Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

I love summer. I didn't always, but I won't get into all of that. I know, it's not really summer yet but it's really starting to feel like it! I've just come from watching my favorite little ladies on the planet, Sophie and Tessa, two beautiful Thai girls who are 5 and 7. I've known them since they were tiny and still love being a part of their lives. This afternoon we played for a bit on the deck, I loved the way the hot wood planks felt under my feet. Summer... Then Tessa and I went and laid out on the grass under the warm, bright sun and cheerful blue sky to flip through the latest edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Sophie was playing with lots of water and several pails by this time. Dropping things in, little pieces of foliage, and stirring each one very intently. I soon learned she was making 'sun tea'. After not too long, Tessa and I started to get pretty hot and asked Sophie if she would mind coming and pouring some cold water from her plastic tea pot onto our arms, legs, and feet. We called her the Water Waitress and she went back and forth filling up her tea pot to keep pouring water where we requested it. It was precious. Definitely one of those moments that feel like classic summer.

On my drive home, upon entering our neighborhood, I stopped a little longer at a stop sign to watch several neighbor boys, maybe 5 to 11 in age, out in their yard with squirt guns. A Dad was sitting along sidewalk with his feet in the street just watching, you could tell he had been hit a few times already. All of a sudden he jumped to his feet to cause some major raucous and dump a big bucket of water on one of the boys, it turned into mayhem with lots of running, laughing, hiding, and water going everywhere. I just sat there smiling, until I realized someone was behind me waiting to move on with the rest of their day. Its these moments that are only uniquely summer. There's new life and excitement all around. How could I not have loved summer all those years?

I recently got inspired to make a meal that felt very summer. In fact, while making it I took a little trip down memory lane to summer circa 1995. I was living with my parents in Yakima where the summers are long, dry, and hot. Very hot. I was about to turn 15 and since I didn't have a driver's license or a real job, most of my days were spent sleeping in, talking on the phone, and laying out in the sun. I'm a pretty fair girl, but always wanting what I don't have (still struggle with this) I was constantly trying to get super tan like all of my friends. I had a routine. This was my job! I'd find the right towels, locate my BABY OIL, fill up a squirt bottle with ice cold water, and most importantly get the boom box. I'd get myself all situated and pop in Crazy Sexy Cool by TLC (you know, Waterfalls and Red Light Special) and lay out there until I got so hot I couldn't take it anymore. I'd go inside and everything looked white, you know how that is after coming in from a bright day? If I think about it long enough I can pretty much go right back in time to that place.

For some reason I really remember that summer. Maybe it was because I was half there, I wasn't a little girl anymore but I was just on the brink of getting some independence. Life was full of possibilities. I didn't have a job or bills or debt to distract me from living. I was doing it in the best I way I knew how and I was in the moment. I wasn't jaded yet. So what if are older now and have too many bills and responsibilities. I think summer is still a time where life feels like there are new possibilities. It's a time to be happy and cheer up. So, here's to summer!

Enough with the nostalgia and sentiment. Let's talk food. You know that bottle up there? The one standing amid some beautiful window herbs (I'm gloating like a proud parent, unashamedly...) and that reads Napa Valley Sparkling Wine Vinegar - Aged 18 Yrs? That's the one. It comes from the St. Helena Olive Oil Co. I owe my Grandma Donna a huge Thank You because she brought that back from a trip her, my mom, and aunt took down to the Napa Valley. Every time I talked to my mom all I could hear was laughing and giddy excitement in the background. They toured wineries, olive oil stores, and ate at Ad Hoc two nights in a row because they loved it so much. I have a cousin who works there and I bet that if Thomas Keller is responsible for fried chicken and corn on the cob, it's probably the best you'll have in your life. Needless to say, they all had a heavenly time and from what I've gathered from my mom, if you love food, then Napa Valley practically is heaven. I don't know what it is about that place, but whatever it is that vinegar holds some of the magic too. IT IS UNBELIEVABLY AMAZING. And, it was the star of my All-American Sunday dinner.

I feel I've written so much already that I want to just take you right to the recipes. Hempler's Hot Dogs were on the menu. I made coleslaw for the first time and was quite pleased with the process and the results! Of course I used my special vinegar and a couple extra ingredients that I'll include. Then I made another side that had me weak in the knees. Boiled red potatoes dressed so beautifully and simply in Wesson Oil and my sparkling wine vinegar. I sprinkled them with basil, chives, and parsley from my window sill and some good salt and pepper. Being a chef, I feel it's an utter travesty that I've never prepared potatoes in this way. PERFECT creamy potatoes, tangy vinaigrette, and fresh herbs bursting with flavor and simplicity. Oh my goodness.

Starting the meal off with homemade lemonade, it seemed fitting to end it with the best lemon bars I've ever tasted. The lemon bar recipe comes from that company I've been referring to. The name we don't speak of around here. You're getting the recipe via my blog whether they like it or not! This meal was so perfect in so many ways. It WAS summer on a plate.

adapted from Kittencal at Recipezaar
serves 8-10

1 M. head Green Cabbage
1 S. head Red Cabbage (the two should make about ten cups)
1 LG. Carrot, shredded, remove any liquid
2-4 Scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 t. Celery Seeds, optional
1 t. Mustard Seeds, optional

1 C. Hellman's or Best Foods mayonnaise
1/4 C. cream or milk
1/4 C. buttermilk
2-3 T. white vinegar
3 T. fresh lemon juice
1/3 C. sugar, plus 2 T. if you want it sweeter
1/2 - 1 t. garlic powder
1 t. salt or seasoning salt
1.2 t. pepper

In a food processor, chop or shred cabbage into small pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the carrots, scallions, celery and mustard seeds if using.
Mix up dressing and toss with cabbage mixture. Mix thoroughly and let chill in the fridge at least 4-5 hours. Enjoy! By the way, this was amazing on top of the hot dogs!

Perfect Lemon Bars
makes about 16

1 1/4 C. AP flour
1/2 C. Confectioner's sugar, plus extra for dusting
12 T. unsalted butter, cut into 12, room temp.
2 L. eggs plus 7 yolks
1 C+ 2 T. sugar
2/3 C. fresh lemon juice
1/4 C. grated lemon zest (4-5 lemons)
3 T. heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle. Heat to 350. Line a 9 x 9 square baking dish with foil, so bars will be easy to remove. Spray foil lightly with cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, pulse sugar, flour and 1/2 t. salt until combined. Scatter 8 T. of the butter over the top and pulse until it resembles course cornmeal, about 8 pulses.
3. Sprinkle mixture into pan and press firmly into an even layer. Bake about 20 m.
4. While crust bakes, whisk eggs and yolk together in medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in sugar till combined, then juice, zest, and a pinch of salt. Add remaining 4 T. butter and and cook over medium low heat stirring constantly until thick and registers 170 on a candy thermometer, about five minutes depending.
5. Strain mixture through sieve to remove zest, add cream to mixture and stir thoroughly.
6. Pour warm curd over hot crust, shaking to make even layer of curd, and bake until shiny and opaque and center jiggles just slightly, 10-15 minutes.
7. Let cool completely on wire rack, 2 hrs, and then carefully lift bars out of dish and cut. Dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving. WOW, these are so good!


missmallory said...

I realized this evening reading your post, that this time of year, the ushering of summer, is something special. Your nostalgia made me realize how giddy I was as a young girl at the end of May. . . the sun was hotter, the days longer, and school was oh-so close to over for the year. I miss that excitement. Why does summer break disappear? Adults should get a break from paying rent, bills, and working for a few months too! More time to cook summer perfect meals such as this! Loved it (even the landscape shots)!

RachelleLouise said...

Thanks lovely lady! I think you hit it on the head with the 'ushering' word. I think it's like the start of any new season, it's exciting at first but eventually it wears off a little bit... But there is something about summer. Maybe it is the nostalgia it brings us all? Maybe we adults just need to try and be as child-like as possible come summer. I know it would do me some good! I don't know, summer to me now just screams: the farmer's market, riding the scooter through the hills in a tank top looking out over the bay, listening to Sade and having a cool drink while pretending I'm somewhere tropical and exotic, and just this general feeling of easy-breezy. It has almost made me think of living somewhere where it's summertime year-round.

Thanks for your comment and sharing a little bit of your nostalgia! I'm lucky to have a reader like you! I can't wait to share our first summer together as buds! : )

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful blog! I love all the pictures and descriptions. I especially like your tea room post. <3 Chloe

RachelleLouise said...

Thanks for stopping in Chloe. You can grace my blog with your fabulous presence any old time you want! : ) I'm glad you liked it.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea Napa Olive Oil co. had a sparkling wine vinegar. Good to hear by proxy that everyone had fun. You've got a great blog going here, I'm gonna clue my brother and mother in on it.

RachelleLouise said...

Hey Trevor, thanks for all the comments! We bloggers could practically kill for them! : ) Yeah, my Grandma Donna brought some of it back and gave Tara and I a couple of bottles, I got the sparkling wine and Tara got the balsamic. I LOVE the stuff! In fact, I love it so much I might have to order more when it's all gone. I got such a kick out of the calls I had with my mom when the ladies were down in your neck of the woods. So much giggling and silliness. My mom said you were the perfect tour guide. My Grandma went on and on about the champagne vinegar-pickled veggies from Ad-Hoc! I'm so glad you've popped in to my blog! We're thrilled to have you! : )