Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Foods, Summer Memories

Summer gives us some of our fondest food memories.  We remember those meals we ate at home over a summer vacation.  Our moms made us lunch, and we ate in the backyard or with friends without teacher supervision, cafeteria trays, or food from ice cream scoops.  We ate outside, maybe next to a pool or in a park.  We didn’t have to quickly eat so we could get back to class.  On the weekends neighborhoods filled with the smell of grills.  Burgers, hot dogs, baked beans and chips brought people together.  And for many, whatever we ate then holds some special place for us now.  We may have become foodies and turn our nose up at certain ingredients or combinations.  Maybe we are health conscious and have sworn off certain foods.  But when that special memory pops up we cannot help but indulge that summer treat.  I have a few summer foods I’d like to share, but be sure to share yours here too.  Mine are not complex, fancy, foodie treats - they're foods kids love and can make for themselves.

Macaroni Salad – Ubiquitous no doubt, but like Thanksgiving Day stuffing, your family’s is always best and different from everyone else’s.  My mom’s was simply elbow macaroni, Miracle Whip, a touch of ketchup, some paprika and as much chopped red onion as you can handle.  On a summer day the coolness of the mayo mixed with the crunch of the onions was sheer perfection and was absolutely the taste of summer.  It was served in the same green bowl each year and the leftovers would feed me for days it seemed.  The second day the onions would start to color the macaroni and mayo pink.  When I make it now I am the only one who eats it, and I don’t mind a bit.        
Cucumber Sandwich – This is so simple and anti-foodie it cracks me up, but I love it.  Peel a cucumber, and slice it as thin or as thick as you like.  Smear Miracle Whip on a couple slices of white bread – and Wonder Bread really is perfect.  Place as many cucumber slices as you like on the bread, top it with the other slice and eat up.  The cucumber slides around, and its juices mix with the mayo requiring you to eat quickly or make a giant mess.  Eventually the bread will become gooey if you aren’t fast enough, and it will undoubtedly stick to the roof of your mouth.  A cold root beer is the best solution.  The crispness of the cucumber, coolness of the mayo, and texture of the whole sloppy mess is exquisitely summer.  Little triangles of perfectly uniform finger sandwiches at some Brit themed lawn party be damned.

Tomato Sandwich – See above, but with tomatoes and some salt.  But eat faster; tomatoes are juicier.  And this can be dressed up a bit with a crusty, stronger bread, even a toasted sourdough.  And of course you can keep going and turn it into a BLT.  And if you must, take it a California step further and add a perfectly ripe, creamy avocado.  But now we’re treading too close to becoming high maintenance foodies.  That said, find a good tomato.  When we were kids heirloom tomatoes were simply tomatoes.  These insipid pink things at the grocery store didn’t exist yet, so it’s okay to get all ‘foodie” on this one.  Keep it simple and the kids can make their own.  The juices running down their arms as they eat will just make them giggle.
Iceberg Salad – One summer late in grade school I think I ate this a few times a week.  One head of iceberg lettuce, one can of drained red kidney beans, some bacon bits and blue cheese dressing.  Done.  Crispy crunchiness mixed with cool creaminess – that’s summer.

Orange Creamsicle – Every summer lunch needs a dessert and to me there is no finer in the summer sun than an orange creamsicle.  Yes, vacationing in New England next week, I will indulge my cravings for ice cream most evening, but the brightness of the orange and the creamy richness of the cream are unmatched in the heat of the day.  For a while Goose Island Brewing in Chicago was making an Orange Cream soda that was a liquefied version, but there’s still nothing like the real thing, sitting on cement stairs thinking about what to do next with your summer vacation.   

What are your favorite summer food memories?
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