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.

Feel free to share this post far and wide!

As always,

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