I Need To See The Manager

run birdsAlmost a hundred times a day I tell Petey, and anybody else who’s not quick enough to run away that I am not at all pleased with the way summers go around here.  I have threatened for years to file a complaint.

I decided to put up or shut up.

Dear Mother Nature,mother nature smallI am writing today to express my dissatisfaction with the summers you and your association have recently been distributing to humans.  In the next seven days, the high temperatures for North Carolina range from 90 to well over 100 degrees.  Today in Kuwait it was over 120 degrees.  This week in France the mercury has risen to over 110 degrees.

How, in any sane world, is this acceptable?

beach boys

Waxed and ready to go, but they all have to share one board.

In both song and story, we have been sold a meteorological pig in a poke.  The Beach Boys in late spring are waxin’ down their surfboards, they can’t wait for June.  Bryan Adams proclaims that given a choice, he’d be back in the summer of ’69; the best days of his life.  George Gershwin assured us all that in summertime the living is easy.

I would beg to differ.sweatyThe heat is relentless.  It seems as if there is a personal, malevolent component to make everyone miserable and grumpy.  Morning, noon, or late at night, being outside for more than ten minutes results in flushing, sweating, and frizzy hair.  Everything and everyone is limp and lacks energy and enthusiasm.friends-eating-ice-cream-in-a-swimming-pool-20s-1080p-slow-motion_s2hejqvk__F0000The result is no one wants to do anything except hang out in swimming pools eating ice cream.  But people have obligations they must attend to, only a small population has access to pools, and a diet solely consisting of ice cream would quickly have a deleterious effect upon one’s health.

To resolve this problem, I have a few sincere requests.  I would appreciate your prompt attention to rectify this situation.summernicTemperature: From May until late September the average high temperature should be no more than 80 degrees with most days being a comfortable 74-77 degrees.

Humidity: A range between 35 and 50% humidity, with an inverse correlation between the temp and moisture in the air.summer rainRain: We need it, so I’ll leave it in your experienced hands, but the heat that causes soupy steam to rise from paved surfaces is completely unacceptable.  I’m a North Carolinian so I understand that hurricanes are a fact of life, but tornadoes are unnecessary and just seem mean-spirited.

Wind: A nice refreshing breeze is always welcome.hot flashesOn a personal note; as one woman of a certain age to another I am sure you can understand the discomfort I have been experiencing and the poor humor which then results.  I unfortunately do not have the power to strike with lightening the most aggravating with whom I must contend.early fall 1I look forward to your reply concerning these horrible summers that humanity has been enduring.  I understand that you are a busy woman with a large territory under your purview which could make a timely and satisfactory conclusion problematic.  Because of this I feel a fair resolution concerning this untenable weather should be achievable within ninety days.

Thank you for your time and attention,

debbie matthewsswingWell, I feel better anyway.

Cool, and Light, and Best of All, Pre-Made

summertimeWith all due respect to the Gershwin Brothers and DuBose Heyward, they must have been high when they wrote, “Summertime, and the living is easy.”

‘Cause it ain’t.summernicEven when people lived very close to the land, in previous centuries, summer was no golden hazed, idealized dream world of fried catfish, starry nights, and summer breezes.

If you laid around in the summer instead of working your non-air-conditioned fingers to the sweaty bone come winter time you and your family would likely starve.  The summer is time for tending the fields, harvesting and canning, and killing, butchering, and smoking.

vacay traffic

A vacation traffic jam III Painting by Hilde Goossens

Nowadays we bustle around taking the kids to camp or intersession care.  At work we’re either filling in for vacationing co-workers or getting ahead for and/or catching up from our own vacation.  It’s hot, the traffic’s a mess, and tempers are short.  We’re horrifying ourselves shopping for a bathing suit, aggravating ourselves by returning said bathing suit, or giving up and getting no bathing suit at all.hot flashI am not even joking a little bit when I say I am over the summer already and impatiently awaiting the State Fair and sweater weather (the feelings may be exacerbated slightly by these hellish, fury-provoking flashes of heat I’ve been experiencing lately).

This week’s newly revamped summer recipe can be eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or dessert.  It contains seasonal fruit, and it’s vegetarian, but can be made vegan, gluten-free, keto or paleo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s chia pudding.  Chia seeds are small pips which swell and soften when mixed with liquid.  It’s similar to tapioca pudding but is so much quicker, easier, and healthier.

I’ll give you a quick basic recipe, then break down ingredients so you can make substitutions and create something that is uniquely yours, tailored to the tastes of you and your family.

Summer Chia Seed Puddingchia pudding recipe

1 ½ cups milk

2/3 cup whole chia seeds

3 tablespoons liquid sweetener

½ teaspoon extract or flavoring of your choice

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup berries

Garnish and topping

Directions

Place berries in bowl and mash almost completely with potato masher.

Put milk, chia seeds, sweetener, flavoring and salt into bowl with berries.  Stir ingredients together.  You’ll feel the seeds start to absorb the liquid and swell. 

Cover and refrigerate for three hours or overnight, until seeds have swollen and softened to the consistency of tapioca. 4 servings.perfect chia puudingMilk-use anything from whole milk to fat-free; white, buttermilk, chocolate, or strawberry.  Don’t use anything thicker than whole because it will become greasy cement.  You can also use nut milk, coconut water, or fruit juice—cook’s choice.

Chia seeds-you can find them everywhere.  Buy black or white ones, organic or conventionally grown, it doesn’t make any difference.syrupsLiquid sweetener-Honey, maple syrup, agave, corn syrup.  If it’s sweet and you can pour it from bottle, you can use it.

Berries-they’re needed here because they add extra liquid to the pudding.  But another very juicy fruit works such as very ripe peaches, citrus fruits, or even tomatoes.juicy fruitsMix-ins and toppings-I love toasted pecans and dried cherries.  But what about salted peanuts and dried banana?  Or chocolate chips and biscotti pieces?  Or pomegranate seeds and pistachios?

Service-Ladle it into jars and sprinkle on toppings.  Then grab and go from the fridge or stick them in a cooler for road trips.  Or layer it (unset) into parfait glasses with cookies or pound cake for a dessert trifle.chia trifleThe whole idea of this chia pudding is that it’s stress-free and open to a multitude of interpretations.

And while summer may be anything but easy, this cool creamy treat truly is.

summer village

Not an actual depiction of an actual summer.

Thanks for your time.

The Struggle Is Real…

So, who knew it was so muggy on the surface of the sun?Not only do I loathe these 1000 degree days with humidity of 94%, I’m not too crazy about the people who claim to love them.  Plus, I’m not totally convinced they’re telling the truth.

I mean, c’mon!  Do they also love paper cuts and black licorice?

Yeah, sure they do.

I know I’m really good at hiding it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret; the NC summer makes me kinda cranky.  And hot food and hot kitchens just make me crankier.Here’s a perfect summer day for me: fall.

This time of year, I am on a one-woman mission to make farmers rich buying ingredients for an ever-expanding collection of salad recipes.

I always have dried fruits and nuts in the fridge.  It can be any combination.  Mine rotates often; currently, it’s butter-toasted pecans with cherries.  They’re for salads and a million other uses.

Honey poached pears with blue cheesepoached pears3 Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored

½ cup honey

1 ½ cups water

¾ cup white wine

½ teaspoon each, kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Place water, wine, salt & pepper into large saucepan.  Pour in honey and dissolve.  Add pears, cut side down and cover pot.  Cook on medium-low until a knife easily pierces the fruit (about 20 minutes).  Refrigerate until service.

Dressingblue cheese dr2/3 cup mayonnaise

½ cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Salt & pepper

1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled

½ cup sliced, toasted almonds

Whisk first 4 ingredients together, fold in cheese, season.  Refrigerate for 2 hours.  For service: place one pear on each plate, spoon over dressing, and sprinkle almonds on top.  Serves 6.

Mushroom Ranch Saladshroom salad

4 cups cleaned and sliced mushrooms

½ cup dried fruits and nuts

2 handfuls baby spinach

Salt & pepper

Ranch dressing

Toss first three ingredients.  Add dressing a bit at a time until the salad is barely coated.  Season to taste.  Serves 2.

Warm duck saladwarm duck salad3 duck breasts

3 cups fingerling potatoes, cut into coins and cooked in boiling salted water until fork-tender

½ cup dried fruits and nuts

6 cups mixed salad greens

Shaved white onion

1/3 cup goat cheese

Salt & pepper

Balsamic dressing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees..  Season duck breasts and score skin with very sharp knife into diamond shapes.  Place duck, skin side down into cold cast iron skillet and cook on medium until skin is crispy and golden (8-10 minutes).  Pour off duck fat and save, flip duck skin side up, and move to oven.  Cook until internal temp is around 135 degrees and the meat is medium-rare.Remove from pan and let rest.

While the meat is resting, put potatoes into skillet, and cook, tossing occasionally, until they are browned and crusted, seasoning as needed.

To plate: Put salad greens into a large bowl and add onions, fruits and nuts.  Season.  Drizzle on dressing and toss until lightly coated.  Divide greens onto three plates, sprinkle top with goat cheese, and scatter potatoes onto the edge of the greens.  Slice duck and lay against the spuds.  Serves 3.

Slightly Calmer Spouse Salad

Serves 1spouse salad5 cups salad greens

1/3 cup fruit and nuts

1/3 cup crumbled goat or blue cheese

Shaved white onion

Salt & pepper

Balsamic dressingbread wineFresh whole wheat roll and real butter

Very large glass of chilled wine

Toss salad, season, and lightly dress.  Enjoy meal alone, while in pajamas and watching reality TV, or reading a beach book.  And relax—it’ll be cool in October.Thanks for your time.

Best of both worlds

It’s well known that I’m no fan of the energy draining heat and humidity of our North Carolina summer. I watch for the subtlest of changes to leaf colors the way a middle school boy looks for whiskers on his upper lip.

You’d think with my often whined-about antipathy that I have no love for anything to do with the season.

Au contraire, mon frère.

I enjoy swimming in the ocean (Petey’s always terrified I’m going straight to Europe when I get going — or be eaten by a shark). I like cute sandals. And…

I have to be honest here. I thought and thought, and even asked Petey for help, but I could only come up with one more thing I like about the summer.

I absolutely love summer produce. Tomatoes, berries, summer squash, corn and green veggies; I am there all day.

These days it’s possible to buy fresh summer fruits and veggies out of season, but most of it has traveled from afar, and tastes as much like local in-season bounty as a photographic depiction would.

But if you’re in the mood, and are very particular and discerning, it’s possible to enjoy a summer dish in the fall that has both bright, authentic flavor, and radiant, sunny color.

This can be accomplished by using a combination of fresh and frozen ingredients.

Commercially prepared frozen foods use a method called “IQF”, which means ‘individually quick frozen’. Processing plants are located very near the fields where produce is grown, and right after harvesting it’s prepped and frozen. In many instances it’s done quicker than farmers can get it to the farmer’s market, and you can purchase it and get it home. Corn and berries are good examples.

Some veggies are so easy to grow and ship that they’re always available, at a pretty constant level of quality.

Most grocers usually carry fresh sugar snap peas (usually packaged) and scallions year-round. Supermarket tomatoes are problematic all the time. But grape tomatoes are ubiquitous, sweet and yummy.

So, on a day when it’s nice enough for grilling, I have a side dish and dessert that will create the charade that it’s the middle of the summer — with no swooning involved.

Summer veggie salad

Dressing:

2/3 cup mayonnaise

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ cup finely grated manchego cheese (may substitute other dry, hard cheese, like Parmesan)

Salt & pepper

Whisk all ingredients together at least one hour before service, and refrigerate.

Salad:

12 ounces fresh snap peas

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup frozen shoepeg corn, thawed

2 slices bacon

3 scallions, sliced thinly

½ teaspoon sugar

Salt & pepper

Blanch snap peas: Cook in heavily salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon into ice water. When cool, drain and slice in half at an angle.

Cut bacon into ½ inch strips, and cook until crispy. Remove from pan and drain. Pour out all but 2 teaspoons grease. Into same pan, pour in corn, season, and add sugar. Allow to cook until browned around edges. Remove and let cool.

Put all salad ingredients except bacon into bowl, and mix. Add dressing a bit at a time until coated. Refrigerate until service. Right before serving, stir in bacon. Serves 4-6.

Berry cobbler

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 tablespoons cornstarch

5 cups frozen mixed berries

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup self-rising cornmeal

2 pinches salt

¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg

1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled

1 cup milk

Combine 1/3 cup sugar, pinch of salt, and cornstarch. Stir this into berries and lemon juice; spoon mixture into lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish.

Combine flour, cornmeal, pinch of salt, nutmeg, lemon zest and 2/3 cup sugar. Whisk in butter and milk. Spread batter evenly over berries.

Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until golden. Serves 6-8.

So, to answer that peculiarly 21st century question: Yes, you can have it all.

You can eat like it’s the middle of July, while wearing the cutest pair of suede boots and an adorable little sweater—in October.

Thanks for your time.