Monthly Archive for June 2009
Can you feel it? We’re teetering on the edge. Summer is about to bust wide open, flooding us with easy warmth and languid sunsets and, best of all, a bounty of produce. The blueberries and raspberries at the market this weekend were the harbingers, I think—so tiny and juicy and tart. They are the first trickling signs of the fruits of summer that will soon gather speed, rushing in with a deluge of corn and tomatoes and summer squashes and melons and peaches. Heck, the Fourth of July is in less than a week, somehow. If that’s not real-deal, in-the-thick-of-it summer, then I don’t know what is.
As we snaked our way through our neighborhood market—a smaller affair, less than a dozen stalls hugging a path that cuts an s-curve through Wicker Park—I nearly squealed when I saw the blueberries and raspberries. Strawberries are still exciting, but by now a few weeks on the scene. It was the inky blue and magenta berries that really sent my heart fluttering.
Arriving at my parents’ house is always an adventure. Usually, only one person comes to retrieve me, and now Kevin, from the airport; no one else can tear themselves away from the fun going on back at the house. Once we arrive at the house, we always enter through the garage, which delivers you directly into my family’s kitchen—the undeniable hub of the house. It’s a little like opening the door of a dollhouse—cracking one hinge provides a glimpse into all the action going on inside, except the scene is real, the house and its occupants full-sized.
These days, you can find my grandpa on an overstuffed couch to the left, his bad foot propped up on the coffee table. He’ll clap his hands on his knees and exclaim “Hiya guys!” before hoisting himself up with the help of his walking stick, spreading his giant arms for a hug. My grandma is likely at the kitchen table, the playing cards she travels with arranged before her in a game of solitaire. She too jumps to her feet, clapping her hands and perhaps even hooting and hollering a little bit. The only one who beats these two to the welcome is my parents’ dog Bailey, tail whipping back and forth, a toy clenched in her jaw. She gets a good scratch behind the ears before we move on to the rest of the family.
Ladies and gentleman, start your watermelons: barbecue season has arrived. Finally. It took its sweet time and left us wallowing in puddles of rain and shivering under sweaters for many weeks, but it’s here now and I’m more than ready to let bygones be bygones. So long as barbecue season agrees to stick around until, say, late September, you won’t hear another weather-related complaint out of me. (What will I write about?)
As (good) luck would have it, we had a barbecue planned on the very first evening that barbecue deigned to grace us with its presence—last Thursday night. After a very cold, damp, gray week, I was more than a little worried about the forecast for our barbecue. Even still, we stocked our fridge with beer on Tuesday and stayed up way past our bedtime on Wednesday making baked beans and toasting bread cubes for panzanella. At work on Thursday, I obsessively refreshed my zip code’s forecast on weather.com, where the chance for precipitation vacillated between 30 and 50 percent all day long. By the time I left work, I had lost all hope that the sun would shine on us as we grilled.
Most Americans of my vintage grew up eating a certain kind of breakfast: sugary bowls of cereal, fruit(ish)-filled toaster pastries, frozen waffles in a strangely yellow hue, packets of mini-donuts powdered thickly with confectioners’ sugar. I delighted in some of these things, from time to time (my grandma, for instance, smuggled us Fruit Loops) but on the whole, they were forbidden. Instead, we usually ate bagels, english muffins, toast. These were typically topped with butter or peanut butter, but every so often, my mom would up the ante.
She’d toast slices of wheat bread, butter them to perfection (all the way to the edges; not too much, nor too little) and dust the whole thing with a shower of cinnamon and sugar. Cut diagonally, this was my favorite childhood breakfast. And, until last weekend, I’d all but forgotten it.
I’m in the throes of my early-summer torrid love affair with strawberries. It’s an annual thing and, over the years, I’ve learned not to fight it. Instead, I embrace it—juice stained fingers, seeds in my teeth, and all. This year, I’ve been delighting my way through pint after pint in a few ways: strawberries sliced over a bowl of creamy yogurt, my first bites of the morning; plucked whole from the box, pinching the stem between my thumb and forefinger as I bite away the juicy flesh; baked into a simple but delicious cake.
But now I’ve got another strawberry destination to add to that list and it comes in the form of a small pot of strawberry honey butter. It’s essentially a sweet spin on compound butter and, like a pouchful of fairy dust, it magically makes everything it touches taste better.
Potato salad is not a one-size-fits-all affair. There are a lot of options out there. Finding the right one is not unlike buying a new dress or a pair of jeans or (brace yourself) a bathing suit, in that you can’t just expect to breezily pluck the first one you see off the rack and expect it to fit like a glove. You’ll need to try on various options for size and you’ll probably have to sift through dozens before finding one that suits you perfectly.
I suppose this is all on my mind because, with wedding season upon us, I’ve been on the hunt for a new dress. I just got back from a shopping trip, in fact. It’s a rainy, cold morning here in Chicago (more April than June, as has been the trend for the past two weeks running) and I figured shopping was as good a way to while away the gray day as any. Sadly, I struck out in the dressing room: too short, too long, too casual, too formal, too clingy, too boring, too loud. You name it, I tried it on this morning. I will search the depths of my closet instead, I’ve decided. I will find a dress already hanging in there that will work just fine. I can’t take any more hangers, any more dressing rooms (even with the lure of their flattering light and deceptively-tilted mirrors), any more rainy shopping trips.
You’ve come here for food, I know, not advice. But, still, I have some advice to offer. And, this being my blog and all, I’m going to go ahead and give it to you. So, here goes. When you forget your friend’s birthday by, say a week or so, there’s really only one thing you should do. Make her a cake. And make it good. If your friend, like my friend Brynn, likes coconut cake and chocolate, then by all means, make the very cake you see pictured in this post.
Actually, the whole “make a cake” piece of advice applies equally well in a number of other settings. If you’re so busy at work you can’t see straight, make a cake. If it’s June and the entire weekend was cloudy and cold-cold-COLD, make a cake. If you’ve heard Martha talk once again about Mrs. Milman’s Chocolate Frosting and you finally just have to make it, make a cake, and slather it with Mrs. Milman’s frosting (turns out that Martha, or Mrs. Milman, rather, is on to something because the stuff is unbelievable).
I usually consider a frittata to be an anything-goes affair. An excuse to clean out your fridge, if you will. You can use any cheese banging around your fridge door. The produce that will be sliced and diced and ultimately become suspended in the baked eggs can change right along with the seasons, as can the herbs. If you are lucky enough to have just made a batch of homemade ice cream, say, and you have a bunch of yolk-less eggs on hand, you can use those in the skillet in place of whole eggs. And I usually feel free to throw in any salty pork product that suits my fancy.
This recipe, though, has changed all that. It’s really meant to be made exactly as its written. As someone who has accumulated a rather lengthy list of heavily adapted recipes, I don’t make this claim lightly.
For a long time, a restaurant was only suitable to me if the salad section of the menu included a caesar salad. For those happy years, I’d crunch through caesar salads without a care in the world. And then—somewhere around the early to midteen years—I was unfortunate enough to learn two facts: one about a certain caesar ingredient (anchovies) and the other about its nutritional data (specifically in the fat and calorie departments).
For my midteen-self these were dealbreakers both. I felt duped: how could a salad be so sinful? How could something so green be laced with hidden fish? The caesar, it had forsaken me.