If You Can't Stand the Heat.....
They call these the Dog Days of Summer. By definition, it is the sultry part of the summer that occurs during the period that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun each day. Officially, this period runs from July 3 to August 11, but most of us think of it as the part of the season that is just So! Dang! HOT!! The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, as Nat King Cole sang in the early Sixties.
Growing up, I don’t really remember my summers in Boston as being hot. We played outside all day, with a quick break for lunch, only coming in when the street lights came on. We would be tired and sweaty and pretty dirty. Even a not-very-heavily industrialized city like Boston was pretty grimy in the days before pollution awareness and regulation. We had adjustable screens to fit the windows and as we were a second floor apartment at the top of a steep hill just up from the bay, there must have been a breeze. I just don’t remember. I do remember, however, the first time I felt true sweltering heat. Many years ago, I took my first ever airplane flight from Boston to Knoxville, Tennessee. My then-husband, an engineer, was working a project there and I flew in for a long weekend in August. After landing, I waited for the plane to taxi to the gate so we could cross the jetway into the terminal. That didn’t happen. Imagine my surprise when the flight attendant pushed open the exit door and a fellow on ground crew rolled a metal staircase up to meet it. Even though I was a rookie airline passenger, it was obvious that we were a fair distance from the terminal building. I had a momentary feeling of dread. Was this some sort of emergency? Do we need to get out of here now? The other passengers seemed calm enough, collecting their bags and making their way to the exit. No need to panic. When I stepped onto that metal staircase, however, I did begin to panic. I was instantly hit with a wave of heat that felt like a roundhouse punch to my face. I struggled to gasp in a breath, but it felt like I was taking in water. As I tried to walk in a somewhat normal fashion across the sizzling tarmac, I could actually see shimmering heat waves rising up from my feet. What is going on?!? Where on earth have I landed?!? Now, I realize exactly where I was that day. In the South. In the middle of August. Yikes!
I have just begun my 22nd August in East Tennessee, and I’d like to be able to say that I have gotten accustomed to the heat, but that would not be truthful. I can say that I have enormous gratitude for the brilliant mind that invented air conditioning! When the temps are hovering around 99 degrees in the shade for days on end, the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove or turn on the oven to cook a meal---even if you DO have air conditioning! The Dog Days of summer can make you feel wore slap out (as they say in these parts). Here are two recipes that will help you keep your cool. The first is a refreshing Gazpacho, a cold soup that originated in Spain. It will make great use of your garden’s bumper crop of tomatoes and cucumbers. I took the recipe from The Food Network’s Alton Brown, but you can easily add or subtract to make it your own. The second dish, although served hot, will keep your kitchen cool because it is made in a slow cooker. Slow Cooker Southern Succotash is often served as a side dish on Thanksgiving, but it features a healthful and tasty mix of August’s best vegetables so there is no reason to wait until November!
Summer won’t be with us much longer. Soon enough the leaves will turn and begin to fall. Until then, enjoy the bounty and be cool!
1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped Tomato juice 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper 1/2 cup chopped red onion 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced 1 medium garlic clove, minced 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 lime or lemon, juiced 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade Directions Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup. Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown, 2007
Slow-Cooker Southern Succotash
Serves 8-10 as a side dish
1 large (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 16-ounce bag frozen lima beans (butter beans)
1 16-ounce bag frozen corn kernels (about 2 cups fresh)
1 10-ounce bag frozen okra (about 1-1/2 cups fresh)
½ cup sliced green onion (added after cooking)
Optional Vegetables: 4 stalks celery, sliced
2 large carrots, cut to ½ inch dice
1 yellow onion, diced
½ cup broth (chicken, vegetable or plain water)
1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, dried thyme and smoked paprika (or to taste)
Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and stir. Cover slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 3 hours or cook on LOW for 6 hours. After cooking, add chopped green onion for freshness and crunch. Serve.