I didn’t mean to take off nearly the entire summer. I meant to write frequent posts on the many and varied meals that I’d cooked using fresh produce from farmers markets across the land (a good swath of it anyway). I meant to improve my photography skills. To cook new and exciting dishes. To develop my recipe writing skills. To come to terms with the irrational squeamishness that I feel when confronted with soft-boiled eggs.
What did I do instead?
I traveled, read, cooked, ate, and indulged my desire — nay, my need — to spend long, lovely days with my daughter who starts school later this week. Mimi calls her new school the “working” preschool to distinguish it from the “playing” preschool where she spent three days a week during the spring. She’ll spend five morning a week at the working school, which means that our family will officially make the shift from toddler parenting to school-age parenting. With the shift comes more time for Jim and I, of course, but as any parent knows, it also marks another big step away from precious babyhood.
I thought about this step a lot this summer as Mimi and I ran on beaches, splashed in pools, and lounged about. I definitely thought about it when she danced with the seriousness of a professional at her end-of-camp ballet recital. I kept it in mind as we drove from one mid-Western city to the next, and I decided to enjoy these lovely days with my — for now — baby, knowing that I would have more time in the fall for blogging and other writing projects.
I did cook often this summer, mostly simple, laid-back, enjoyable meals. This is, of course, the best way to cook during the hot months. And, since we’ve returned home I’ve enjoyed cooking with the fabulous local produce, especially tomatoes, which we’ve eaten practically every day.
We’ve been eating a lot of a Greek food, specifically the tangy Macedonian spread called htipiti, which translates into “that which is beaten.” It’s made with feta, oregano, garlic, and lemon and is the easiest thing in the world to whip up (or “beat up,” I guess) and slather over warm pita. Htipiti is perfect summer food — no fear of breaking a sweat — and makes a great addition to a mezze, a fabulous way of eating during these sultry Dog Days.
8 ounces of feta, crumbled
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Greek or Turkish
The juice of about two lemons — you might not need it all
2 tbs. olive oil, preferably Greek
1 roasted red pepper, sliced into strips (optional)
In a large bowl. combine the first 6 ingredients and stir gently with a rubber spatula. Add the lemon juice, a splash at a time and stir until everything is just moistened. Slowly drizzle over the olive oil while continuing to stir gently. Stop when the feta mixture is softened but not soggy. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Adjust seasonings. Top with the slices of red pepper, if using, and serve with warm pita.
My most recent batch of htipiti did not photograph well. As you might guess, the spread is a little on the white side, one reason why the red peppers make such a nice addition. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any red peppers on hand so there was nothing to provide that much needed contrast. The photos were not fit to post. Sadly, I also immolated the pita — such a silly, rookie mistake — which didn’t help matters. No matter: we managed to polish off the entire batch of htipiti quite happily.
make lemonade popsicles.
Don’t hold me to this, but I think my desert island ingredient would be lemons. It would be more convenient if a lemon trees actually grew upon said island — then garlic would be my default ingredient. At any rate, I use lemons nearly every day.
I can’t image cooking without them. Often, when I think a dish needs salt, what it really needs is a good squeeze of lemon. This is especially true of stir fries, pesto, and many soups. Lemon also provides the much needed brightness in hummus, tapenade, and muhamarra and so many other tasty dips. How many cookies, pies, cakes, and tarts are improved by a squeeze of lemon, a bit of lemon zest, or a combination thereof? And, these days, I’ve been squeezing even more lemons than usual — lemonade popsicles are all the rage around here.
Any of these foods would be welcome on an island, deserted or not. Plus, they all stave off scurvy, which, as we all know, can be a bit of a problem for seafaring types.
Here’s a quick recipe for lemonade, whish is so ridiculously refreshing on a hot summer day. It comes from The Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook by Chris and Idie Hastings. For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Hot & Hot Fish Club, the venerable Birmingham, Alabama, restaurant, let me just say…”wow.” Its executive chef was nominated this year for a James Beard Award for best chef in the Southeast. He deserved the honor.
Last weekend, Jim, Mimi, and I enjoyed a meal there that was nothing short of spectacular (unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so no photos). The tomato salad I ordered was simple and perfect: dead ripe tomatoes — deep, dark, red and juicy as can be — layered between a kind of deconstructed succotash. The salad was surrounded by bits of fried okra, and topped with a piece of bacon. It’s a dish that could stand up next to any dish from any fine restaurant in the world. In fact, it could handily stare down any dish from any fine restaurant in the world. Assuming, of course, that plates of food can stare.
Akward metaphors aside, the food was fabulous. Jim got the wonderful quail as a very rich appetizer and then shrimp & grits, which just about knocked his socks off. The wild caught Gulf shrimp was sweet and succulent; the grits were creamy and flavorful. In addition to their justifiably famous tomato salad, I ordered the vegetable plate, which featured 5 different vegetable dishes, including a truly luscious corn salad as well as fried orka that Mimi ate like popcorn.
I was a little reluctant to share.
Like any restaurant worth its salt, H & H is interested in locally sourced ingredients and really pioneered farm to plate dining in Birmingham. I bought their cookbook back in January and have spent several pleasant hours pouring over its gorgeous pages, but the only recipe that I’ve used thus far is one for lemonade. There’s a reason for this. The recipes are organized by season, and I was so attracted to their Summer dishes that I’ve been waiting until the requisite produce was in season to try them out.
My day has come! Look for several recipes from the H&H cookbook this Summer. In the meantime, I offer the promised lemonade recipe, which is delicious both as a beverage and in frozen form. Enjoy!
The Hot & Hot Fish Club Lemonade (with very minor adjustments)
1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup cold water
1/4 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
Combine the lemon juice, sugar, water, vanilla and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Refrigerate immediately. Serve over crushed ice or freeze in popsicle molds until frozen solid.