of them, and then they will ask for seconds, and also a copy of your recipe. Print the recipe in advance, so you look gracious and artfully prepared. And send a thank you bread and butter note to the New York Times. Frittata with Zucchini, Goat Cheese and Dill.

Labor Day is over, and hurricane season is upon us, but it is still warm in the evenings, so it is still seasonally appropriate to serve salad as a main course. Luckily this recipe takes care of a pound and a half of those pesky zucchini. Plus it uses up those four ears of perfect corn that you couldn’t resist at the last minute on your prowl through the farmers’ market. Efficiency! Seasonal vegetables! Pretty zucchini blossoms! Martha will envy you.

You might be running low on friends and dinner invitations by now. But just in case your iPhone vibrates with a sudden text to come next door for an impromptu drink, consider having a quart (or two) of Sichuan Pickles on hand to bring along. Your friends won’t suspect anything, since you won’t be clutching a large brown paper bag while edging furtively into their house. This is a glorious host-y gift, particularly if you package it nicely. Think green garden twine, and Mason jars, and vintage labels. Lovely.

I have been sweater shopping. It’s ridiculous, I know. It’s going to be in the high 70s and low 80s next week. And I have also been thinking about socks, and long pants. I guess I am really ready for a change in the weather, and the first day of autumn. Thursday can’t get here quickly enough for me. So this weekend I am going to pull out the stock pot, and make a vat o’soup, and use up another couple of pounds of zucchini. Please join us. I have some very special pickles to share with you, too. And don’t forget to take a loaf of zucchini bread home with you. There’s one over on the table by the front door, tucked in a big brown paper bag of homegrown zucchini. It was so nice to have you over!

Zucchini Soup à la The River Café

Serves 4
• 2 1/4 pounds zucchini
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1 small bunch basil, chopped
• 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
• salt and pepper

6 slices Ciabatta bread, cut at an angle
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil

1. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters, then into 1 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and cook the garlic and
zucchini very slowly over low heat until the zucchini is brown and quite soft (around 25 minutes).
2. Add salt, pepper, and stock, and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. Put three-quarters of the zucchini into a food processor and puree. Return the puree to the pan and add the cream, basil, parsley and

To make crouton, toast the bread on both sides. Rub garlic on the toasted bread, and drizzle with olive oil. Tear into massive chunks, and drop artfully onto soup, in individual bowls. Enjoy!

Zucchini Soup, adapted from The River Café Cook Book, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

“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: Packed Lunches

Sundays are fraught again with anxiety. Not only do you get that feeling of dread in the pit of your belly about forgotten homework – you have to figure out a clever plan for packed lunches. I remember the homework dread well. Along about the fourth grade Mrs. Poole made us all miserable. She sucked all the joy out of school for 180 days. Luckily, the fifth grade brought Mrs. Shulman, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the best construction paper timeline of U.S. history every crafted in that elementary school.

I was lucky and got to walk home for lunch every day in elementary school, though I always felt like I was missing out on something fabulous. There wasn’t a cafeteria in our school – everyone toted their own lunches. I was deeply envious of all the lunch boxes stashed in the class cubbies. And by the time junior high rolled around it wasn’t cool to bring a lunch box. Brown paper bags were the only way to transport the mid-day meal. I missed that window.

The American cheese on white bread sandwiches I carried dutifully to seventh grade wouldn’t cut it today, when gluten and nut allergies and personal wellness issues are paramount. I can’t see my mother dithering over non-GMO hydroponic tomato varieties. She might have suggested a little bottled catsup instead.

Making lunch interesting and healthy is a real concern these days. And you can’t just slide by using leftovers and hurricane supply-peanut butter. On Sundays, while you are planning your dinners for the week, you need to plan out lunches, too. Take a page from practically perfect Amanda Hesser from Food52. She packs fabulously original lunches for her children. We could hate her if she wan’t so clever. And her ideas are reasonable. They don’t call for too many obscure and expensive ingredients. With a little practice, we might just be trainable. Because we know there will be dessert.

Another Food52 writer has some brilliant ideas for meals to bring to the airport. I’m sure that the lunchroom can be every bit as friendly as an airport waiting room. Here are some healthy ideas:
And lunch doesn’t have to be sandwiches! It can be a good time to prepare people for college: cold pizza! Chicken wings!

Here are some ideas for your lunch, too. What a concept: make your own lunch while preparing food for others. Surely these are better than the chocolate protein bar I just tore through while staring down my deadline.

A few years ago the world-famous Spy Test Kitchens came up with this great list of ingredients for packing school lunches. It is just as timely today:

Column A
Let’s start with bread:
Ciabatta bread
Rye bread
Whole grain breads
Hard rolls
Portuguese rolls
French baguette
Italian bread
Flour tortillas
Challah bread
Naan bread
Focaccia bread
Pita bread
If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.

Column B
Next, the spread:
Dijon mustard
Honey mustard
Italian dressing
Russian dressing
Cranberry sauce
Pesto sauce
Sour cream
Mango chutney
Hot sauce

Column C
Swiss cheese
American cheese
Blue cheese
Cream cheese
Havarti cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheddar cheese
Provolone cheese
Brie cheese
Cottage cheese
Goat cheese

Column D
The main ingredient:
Corned beef
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
Scrambled eggs
Corned beef
Italian sausage
Roast beef
Egg salad
Tuna salad
Ham salad
Crab salad
Chicken salad
Turkey salad
Lobster salad

Column E
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Shredded carrots
Cole slaw
Sliced apples
Sliced red peppers
Sliced pears
Artichoke hearts

Column F
Finger foods:
Green Beans
Rice cakes
Melon balls

Nobody will ever complain about lunch again if you can remember to jazz it up a little. My son, who lived for at least an entire year on (requested) white bread, bologna and yellow mustard sandwiches, is now a strapping 6 feet 4 inches tall. Imagine how far into the clouds he would stretch if we had thought to make him fig, goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwiches.

And don’t forget dessert!

“A party without cake is just a meeting”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: End of the Summer Corn

Here we are, on the precipice of the end of summer. I’ve been teetering back and forth between wishing for change, and wishing that if it cooled down just a few degrees we could live in this weather all year round. Well, if we wanted that we could move to Florida, and that is just too problematic. Who really wants hot days and all those thunderstorms? I am ready for a little change, though.

If I eat one more ear of corn-on-the-cob I am sure my head will explode. I feel similarly tired of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. It might mean that I am almost ready to head back into the kitchen, and relieve Mr. Friday of his summer cooking duties. Or I can make some side dishes to go with the last picnic of the summer season. Labor Day is a significant cookout opportunity, and we need to make the summer go out in style.

There is still so much fresh produce to enjoy at the farmers’ markets! I found a great app the other day: Seasonal Food Guide. It has a state-by-state produce guide to “Find What is in Season Near You.” There is a handy dandy Learn & Cook button, too, which always helps when you are in the middle of dinner despair. And it is free. Hooray. Here is a link to their helpful webpage: I found the app in the iTunes app store.

This is a sweet and easy way to enjoy corn and cilantro all year long, but notably in these waning days of summer vacation. The jalapeno gives it a nice little kick.

Food52 has explored corn variations extensively. I love the concept of charred corn. Now I have a new term for corn that we have unintentionally scorched on the grill. Mr. Friday is a big fan of wrapping the ears of corn in aluminum foil and tossing them on the grill. And sometimes we get distracted by bright shiny objects and do not return to the grill in a timely fashion. Voila! Charred corn as an ingredient. And sometimes we are amazed at our own cleverness!

One of our friends has decamped for New England for butter-drenched lobster-y Labor Day weekend. She is already taunting us with Instagram-ready photos of her deelightful meals. I hope she is having a very good time, and here is a recipe for her leftover lobster bits which also includes charred corn:

If it happens to be raining this weekend (and with Tropical Storm Harvey wandering around out there, it probably will) and you can’t get outside to the grill – never fear. You can make charred corn in a good sturdy cast iron frying pan, or under the broiler. And then you can make a charred corn pizza:

Here are a zillion ideas from Epicurious:

As summer wafts away we will be thinking more about cozy meals and roasted seasonal vegetables. In the meantime, go celebrate your Labor Day weekend with drawn butter, hot, charred corn, a couple of hot dogs, a crab feast (or two) and don’t forget to sneak a little reading time in the hammock. Next weekend it will be time to put away all our toys of summer. Enjoy!

“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”
― Heny Rollins

Food Friday: Al Fresco Frittatas

Summer is winding down. We have enjoyed the near-spectacle of the eclipse. We aren’t melting into silvery puddles of sweat every time we exit the air conditioned car and tear across the driveway into the house. Labor Day is coming up, and the most wonderful time of the year is returning – it is almost time to go back to school. How divine is that? But it is still too early to consider the myriad permutations that we can dream up for the lunch boxes in our care.

Al fresco dining, whether on the back porch, in the back yard, before a concert or poised on a picnic table in a state park, is a seasonal delight. Let’s enjoy the fresh air, and enjoy the last days of summer.

Al fresco dining brings to my mind lush paintings. Just across the Bay in DC, Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party is one of my favorites. I don’t think those happy, elegant French people were consuming Diet Cokes and fried chicken (which are both very deelish in any other setting). Our boaters have used stemmed glasses for the several bottles of wine strewn across the linen tablecloth. And there is fruit and bread and perhaps some cheese. I can see a glint of silver. Some of our convivial folks have flowers in their hats, and are wearing flowing dresses, which contribute to the colorful party atmosphere. Luncheon is almost over. No one is consulting a smart phone, as they seem to engage with each other languidly. I do draw the line at the small dog on the table. Luke the wonder dog would get ideas.

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet is the famous painting of men and women picnicking under the trees, but one of the women is naked, and is seemingly untroubled by the situation. I can only imagine what her anxiety dreams must have been like. She is sitting next to a tumble of fruit and bread, while her male companions natter on, fully clothed and showing no interest in the food or in her!

Luncheon on the Grass by Claude Monet, which was painted in response to Manet’s startling work, is another large painting that shows an elegant meal about to be eaten outside. The diners (all clothed this time) will soon be enjoying bread, wine, fruit, and a terrine of a mystery dish in the dappled light filtered by birch trees. The meal has yet to begin. And there is no tiny dog.

I suggest frittatas for our luncheon under the trees. Frittatas are easy to prepare and they transport well. You might even consider adding frittatas to your Sunday Food for the Week Food Prep list – you can sneak them into a back pack or a brown paper bag or a cute little bento box for your own luncheon pleasures.

Skip the stemware. Skip the tablecloth. Enjoy the fresh air. Enjoy the wine.

I can assure you that Mr. Friday and I will be wearing all of our clothes when we have our picnic this weekend.

Here’s a Use-Up-The-Leftovers recipe. It is very handy dandy.

Luncheon of the Boating Party
The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Luncheon on the Grass
Musée d’Orsay
1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur
75007 Paris, France

“I’ll affect you slowly
as if you were having a picnic in a dream.
There will be no ants.
It won’t rain.”
― Richard Brautigan

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!