Post #662 Meanwhile, Back At The Festival

July 31, 2019 at 6:14 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the last post, I told you about the full on weekend we had and how fun it was.  The Festival was one of the highlights.  I love doing community outreach for the various hospitals Partner/Spouse has worked at.  One time, I got to be in charge of the music and a little girl asked me why I had pink-purple IPod.  She seemed satisfied with the answer that I kept losing the black ones.  Another time, I walked all around Tucson with a group of people who never introduced themselves to me, but we were walking for heart health so I didn’t care.

The Festival was to commemorate the founding of our fair metropolis and the heritage it entails.  It’s a yearly deal, and kind of a big deal, too.  I was impressed with everything I saw, although we didn’t get to see as much as I wanted.  We got there early to help set up, and walked from our house because it’s really a small town.  It took us about ten minutes to walk there.

I got to indulge in my favorite pastime – people watching.  We had a smoothie making machine powered by bicycle.  It’s a stationary bike, and the front wheel powered the blender.  One little boy, about nine decided he was going to make the first batch of smoothies.  His mom encouraged him and it took about twenty minutes.  He was pretty beat by the time it was done, but he looked like he was having fun, and the crowd kept shouting Attaboy! and Go Faster!  When the smoothie was 99% done, a little girl with arthritis and braces on her legs wanted to take a turn.  Her mom and I got her on the bike, and while I steadied her, her mom helped her pedal.  And she had a blast!  I bet no other smoothie tasted so good.

There were a ton of food trucks at one end of the fairway and I wished I had the room in my stomach to try them all because they were varied.  I think I told you I saw the lady with the maple sugar popcorn.  She also had the popcorn kernels for sale.  Shoulda bought some, but didn’t think about it till it was too late.

It put me in mind of the county Fair where I grew up.  It was a magical time for kids of any age when the Fair came to town.  Since it was a small town and agriculturally based, the Fair was a big deal for the 4H clubs and the boy scouts, etc.  I didn’t enter anything in the competitions, but several of my friends did, so we always went during the latter part of the day so we could see the exhibits, then spend time in the evening on the rides after it got dark and the midway was lit up like Christmas.  Rides are always better when the lights are shining bright.

The Fair always meant good food, and the best was always Indian Fry Bread.  Nowadays, they call them Indian tacos.  It’s basically bread dough that’s been shaped into a small ball to rest.  Then, just before cooking, it’s stretched out to a disk about 8-10 inches across.  It’s deep-fried in oil or lard until it’s puffy and golden brown.  Then comes the fun part, deciding what to put on it.  There were several choices but the two most popular were cinnamon and powdered sugar, and The Works.  The Works were refried beans, taco meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, and sour cream if you wanted it.  It was served flat but most people folded it up like a taco, hence it’s name change.  I always ate it flat.

For some reason, you couldn’t get this delicacy any time but at Fair time, at least not anywhere I knew about, so every day during the week of the Fair, I’d head over at lunch time, beg my free way inside, grab an Indian Fry Bread, then go back to work with it.  My mouth still waters.  I’ve made it myself once successfully.  So good.

Thoughts of home and food inevitably make me remember the mom of one of our pack of friends.  She was the kind of woman who would feed the stranger at her gate and never think twice about it.  I’ve seen her cook three turkeys for Thanksgiving for a club house do, and forget to make dinner for her family.  I know she was just expecting them to come with her when she served, but it surprised her that she forgot.  Of course, that year, the kids ate at our house.  I mentioned once that I liked Cheerios for breakfast sometimes, so she kept a box on hand for me.  It got stale over time, but I kept munching away at it till it was gone.  I used to call them donut seeds.

Quirky neighbors abounded in our neighborhood.  Must have been something in the water.  Our next door neighbors were “naturists”.  They had planted enough shrubbery and trees to mask most of the yard, so they could be as natural as they chose to be.  Whenever I saw them, he would be wearing a tiny speedo, and she would be wearing a tiny string bikini.  Trust me.  Neither of them should have been seen in those garments.

My brother came over one day with a  strange look on his face.  “Did you know the neighbors are nudists?”  I started laughing.  Apparently he had gone over to borrow a tool to fix his truck.  The guy had greeted him at the door naked while his wife was spread out on top of the couch in full view.

But meanwhile, back at the Festival, we were having a good time and watching people go by.  My eyes bugged out a bit when I saw a young man walking by strip to his underwear due to the heat.  His girlfriend/wife/significant other didn’t react, like this was completely normal behavior for him.

A few minutes later, I noticed an odd look on Partner/Spouse’s face and followed his gaze.  Up the street walking away from us was an older couple, and the woman wasn’t wearing a top.  She should have been.

But I’m told there are no laws against public nudity here.

And the funnel cakes and maple sugar popcorn were good.

Feel free to share the post, and as always,

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Post #661 Weekend Update

July 28, 2019 at 2:42 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We had one of those wonderful weekends where everything that happens is fun, and it all flows naturally from one event to another, almost organically.  And it finally culminates with an unexpected surprise and we can look back at the whole weekend and say, “Gee, that was fun.”

The weekend actually started on Thursday.  Like the rest of the country, we’ve been locked in the grip of unseasonably hot temperatures.  For this area, it’s unheard of to have “feels like” temp topping over 105, but we’ve had those.  We broke down and bought a couple of portable a/c so we could sleep at night.  Thursday, however, was the start of a break in that awful pattern of heat and humidity.  It was a pleasant 85 degrees, and a cool breeze was blowing, reminding us of the tops of mountains.  Humidity was in the low temps so burned off long before the heat rose.  Being outside was no longer torture.  It was like a present being given to us!  I spent some time with the plants before embarking on dinner plans and another wonderful surprise.  All the cherry tomatoes I showed you last week are all starting to look like this:

So yay!  Tomatoes coming soon!  Those three are now looking very red, and only a couple of days away from being food for me, and I’m at that waiting point again where I wish I could hurry time forward so I can try these puppies.  I don’t want to pick them too early because that would defeat the purpose.  So it was a happy Thursday.

Friday was my first day at work totally by myself.  The job isn’t difficult, but there are so many details to attend to.  Luckily, there are more than just my eyes seeing what I’m doing so if I goof, it will come back to me to be corrected long before it gets to a patient.  And I handled all the unexpected things thrown at me like I knew what I was doing.  The hardest part of the day was eating lunch by myself.  But the weather cooperated and I ate outside and got drowsy in the sun while looking at the tree covered mountains all around.

On the drive home, we opted to have Chinese food but couldn’t get to the place easily.  We did manage it, but there was a city festival going on!  Most of the main part of the city was blocked off and we had to drive around a little to get where we were going, then back again.  But it was pretty cool seeing it because of Saturday.

Saturday, we had breakfast of homemade sausage and buttermilk biscuits.  We had some ground pork and I added some seasoning from a packet plus a little extra for zing.  Once that was well mixed, I put it in the fridge, then started the oven heating for the biscuits.  I didn’t opt to make them this time, but went with the frozen ones.  We love these things.  So handy and when they’re made correctly they are delicious.  Once they were done, I started the sausage patties.  So in 40 minutes from the start, we were scarfing down biscuits slathered with butter (mine had a small dollop of raspberry preserves) and hot and tasty sausage.  Even Buddy got some, but not a lot.

Then we walked over to the Festival because we were volunteers!  Our hospital had a booth and needed help setting up.  Then we stayed until the other volunteers arrived.  The booth was fun.  The best part was we had a bicycle with a blender attached to it.  We’d get little kids on the bike to power the blender to make blueberry-kale smoothies.  We also had a Plinko game but that was more annoying than anything else.  We had freebies to give away, and a set up to check your weight and to get your blood pressure checked.  So overall, we had a fun and educational array.

The Heritage Festival is a big thing for the town, and started on Thursday night with a historic car show.  Friday night was live entertainment and food trucks.  Saturday started with a free breakfast hosted by the Rotarians at the library.  The library was also having a used book sale, but we couldn’t figure out where that was given the hordes buzzing around the pancakes, eggs, and bacon.  The food trucks were everywhere and so varied I was quite impressed.  One was the lady we’d met at the Made in Vermont Expo we went to back in April who was selling the Maple Sugar Popcorn.  Main Street (yes, really, Main Street is the key street in the town) was closed for several blocks from the courthouse to the city square.  We were located about halfway between them.  The city square end was where the tractor pull, the library sale, and the food trucks were located.  The courthouse end was where most of the kiddie events were.  There was a small petting zoo, face painting, bouncy houses, a pugil stick joust, lots of lemonade and popcorn, and general camaraderie.  The whole thing was capped by a spectacular fire works display at 9pm.  Buddy wasn’t impressed.

We walked home, but still felt energetic, so we did the grocery shopping, and stopped to complete one more errand.  We got home early and so I beat the heat and watered and fertilized the plants.  And checked the tomatoes again, hoping beyond hope they’d be ready to pick.  They weren’t.  Then we spent the rest of the day doing laundry, relaxing, reading, listening to music, and sitting on the porch.  Even dinner was a relaxed affair involving foraging more than anything else.

Today, we got up about an hour later than normal, at toast for breakfast, and drove to one of the first places we’d ever visited here, The North Branch Nature Center, about 7 miles from us.  The first time we visited was winter about a week after we arrived and Buddy took a face plant slipping in the snow while trying to pee on a tree.  It was a whole different look and so much fun.  On a Sunday, the center opens much later, so we had the place to ourselves.  Buddy had fun wandering around and peeing on everything.  It was mostly just a gesture since after the first couple of attempts, his bladder was as empty as last week’s bread wrapper.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and we saw many things we couldn’t identify, and plenty that we could.  I even took Buddy down to the river where he suddenly turned into a water dog.  We went back by a different route to see the garden section and found out something.

What we always took as the garden spot is actually a community garden plot.  So, we might be looking at that for next year’s veggies!  We saw a ton of different things, and were kind of surprised to see not broccoli but Brussels Sprouts, too.

But the highlight of the weekend came on the drive home.

“Wanna stop at one of the bakeries we passed?”  Partner/Spouse knows what I’m going to say yes to.

The first one had no parking and a line out the door so we kept going.  The second was a better option for us and we stopped at The Bohemian Bakery.

I’ve read about this bakery in a few of the books and newspapers that I’ve read.  It’s well-known, and well-loved throughout the state, shoot, throughout New England.  It’s shop front is a small, house-conversion.  They do that a lot around here.  The towns and villages are hundreds of years old and in an effort to preserve the history, they do their best not to have the cookie cutter steel and glass shopping centers.  Part is a space consideration and part is a heritage consideration.  Makes it hard to find things sometimes, but there you are.

So we went into this bakery and their selection has been picked over pretty extensively.  I learned after a few minutes that they have plenty more in the bakery itself and seldom run out of anything.  There was a family of six buying a ton of stuff and taking their time which I find truly annoying.  Get your stuff and get out – of my way.  Especially when they’re taking what appears to be the last of what I want.

But we managed to get what we wanted.  I got a chocolate spiral, and a croissant.  Partner/Spouse got a chocolate spiral and a . . .

“What are those?” he asked pointing.

“Kouign Amann,” came the reply.  It’s pronounced Queen Amoh.

He instantly said, “I’d like one of those, please.”

I immediately followed with, “Make that two please.”

The girl laughed and we explained we were big fans of The Great British Baking Show and had been wanting to try one for months.

She said she heard that a lot.

And they are yummeeeeeeeee!  Think of a perfectly flaky and buttery French croissant that instead of being rolled into the crescent shape is pushed into a muffin cup so that once it rises it looks a bit like a flower.  Also think of it having that flaky butter flavor with a little bit of sweetness to it.  And then think about that little bit of sweetness turning to a light caramel on the bottom as it bakes, and you’ve got the Kougin Amann.  I could eat three or four of them.  I wanted to eat three or four of them.

But we’ve found our favorite bakery now.

So the rest of the weekend is given over to writing, reading, and other fun pursuits at home.  And wine.  Can’t forget the wine.

So, tell us all how your weekend went.  Feel free to share this post far and wide.

And,

Post #660 Farmer John

July 21, 2019 at 12:06 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Everywhere I’ve lived that had access to an outdoor space of some kind, I’ve grown plants.  Sometimes it’s flowers, but most of the time it’s herbs and vegetables.  The herbs are usually basil and thyme and mint cuz they’re hardy and grow fast and grow almost anywhere.  For veggies, it’s always tomatoes, plus whatever else we might like.  Mostly, we’ve lived in the southern areas where the growing season starts early and lasts a fairly long time.  Here, the growing season starts later than I’m used to, and ends pretty quickly.  Plants need to be fast growing and big producers.  And this year, because of the way winter hung on three weeks past what it usually does, planting was later than normal.

I’m a go-with-your-gut type of grower.  I plant in containers so I don’t have to worry about the ground freezing.  Containers lose water quickly so I have to water more frequently, but I watch the plants.  They’ll tell me by their sorry drooping leaves when they’re thirsty.  When the leaves start looking a little yellow, I give them a little fertilizer.  It’s all about paying attention, particularly with watering.  We can leave the house for work and the plants look okay.  By the time we get back ten hours later, they can look like they’re on death’s doorstep.

So living in a new place so far north, I didn’t know what to expect.  So I went with my gut and discussions with Partner/Spouse and locals “who know” what’s going on.  You may recall the plants we got.

The top one is a San Marzano plum tomato in a topsy turvy; the next is my cherry tomatoes; the third is one of the roses we got with some pansies; and the last is one of the hanging baskets of some type.

We also got some peppermint, some basil, some lavender, some jalapenos, and some Italian basil all from seedlings.  We planted seeds for sweat peas, tomatillos, bachelor buttons, and some roses.  We planted and sowed in our pots, then took a deep breath, stepped back, and waited.

And waited.

Waited some more.  The plants were growing, but we didn’t see much in the way of blossoms or produce.  I should have had more faith, and remembered the late start.

Cuz now, it’s difficult to get up our front steps for all the plants.

This little beauty is our Thai Basil.  We got it for the scent and for the flowers.  It started as a small sprig and now wants to take over the steps.

This prize is our Italian basil.  I tried to keep ahead of the blossoms so it would continue to grow, but that’s impossible.  I’ve used the fresh leaves many times recently, but my plan is to pull them all off, clean them, chiffonade them, and pack them in ice cube trays with water and freeze them.  Then whenever I need to add basil to a sauce or soup or pesto, I’ll just toss a cube in.  That’s a good hint everyone.

This is my lovely peppermint.  I seldom use the plant.  I just love the scent.  It’s so refreshing to grab a leaf and rub it in my palms then take a good long sniff.  I’m probably going to dry these leaves in the dehydrator for tea this winter.  An aside, the plant just below it is called Strawberry Fields which we’re growing from seeds.  It looks like a thistle with a bright red top and is very pretty.

This monster started as a two stem sprig and was our fastest grower.  It hit the pot and exploded!  This it thyme and it’s good with beef and chicken.  It’s also good on its own to flavor an onion sauce or something.  This is one that’s going to get dried, but I may go the traditional route with this one.  You cut the whole mess at the ground and tie them together.  Then you put the whole bunch in a breathable cloth bag made from something like cheesecloth.  A cotton pillow case will also work.  You hang the bunch pointing down in a dry place on the ceiling and leave it alone.  As the leaves dry out and fall off, they’re collected at the bottom of the bag and easily harvested.

This is my first foray into growing jalapenos.  I’ve watched it done many times, but never done it myself.  It’s been a rousing success.  I’m surprised that a plant knows for southwestern cuisine does so well so far north.  You may recall the first pepper featured in last weekend’s taco salad.  It was so good.

This is a pot of tomatillo plants.  We started them from seeds which I’ve tried before and never got anything.  Tomatillos are like little hard green tomatoes with a paper covering.  The fruit is citrus-like and pairs extraordinarily well with cilantro.  I can’t wait to make green salsa with the home grown tomatillo, cilantro, and jalapenos.  I’m planning to make enough to freeze.  I wonder if it’s in the “Freezes Beautifully” section of my cookbook?  These puppies with the big pot and went to town!  Tons of blossoms to bear fruit and the plants are nearly four feet tall.

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So the San Marzano plum tomatoes.  I started them in a topsy turvy which I’ve used before with great success.  This time, the crazy plant decided to do it’s own thing and grew up!  Gravity was supposed to pull it down, but the contrary thing just said no.  So I took it out of the topsy turvy when it showed it wasn’t going to thrive and put it in a pot next to one of our roses.  I didn’t have high hopes or expectations for it, but it surprised me.  It not only thrived, but it’s acting like a true vine and spreading like crazy.  I got a bunch of four that are doing very well and I assumed that would be it.  I was okay with that given it’s rough start in the world.  But I was impressed to see more starting to show up and now I’ve got about a dozen.  Yay!

And here’s my star.  This is the cherry tomato that I kept looking at waiting for the tomatoes to show up.  I was getting loads of blossoms, but never a tomato.  But in recent weeks, they’ve shown up by the clumps.

That’s only a small sample.  The plant is gigantic, is being held up by two thick metal supports, and has tomatoes hidden in all kinds of nooks and crannies.  I have a feeling when they decide to ripen, I won’t be able to keep ahead of them.  What a problem to have, right?  But again, it’s a waiting game, so we wait.  Not much else I can do.

So, remember the pic at the top of the rose and pansy?  Go take another look at it if you want, to remind yourself of what it looked like when it was first planted.  Cuz this is what it’s turned into.

There’s a center stalk on the rose that stands around four feet high and has blossoms on it all the time.  There are side branches from the main stalk that flower constantly.  There’s white sweet allysium trying to crowd out the pansies which are thick as thieves and growing down onto the porch floor.  The cherry tomato plant is next to it and they seem to be in competition as to who’s going to flourish more.

Next year, I think I’m going to plant in the back yard.  We’ve already discussed how we want to do this and raised beds seem like the way to go.  We’re going to do cucumber, squash, lettuce, maybe cabbages.  Of course, tomatoes, and lots of them and we’re going to explore canning rather than freezing.  We’re going full on rural.

Please feel free to share as you like.  Throw any questions my way you want.  Look for the FB page for the blog.  And, as always,

Post #659 Back in the Olden Days

July 17, 2019 at 9:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Recently I wrote about a recipe that I gleaned from the internet on a picture of what I call a Grandma card.  You may remember that I explained that Grandma cards are the cards, or pieces of paper, or clippings from newspapers and magazines that cooks collected to expand their recipe collections.  My mom used to tell me stories about ladies getting together for coffee in the afternoon and exchange recipes.  They wrote them on whatever was handy.  My mom remembers her mom had a shoe box collection that she got from her own mom with literally hundreds of recipes in them.

I’d give my eye teeth for those boxes.

I don’t know why I like to read old recipes.  Partly it’s the history.  Partly it’s the imagination.  Partly it’s learning new flavors or techniques.  But all of it combined, it’s just a lot of fun.

With the coming of the digital age, all those lost recipes have found new life on the ‘net, and I spend many happy hours chuckling at what was considered high fashion in the food world.

Here’s some I found recently:

Back in the day, to entice housewives to buy their product, food companies hired “experts” to create recipes using their product.  “Cream of” soups from Campbell’s were popular not only as soups, but as the base for a multitude of casserole style meals.  Here’s three.  And to be honest, they really don’t look too bad.

Spam is constantly looking for new ways to use their product.  I’ve even seen Spam tacos.  Not gonna do ’em.  This is just two more ways to use the meat-in-a-can product.  Mom once made a casserole with Spam and boxed potatoes au gratin.  It was about as “good” as you’d expect.

An elegant lunch was always a salad of some sort.  In the Olden Days, salads were made with gelatin or mayonnaise.  This one, trying to sell more mayonnaise, was a combo of the standard salad vegetables but instead of any kind of meat that was prevalent then (think tuna salad or chicken salad) this one used cottage cheese.  I’m sure it was meant to appeal the weight conscious woman.  Sounds pretty bad.

There’s never anything wrong with cheese.  When it’s actually cheese.  But this is Velveeta, a cheese-food product.  Velveeta is actually made from a blend of cheeses, and you can make your own by introducing a chemical to the cheese blend and putting it all in a loaf pan.  I have the recipe somewhere if anyone’s interested.  But a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon on top, instead of in, and using Velveeta just doesn’t do it.

Another example of a company trying to push their product.  Pillsbury still has its annual contest, and the prize has grown from mere notoriety.  Back in my teens, it was a pretty big deal and the prize money was quite the chunk of change.  I’ve tried many of the Pillsbury recipes, and this one looks interesting enough to try.  I noted they use cornflakes for added crunch.

Earlier I mentioned salads with gelatin as their base.  Here’s an ad complete with coupon to entice the weary shopper to part with some coin.  But I gotta say, to mix with a fruit flavored gelatin, none of these things looks all that appetizing.  I can imagine what lime and salmon tastes like together and it doesn’t look pretty.

Back in the day, I used to use Bisquick all the time.  We still use it on occasion.  I’ve never thought of a Bisquick ring fondue, though.  And tuna baked into a biscuit of any shape doesn’t sound delicious.

Those aren’t anchovies or eels as I first thought.  When I read the recipe, I finally figured out they’re the carrots.  But this is another example of the contest style recipe that middle America was known for.  And the sixty-nine cents per serving was added hype.  It would be interesting to know if it’s still that price today.

Okay, so another cheese ad with a recipe in it.  This time it’s actual cheese.  But the other ingredients?  Well, you decide if it sounds good.  Scrambled eggs, dill pickle, raw onion, American cheese, tomato slices all put into the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich.  I keep hearing the Life cereal commercial “I’m not gonna try it.  You try it!  Hey, let’s get Mikey!”

Okay, you just gotta believe the company was really pressed for ideas on this one.  Prune cake?  Prune cookies?  Prune salad?  Not even on a good day.  Just the image of that prune sitting on top of any kind of icing would put you off cake for a long time.

Okay, so we ate this one a LOT as kids.  I’m not sure you can even find these kits anymore, but as young kids, we weren’t too picky and we loved them.  I just did a quick Bing search, and they’re still available, and have grown up quite a bit since they last time I had one.  Good to know.

I couldn’t leave our furry friends out of this.  We fed this to our German Shepherd and he loved it.  Of course, he was a dog and would eat anything, including rabbit poop, but he did seem to enjoy this.  I found that you could get the same effect using cold water as well as warm, so he got a lot of cold gravy dinners.  Even as a kid, I thought this smelled pretty bad, but what the heck.  He was a dog.

So I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane.  At least, it was memory for some of us.  What were some of your favorite magazine or television recipes?  Share if you want to and share the post if you want to.

As always,

Post #658 Dog Days of Summer

July 14, 2019 at 1:48 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, we both grew up in some of the hottest parts of our country.  I was in the south-western part of Arizona and Partner/Spouse was in various parts of southern California.  So we know heat.  Then, when I got outa Arizona, I moved to norther Virginia, and discovered that it’s not the heat; it’s the humidity.  NoVa gets warm, sometimes topping over 100 degrees, but the humidity closes the air around you so it’s tough to get comfortable.  You sweat, but it doesn’t dry off your skin to cool you like it does in the desert.

The dog days of summer are the latter part of the season, and it’s when the dog star, Sirius, is in ascendance and can be seen in the night sky.  Hence, the dog days.  Then we moved up here to Vermont.  And Sirius appeared in the night sky.  And suddenly, this balmy weather that we were enjoying so much went away and the heat and humidity became intolerable.  Front porch sitting became a thing of the past.  The dog panted so hard he wore himself out.  Sleeping was impossible because the air wasn’t moving at all despite having two fans in the bedroom on high.

Eating was problematic.  At work (we both work at the same hospital; me in admin and him in management) it’s kept comfortable for the patients and staff so during the day we’re okay.  But getting home in the evening to a sweltering house, cooking was the last thing you want to do.  Two reasons for that:  one, it’ll heat up the house even further making life that much more uncomfortable; and two, the heat just saps you of energy and desire to do anything.

How can that be for two desert rats?  I dunno, but trust me, it’s crazy.  We discuss it all the time.  The only thing we can figure is the humidity, even though we both lived through high humidity in the southern states.  Maybe we got spoiled by the near-perfect weather we enjoyed once the snow melted.  We even enjoyed the periods of rain.  And now, like everyone else, we looking for rain to cool things off.

So the problem then becomes, what do you eat when you don’t want to eat?

I knew from where I grew up that cooler foods were best when it’s too hot to eat.  Cooking outside is always a good idea, too, when you can do that.  Cooking by not heating things up is also a way to go.  So here’s some of the things we’ve done (apart from stopping a KFC or some other variant on the way home) to try to beat the heat.

First of all, summer salads.  There’s not much better than cool, crisp veggies covered in chilled dressing, and sprinkled with chilled grated cheese, and cool meats.  It’s just yummy.  And when the veggies are at the peak of their ripeness, well!  They have a flavor not to be beaten.

With the farmer’s markets now in full swing, we’ve been eating locally grown veggies for a few weeks now.  I had to wait longer than I wanted to for fresh tomatoes, but this weekend we got them.  I’m told cherry tomatoes are very popular around here, and that was evident at the market we were at.  I managed to snag one little box and tried one on the ride home.  It was still a little under-ripe but it still had that unique “ripened on the vine” sweetness that I’ve been waiting for.

We have also been trying different salad greens.  We got the stand by Romaine lettuce cuz they looked so good.  We also saw bags of various greens whose descriptions I’d never heard of before.  That’s saying a lot coming from me.  There were also bags of baby kale, and baby spinach, and bundles of baby carrots.  Everything seems to be baby this time of year since the rain held off the planting season by a few weeks.

We build a salad by tearing the greens (never cut with a knife, ever) and adding the other veggies on top without tossing them.  We also scatter nuts and seeds into the salad for added protein.  Mostly we used sunflower seeds, roasted and salted, but nuts can be any we have on hand.  We like walnuts, pecan, and cashews.  We don’t generally have croutons, but when we do, we make them fresh by cutting a good, hearty peasant style bread into half-inch cubes keeping the crusts on.  Then we heat olive oil till it’s shimmering, and toss the bread cubes in.  We stir them until they’re toasted on all sides then set aside to drain.  So yummy.

The veggies we put in are any we got fresh at the farmer’s market.  For those that only one of us like, we chop and put in a separate bowl.  Then grated cheese is added to the top.  We have wooden, hand-shaped salad scoops and generally eat these large salads on dinner plates rather than bowls.  The scoops typically mix the salad enough that tossing isn’t necessary.  We generally have leftover meats from previous meals that we cut up into bite-sized pieces and put on top.  Sometimes (and I know you’ve heard me say this before) we grill up the flesh of some poor animal and cut it into thin strips and put on top of the salad.

Second, pasta salad are of a necessity chilled salads.  Mostly, pasta salads are made early and chilled for a few hours to get the best results, but they can be eaten hot.  We keep various pasta shapes on hand to toss into a salad, or to have as a base for a salad.  I was introduced to pasta salad way back in my teens by the mom of a close friend.  She used pinwheel pasta, mayonnaise, sour cream, dry Italian dressing, peas, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, black olives, capers, and grated cheddar cheese.  For literally years, I followed that recipe to the letter.  It just never occurred to me to change it up.  But when I did, I went nuts.  Now, a pasta salad can be a simple as pasta, vinaigrette, and cheese and still be as satisfying as that first one.

That’s not to be confused with macaroni salad.  Macaroni salad is that old stand by known to anyone who’s been to a summer potluck or barbecue.  It’s heavy on the mayonnaise, and light on flavor.  Because of the mayonnaise base, it went bad pretty quickly, and didn’t like hot days at all.  I tried one when I was four and since it didn’t taste like mac and cheese, I never ate another bit till I was about ten or so.  Still didn’t like it and haven’t eaten any since then.  As soon as I see macaroni and mayonnaise in a bowl, I’m out the door.

Another cool summer dish is melon.  I don’t like a couple of melons, and haven’t tried a bunch of melons, so when I say “melon” I’m usually referring to watermelon and cucumber.  Trouble is, you can’t live off melons alone.  However, mix them gently into a salad and it’s worth the effort.  But once, I was served a cantaloupe, which I do not like, and it was so good, I asked for more.  It was a simple dish, an elegant presentation, and totally delightful to eat.  Very simply, it was cantaloupe cut into a three or four bite length, then wrapped in prosciutto.  That’s all.  No cooking, no glazing, no spices or herbs.  I ate two platefuls.  The melon was juicy and flavorful and the prosciutto was, well, prosciutto so it was delicious.  The combo of sweet and salt and juicy could not be beaten.

Of course, when winter comes and fresh veggies are all hot house grown, and you want to cook to help heat the house, we long for those days of summer salads and try to recreate them with the veggies that were picked too soon and forced to ripen to a good color.  It seldom works, but there’s always cabbage in the winter.

And in summer, there’s always ice cream.

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As always,

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