Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Yang soaks up the afternoon sun in anticipation of cooler fall weather.

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My brother and I take a dip, circa 1975.

Nearly everyone I know who has kids spends tons of money and time striving to plan the perfect summer. A host of activities, from vacations to camp to traveling sports leagues, quickly pile up on this short stretch of calendar, seeming more like duties than recreation.

My childhood summers were pretty unstructured. Maybe we’d take a dip in a tiny plastic pool, or maybe just run through sprinklers. Maybe I’d get to go with my grandfather early in the morning to pick tomatoes or beans, or — if I was REALLY lucky — I’d get to dig up potatoes.

As I was shelling a small bagful of English peas from my CSA box yesterday, it occurred to me that some of my best summer afternoons weren’t spent waiting in line at Disney World, running to the next slide at a water park or shaking the sand off my towel at the beach. My most enjoyable summer moments were spent in my grandparents’ den, shelling peas or snapping beans, enjoying an episode of Woody Woodpecker or Tom and Jerry or, better yet, the carefree, Not Very Serious conversations that adults indulge in when they’re pleasantly engaged in a repetitive task with no real deadline.

If I could choose one childhood moment to relive now, it would be one of these afternoons.

I don’t think you can make memories like this on purpose; really, I think my grandparents probably thought I’d rather be off doing something else. But I do wish that more families would slow down a little this summer and spend a few afternoons doing a little of nothing together.

It’s important, and it may be more memorable than anything you could possibly plan.

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One of my favorite local farmers, the guy who sells tomatoes and whatnot out of the back of his truck in front of Hartlex Antiques in Madison, Ala., warned me last week that the watermelons weren’t all that this summer, but I had a jones and could not easily be talked out of buying one.

I’ve had worse watermelons, but this one was nothing to brag about. Its texture was good, but it just wasn’t very sweet. I’m pretty much the only person in the house who scarfs down watermelons, save for one misguided cat, so I had a lot of mediocre melon to account for.

Luckily, my mom and I had recently discussed sorbet. Mission acquired.

I ended up using a recipe from a blog called Mmm … That’s Good! because it was one of the few that didn’t require lime zest. It did call for the use of my ice cream freezer, which I’m trying to break out more often this summer.

My watermelon sorbet did not fare well. It emerged from the ice cream freezer a sweet, soupy mess, resembling a half-melted ICEE more than sorbet.

Delicious? Yes. Scoopable? No.

Now it’s granita, waiting in the freezer for me to scrape it into fine, pink crystals with a fork and scoop it into my grandmother’s awesome green sherbet glasses. And I have no more excuses to avoid buying mediocre watermelons.

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Fine. I’m rough on sunglasses. I drop them, lose them and leave them on the edge of the kitchen counter, allowing cats to do gravity experiments on them.

My go-to plan for sunglasses has always been to simply keep a couple of cheap pairs lying around. My husband, who has had the same unharmed expensive sunglasses for more than five years, encouraged me to buy a nicer pair last year. Meaning a pair that cost more than (gasp) $30.

True to form, I dropped them, lost them and left them on the edge of the counter.

Some things you accept about yourself. Me, I’ve accepted that I go through a couple of $10 shades from Target every year. Really, there are worse personality traits.

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The first CSA haul of the summer and I’m already faced with the unknown: eggplant. I guess because my grandfather never grew eggplants, I hardly ever ate them and certainly never had to figure out how to cook them.

Indulging my tendency to try things that are probably a bit too complicated, I settled on making Eggplant Parmesan, using a recipe from Martha Stewart.

That’s right. Martha Stewart.

It turned out delicious, even if it took the better part of two hours to make. I was unable to capture its deliciousness in a photograph, however; it’s one of those dishes that just looks like a big watery blob on the screen.

Next week I’m hoping for tomatoes, because juicy homegrown tomatoes have to be nature’s gift to us for putting up with heat like this.

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I used to think the best strawberries in the world came from southern Louisiana. That was before I found southern Tennessee.

Sorry, Louisiana. You have been dethroned. These strawberries are like candy, many so sweet that it seems like somebody has already dipped them in sugar.

I found them at the Dennison’s Family Farm strawberry stand on Hughes Road in Madison. There are a few more stands around the Huntsville area; check out Dennison’s Facebook page to find one near you.

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OK, I know I sound like a shill, but you should totally buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this summer.

I had the best time last year with my weekly pickups from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tenn. It really did turn into my own version of Iron Chef, having to work with whatever ingredients showed up in the box each week. And since there are few things scarier for my husband to hear than the statement “I made something new for dinner,” it’s somewhat of a miracle that he had a blast with it, too.

It’s a lesson in the natural cycle of crops for those who aren’t used to the whims of Mother Nature. For example, last year’s rains made for a very short corn crop, so I didn’t get nearly the amount of corn I had expected, but I got tons of tomatoes, chard and peppers of all varieties. And strawberries. Not those tasteless baby-fist-sized strawberries you get at the grocery store, but juicy, delectable berries, so many that you can’t eat them all and will be forced to make the best ice cream ever with them. Darn the luck.

Some folks tell me that they just prefer to go to the farmer’s market, which is cool if you like rolling out of bed before 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Which, truthfully, I have been known to do. But what I find myself not doing at the farmer’s market is buying something I’m unfamiliar with, or buying so much of something that I have enough to freeze for later. (I’ve got two more servings of zucchini/onion/garlic soup base in the freezer, and I just ran out of frozen bell pepper slices in January.) Even if you’re not going to get into canning, you can still have a little taste of summer when it’s 30 degrees outside.

Seriously, it was the best summer food-wise that I’ve had since that summer in the early 1980s when my grandfather and I grew a huge patch of watermelons and I ate my weight in fresh tomatoes.

Head to Dennison’s page on LocalHarvest for details on its 10-week program, or search for a CSA closer to you.

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Pictured above is the haul from my first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery from Dennison’s Family Farm in Elora, Tennessee. Even after splitting it with a friend (save for the strawberries, which were way too ripe to last the weekend), it’s quite a collection of freshness.

Enlisting in a CSA is a little like buying a share in a farm, only you don’t have to keep the deer out of the cornfield or harvest anything (although I must point out that digging up potatoes may be the dirtiest fun you’ll ever have before dark). Every Friday for 10 weeks, I get to pick up a big box of just-picked produce (whatever is ripe), split the goods, and head home for what I have dubbed Iron Chef Huntsville.

I figure it’ll be a weekly summer adventure. Before the season is over, we’ll have, among many other things, watermelon, tomatoes, squash, corn, potatoes, beans, peas, and something called a Cape gooseberry.

Last weekend, we more or less lived off of fresh greens (Swiss chard and Yukina savoy), cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Also, for the first time ever, I had to cook a green tomato. My grandparents had a small farm, so growing up I had access to what seemed like an unlimited supply of tomatoes. Red, ripe, juicy, delicious tomatoes. The whole fried green tomato thing never made any sense to me. Who in their right mind would pluck a tomato from the vine before it ripened? Who would batter and fry this unripened fruit instead of waiting to make it the key ingredient in a BLT?

My reaction upon tasting fried green tomatoes for the first time a few years ago: meh. I would have rather waited for a sandwich.

I’ve never been a fan of frying things, despite being an occasional fan OF fried things. So I found a reasonably professional-looking recipe for baked green tomatoes, scaled it down and sliced and coated my way to an OK side dish.

Meh. I still would have rather waited for a sandwich.

The strawberries were lagniappe, as the folks running the farm were under the impression that there would be no more strawberries after mid-June. These bonus berries were far too delicate to hang on until Monday, when I delivered half the goods to my fellow shareholder (she got the cabbage and eight-ball squash – not exactly evensies,  but we’ll work it out). These went into a batch of strawberry ice cream, a concoction that turned out to be so rich and delicious that it actually saved my oft-criticized ice cream maker from the Goodwill box.

If you have any interest in making ice cream, get Ben & Jerry’s recipe book. Just using the one recipe has convinced me to toss the other two ice cream recipe collections I have and devote my empty calorie expenditures to homemade ice cream, at least for the summer. The tasty, tasty summer.

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