August has come and gone, and fall is just around the corner. Thank God. I’m sick of hiding from scorching heat and code orange air-quality warnings in my darkened living room. I won’t even go into the days when the AC broke.
I will miss the food though, and I’m not talking about the fried Oreos that were at every local fair this year, for some reason. I’m talking about “summer fare.” Something about scorching days in the sweltering heat makes a body crave healthy food. I can only speak for myself, but after a day at the pool, nothing sound more appetizing than lean charbroiled beef served on a bed of field greens and no dressing with a glass of unsweetened ice tea. Berries, watermelon, asparagus and strawberries are suddenly more appealing than chocolate-chip cookies. And of course, the last thing I want to eat on a boiling hot day is something fried in oil. Once there’s a nip in the air, however, my body starts to crave heavier foods like lasagna, potato leek soup, and pumpkin pie.
After six years of marriage (our 6th anniversary is this weekend!) I’ve grown from a lousy cook to a passable cook to what I flatter myself as being a cook. I’m no Cat Cora, but I know which end of a masher to use, and I’ve got about 30 standard recipes which I rotate. Of course one is Frozen Pizza: 1. preheat oven to 400º 2. Shove in oven for 20 minutes 3. Hope to God you remembered to take out that stupid cardboard circle.
Sadly, of my repertoire, I seem to specialize in what’s lovingly referred to as “stick to your ribs fare,” or the sort of meal you crave after building a snow fort. The first classical cookery I mastered on my grand cooking quest was a béchamel or ‘white’ sauce. I seem to do best with casseroles, and chowders, and things you cook in a skillet before pouring batter over it and baking it in the oven. Only just this year I invented a recipe for bacon cheeseburger pie, (with optional pickles). My magic ingredients seem to be Bisquick, butter, cheese, milk and bacon. With these powerful elements combined I can make some really good food that is really REALLY bad for me.
So this has been one of the stumbling blocks on my way to a healthy life. I’m really good at making bad food and I’m really bad at making good food. Lets start with the fact that I don’t have a grill; my complex won’t allow one. I have a cast iron griddle with ridges, and a Foreman grill on top of that. I also have a broken ventilation fan in my kitchen, which means the days I’m desperate for grilled beef or zucchini, the house will be flooded with choking white smoke. I have to get all the electric fans situated by the windows blowing smoke out into the 98º weather, while neighbors are knocking on my door and asking if everything is okay. Some of the smoke never leaves, and there’s that spot on the steps that will perpetually smell like anything I’ve grilled in the past week.
I’m also bad at grilling. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a chick, or because I’m me, but I do not have the patience for grilling. I can’t plop meat onto hot iron and wait for it to cook without messing with it. I’m one of nature’s “messers.” I have to poke the meat and prod it, and lift it up a bit to see if it’s cooking, and how brown it is, and maybe move it to a hotter spot before wondering if I’ve seasoned it enough; then I do the same to the other three pieces. By the time the meat is cooked, I’ve “fussed” it to death. I much prefer to braise something and throw it in the crock pot all day.
Salads elude me entirely. I love that salads these days come in idiot-proof bags complete with chopped vegetables, nuts and dressing because if you were to hand me a head of romaine lettuce I would simply set it on the counter and wait for it to do tricks. Maybe if I was feeling really adventurous, I’d plop some lunch meat on it, but grated stuff, chopped stuff and crumbled stuff, to me, is a waste of time and creates five more utensils I have to hand wash. I never want a salad so badly that I wouldn’t pay a dollar extra to have someone else do all the work for me and put it in a stay-fresh bag.
And of course, as with my wintry cream-filled cooking style, I have an underlying desire to try to put either bacon, cheese, or both into everything light and summery. I suppose it’s all I have after cutting cookies, cake and potato chips out of my diet.
I am going to miss the hot days of raspberry vinaigrettes and cold buckwheat soba noodles, especially when that seasonal urge for bread pudding with custard hits me (I think hot coffee is going to be my best ally there), but I’m not too sorry to see summer go. I can’t wait for it to be cool enough to go for a long walk in the park, or to play on the playground with the kids for hours. There’s always the yearly apple-picking and last year the kids made us trick-or-treat for half a mile on foot.
I may want to suffocate my sorrows in pumpkin bread, but I always have the added bonus of exploring Old Towne Leesburg for three hours up some pretty wicked hills. So while I’m losing the appetite suppressing weather, I’m gaining the ability to exercise again. I am so ready for it. Bring it on, Fall.