Posts tagged ‘summer’
It’s August, and that means it’s blackberry season in the pacific northwest.
The blackberry bushes here are inescapable, weeds even. I pass the thorny plants growing along our neighborhood, behind my school, and against the sidewalks. We had some in our backyard when we first bought the house, until my mother hacked the branches away in a fit of determination. Every year, when I spot the fat berries hanging low on their vines, like clusters of black beads, it feels more like summer than anything.
I’ve been seeing them all month, but I haven’t been craving them… Until a few days ago. I was sitting at the dinner table, thumbing through the pile of cookbooks that live there permanently. It’s my habit when I’m bored. I flip back to the dessert section and try to make myself hungry. That day, I saw a marionberry tart, but for some reason it made me want blackberries.
Because they’re so expensive, I didn’t eat a lot of berries growing up. Even today, in my mind they’re exotic. Raspberries, blueberries, marionberries – they should be reserved for special occasions, like a birthday or celebration. But blackberries are so plentiful here, and so easy to get.
When I was in elementary school, my mom and I liked to visit a park by our old condo. I’d never seen so many blackberry bushes before. They towered high over my head like a maze, and the air between them seemed to buzz with insects and filtered sunlight and the sweetness of sugar. It all came back to me in a rush as I sat there with the cookbook in my hands.
I couldn’t get blackberries out of my mind. When I decide I want something, I just can’t avoid it. I mentioned the berries over and over to my parents. My mom said she remembered where the park was, so after breakfast we headed out. We were nearly there when my dad pulled the car onto a fence-lined stretch of gravel in a rare patch of shade.
“This isn’t the park,” I protested, but he pointed along the side of the road.
“They’re everywhere,” he said, pointing at the blackberry brambles twisting in and out of the barbed wire.
I was doubtful as I opened the trunk and passed out bowls to my parents. This didn’t seem as nostalgic and serene as my memories at the park. Even in the shade we couldn’t escape the hazy swelter of the afternoon sun, like hot breath on our backs. Spiders dangled from leaves and cars sped behind us in a whirr.
We spaced ourselves several meters apart from each other. I reached for the darkest, plumpest berries on the highest vines, straining on my tiptoes and stretching up. As gentle as I tried to be, they burst out of their skins when I dropped them into my bowl. Before long my hands were perfumed with juice, which stained the ridges of my fingerprints purple-red and smelled like August.
The whole way home, I breathed the fragrance in and dreamed of dessert.
And I got it. The blackberries are truly the star of this blackberry, peach, and ginger crumble.
The peaches are really delicious too. I like peaches, but I can’t say that I love them. I don’t think I’ve ever had a perfect peach, or even a really good one. The rest of my family has – every year my grandma wistfully describes fresh peach ice cream and lattice peach pie. Or better – fresh and still sun warmed, eaten off the tree. But me? I’m satisfied to cut them into rough chunks and toss them with berries in a crumble.
And the ginger was almost an afterthought, but such a good one. I loved dicing the crystallized ginger into tiny cubes, because it left big sugar crystals and the sharpness of ginger all over my cutting board. You only get a little in each bite, but you know it when you find it.
The original recipe calls this dessert a crisp, but I substituted some cream cheese into the oat topping. I had some leftover to use up, and the result was delicious. I could taste a subtle tang, and it made the topping a little soft and chewy. I’m not sure what makes a crumble a crumble, but somehow “crisp” didn’t seem right. All I know is that I shamelessly dug into whatever-you-call-it straight out of the pan, hot or chilled, for breakfast or for dessert in the warm twilight.
We don’t spend hours in the kitchen every evening.
Sometimes, I just pop a bowl of cold fried rice into the microwave for a quicker than quick dinner. On Tuesdays my mother and I steam broccoli, chop watermelon into chunks, sit down to watch Chopped and call it a night. I’ve even leaned against the fridge and eaten cold chicken salad straight out of the tupperware. Our kitchen is always stocked with enough leftovers to make us low-maintenance weeknight diners.
Weekends, though… That’s an entirely different matter. Sometimes the whole day revolves our food. My mother often wakes up before me to brush her bread with an egg glaze, and we juggle the oven so I can bake biscuits. She’s the queen of scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed juice, and I can press any berry into a special maple syrup.
My parents and I frequently head to the farmer’s market right after breakfast to shop for dinner, usually without a meal plan in mind. We pick whatever’s fresh and seasonal and bright, whatever inspires hunger even though we just ate. My family has been known to spend an afternoon rolling out pasta directly on our dinner table, marinating fish, picking through sun-warmed herbs. Then, we feast.
Don’t be fooled, though. There are plenty of awful mistakes, pain in the rear ingredients, and even the occasional temper. Our kitchen is what my dad likes to call a “two-butt work area.” The three of us barely fit inside it, and with the two dogs brushing against our ankles, it’s a very tight squeeze.
Usually, it’s chaotic frustration. As the sky darkens, my dad works from both the stove and the cutting board, on opposite ends of the kitchen. My mother can’t help but clean dishes in real time, sometimes whisking bowls off into the sink before we’re through with them. And me? I’m just trying to get to the oven, which is between the two of them. Add Tilly, who begs at your feet until you step on her, and Otis, who grunts whenever you drop a scrap – it’s an experience.
Yet once we carry plates to the table, settling down in our usual chairs, it’s calm. It’s relaxed. It’s all about passing plates and trying a bit of everything. It’s the subdued “Mmm!” at first bite. Cooking together is hectic, but it’s always worth it. There is something intangible about a meal created with your family… an hour of satisfaction, and a lifetime of memories.
Usually when I’m in the kitchen, I’m alone. Sometimes I’m even the only one in the entire house, especially now in the summer. I love baking in the serene calm of morning, with light streaming from the window above the sink and the French doors. It’s quiet, except for blue jays rustling in the backyard pines and the faint rhythm of my breath. It’s silent enough for me to sense the song of the kitchen in my ears and in my soul.
When I’m baking by myself, the kitchen is perfect for one person – spacious, even. I can’t help but feel that there’s no better way to spend life than alone with my thoughts and my Kitchen Aid. That is, until the weekend rolls around again. Then I’m weaving between my parents, half laughing and half exasperated, five minutes away from “dinner’s ready.” And at that moment, there’s no other place I’d rather be.
They’re opposite situations, and I like that. I like the contrast, and the fact that such distinct experiences can occur in the same room. The differences make each experience memorable and sweet, even if they don’t seem to complement each other at first glance.
I love juxtaposed differences, in life and in food. Sweet with salty, hot with cool, creamy with crunchy… Enter these watermelon bars, the perfect example of just that.
The bottom layer is the simplest watermelon sorbet, a snap to whirl together. It freezes somewhat hard and icy, but it’s utterly refreshing. The sorbet is spread with a basil-lime semifreddo, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. The semifreddo makes up for all the richness the sorbet lacks, whisked with sweetened condensed milk and lightened with whipped cream. It’s so thick and creamy, it should be illegal. The zing of lime and smooth, floral aroma of basil pair gorgeously with melon.
It could be a clash of flavors and textures, but I think they make a beautifully balanced combination. Together, they pack the epitome of summer in every melting bite.
There are some things in life I’ve learned I just can’t resist.
Crisp, chewy, savory bacon (and I say this after not one, but several attempts to go vegetarian.) My dog, Tilly, when she’s sad: her eyes are big and brown as chocolate covered cherries, rimmed with black like kohl eyeliner, with eyelashes that make me jealous. Filtered kitchen sunlight at 11 AM. Cinnamon rolls – fresh from the oven, speckled with fragrant spices and swirled with cream cheese glaze, melting into the swirl… how can you pass one up?
And farmer’s markets. There’s something about those white tents that makes me want to spend all day beneath them. There’s serenity in the rich displays of fruits and vegetables, handmade bracelets and jewel-like jars of amber honey.
My favorite farmer’s market – my favorite place in Seattle, even – is the famous Pike Place Market. I wrote an essay about it as my favorite place when I was in 2nd grade. I’d never seen anything so eclectic and teeming with creativity and fragrant with spices and flowers and fruit. Between the bundles of rainbow chard and displays of stained glass kaleidoscopes, I honestly thought the place was magic.
I loved the spice shop, stacked from floor to ceiling with glass jars of every tea, coffee, and spice you could think of. I’d carefully pull down a heavy jar with two hands, lift the lid with a little clink. Then I’d inhale the fragrant air blooming above it, utterly at peace.
And the gorgeous jelly and jam stand, which set out popsicle sticks to taste test all of their varieties. Among my favorites were blackberry lavender, raspberry chipotle, and rose – flavors which seemed to me so exotic and breathtaking, flowers blossoming on my tongue.
And the fish vendors around the market. Many people have heard about the famous stall that throws your order across the shop, but my dad and I prefer a smaller, quieter seafood vendor tucked near the heart of the market. I loved the brilliant rainbow sheen of fish scales, the long, fleshy tongues of geoduck clams, and especially the oily, smoky, irresistible smoked salmon samples I could never turn down.
Despite all the years, not much has changed, and Pike Place Market is still woven with an intangible magic. One morning, I had some thank you gifts I needed to deliver around Seattle. Dad and I left the house early, so we stopped at the market to kill some time. For one of the first times, we quickly found parking on the cobblestone street between tents. We drank coffee and people-watched, then we strolled between stalls.
The market was quieter than I’d ever seen it, still sleepy in the new day light. I could see shopkeepers and artisans arranging their products, setting up their stands, chatting easily with their neighbors. Street musicians warmed up and stretched, a vendor sipped tea as she arranged a bouquet of lilies just so.
“I really like this,” I breathed to my father, nearly whispering so I wouldn’t break the magic.
“What about it?”
“It’s more than the produce and the products. They’re all people.”
It’s yet another aspect of the market that I adore. It’s easy to strike up conversation with the woman who grew the tomato you’re sampling. I know exactly where these flowers once breathed, where they were picked and pressed, how far they traveled to get here. One man tells me about his technique and his tools as I try on the silver rose ring he forged with his fingertips.
Somehow I always end up striking conversation with the farmers and stall vendors, discussing everything from this season’s plums to journalism in Boston to 17 and Baking. It’s truly what makes the place special – the human connection there. It’s really the one thing I can’t resist.
Well… that, and samples. How can anyone stand in the midst of such rosy apples, beautifully crooked carrots, clusters of champagne grapes and not accept an offer to taste? My dad was amused at all the stops I made to try everything available, even the things that weren’t ready. We both sampled sunset-hued Rainier cherries before we returned to the car.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s a little too early in cherry season. They aren’t quite ready yet,” Dad answered.
“That’s what cherry cornmeal upside down cake is for.”
The cherries are simmered in butter, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. The simple, thick cornmeal cake batter is spread right over them in the skillet and baked until golden brown. Flavorful, moist and coarse-crumbed, topped with glistening dark cherries like a jewelry box. Perhaps early cherries aren’t so bad.
These past few weeks, I’ve felt suspended in limbo. In a lot of ways, this summer feels like my last. The last summer I can get away without having a steady job. The last summer where my high school friends are all in town and trying to keep us together. The last summer I’ll see the world the way I do right now. I keep having to remind myself that I’m a high school graduate, and that everything is about to change in September.
I don’t feel like a college freshman, the way I still don’t feel like a legal adult. Once in a while, when I hear from a friend or spot the square graduation cap in my closet, I’m stifled with hesitation. There are moments where I don’t think I’ll survive if I’m tossed into the depths of the unknown. But sooner or later, I walk past someone with a Red Sox tee or tell someone about my expected major – and then I’m overwhelmed with a desire to pack up and move to Boston already.
The morning after I graduated, I thought to myself, “This is it. This summer is like the eye of a hurricane.” A month in, though, I’m seeing it a little differently. The next two months aren’t the calm before an unstoppable storm… they’re a window of opportunity. The opportunity to relax while shouldering a bit of responsibility, and to enjoy every second of this limbo.
So what have I been doing with my last days in Washington? Even though Seattle is currently going through a miniature heat wave, I’ve been spending most of my hours in the kitchen.
It started about a week ago. My dad and I were at the dinner table, talking about college and 17 and Baking. Up until then, I’d felt unconcernedly confident about maintaining the blog through the school year. After all, it simply had to work out. How hard could it be to keep up the blogging?
But little by little, tiny cracks chipped away at my optimism. I came to the unpleasant conclusion that I can’t bring the KitchenAid mixer with me. It’s so heavy, how we would transport it across the country? And where would I keep it – my dorm? Would I carry it down the streets of Boston in search of a kitchen? I reluctantly admitted there were flaws in my idealism, all the way down to the simple issue of where I’d store flour and eggs. Would I even have time?
So I’ve begun baking like crazy to stock up on photos. While I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to keep blogging through the blustery chills of October and the January freeze, it contradicts my general philosophy of only using seasonal items. In the past week, my searches for wintery produce and dabbles with autumn spices have only reinforced my appreciation for seasonal ingredients.
It’s July, and it’s also a window of opportunity for the fruits and vegetables I’ve waited for all winter. I’ve missed the satisfaction of a real tomato, heavy with juice and sweeter than sugar. It’s been too long since I last eased a knife through the streaked hull of a watermelon. I’ve been craving the fuzzy blush of a peach and the first seed-studded bite into a strawberry ever since January. They just aren’t good in April – some things are worth waiting for.
Gosh, I’m hungry again.
And with the ingredients come the dishes I’ve been lusting after. Spontaneous fruits-of-the-moment fruit salads, cold cucumber soup, sparkling herb lemonade! Even water tastes better when you’re drinking it between forkfuls of grilled salmon with grape and melon chutney.
I know I’m not the only foodie in town excited by summer produce. My parents have both been waiting, and it’s finally the time of year for my dad’s zesty blueberry corn salad with lime, and my mom’s avocado and sundried tomato eggrolls with chili dipping sauce. There’s only a short window of time when we can indulge ourselves in these savory summer dishes, and we’re taking full advantage of it.
I love my mother’s eggrolls. She first came up with them last summer, and when avocado season rolled around this year we began eating batch after batch. She starts with a gorgeously ripe avocado – as creamy and thick as butter, the kind of green that sends happy flutters in your stomach. Add sun dried tomatoes, fresh cilantro and sharp red onion, and you’ve hit upon something special – smooth, crispy, chewy, and indulgent.
My dad loves the combination of fresh blueberries and gently cooked corn. The corn is still a little warm, still has a little pop to it. The blueberries are cool and sweet. Spritzed with lime, they become like dark pearls, stunning against the light yellow kernels and flecks of zest. There’s only a small period of time when blueberry season and corn season cross, so now’s the time to make this refreshing salad… over and over again.
In the coming weeks, as summer draws to an end, I might get sick of flaky eggroll skin or juicy corn. Before long, I’ll be longing for pumpkin puree and for the give of a ripe pear, the way it smells like crisp leaves and November rain. But everything is worth the wait. And for now, I’ll enjoy the summer’s bounty as long as it blooms, ripens, and warms in the July heat.