Hot Dogs and Cold Drinks in the Southern Summer

As I type, there's a very warm and furry canine snuggled to my left (she claims she can proofread) and an icy Campari and soda to my right.

Oh, the contrast.

Every summer we say "No more" to the Southern humidity, but here we are again, sweatin' and cussin' as we take turns watering the community garden plots in the mornings, and ducking in and out of the evening heat, the back screen door slamming, to take things on and off the grill.

Scott is especially drawn to the west coast this time of year, or at the very least the high country areas of Western North Carolina, where the temps are 10+ degrees cooler than down here in the flatlands.  I wouldn't mind a little mountain getaway for this time of year. Normally Scott is the more sensitive one, but this weekend I nearly had a meltdown in all kinds of ways at the Charlotte Regional Farmers
Market. Too many people + 90 degrees by 10 am = one escalation of a situation for this crazed lady. Let's just say I put myself in a corner until it was time to leave. I didn't even yell or use dirty words, which is a big step for me. I must be getting used to this.

We visited the farmers market to get a break from what we're currently stowing in the fridge: cucumbers and eggplant and okra, oh my.  Numerous bowls of heirloom black cherry and Sungold tomatoes now line our kitchen counters, and a few full-size Cherokee Purple and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are making it home with us, despite the best malicious efforts of a garden critter who enjoys snagging single bites out of the lowest-hanging big ripe tomatoes.  Bastards.

All this to say - homegrown veggies are wonderful, but after your fifth meal of sautéed squash or grilled okra or cucumber and tomato salad, you're ready for something else. So we bought some green beans, mushrooms, leeks, blueberries, ears of corn, peaches and green peppers. Last night we grilled the leeks and topped tacos with them. Tomorrow night we'll grill the steak we bought and pair them with the rest of the grilled leeks and peppers and mushrooms for Philly-esque steak sandwiches. Tonight I sautéed eggplant and squash and mixed up some cooked Israeli couscous and feta for a veggie bowl, with a salad of those cukes and tomatoes (again) with kalamata olives and roasted red peppers.

I like the improvisational meals the best -- open the pantry, check the fridge, and see what you can do.

Recipe Time

So say you're not the improvisational type or you just need the inspiration to riff off of some else's masterpiece.

Got okra and tomatoes? Make Mississippi Madras Gravy from the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.

Covered in cucumbers? Try the Benedictine Spread from the same cookbook above -- peel and de-seed a large cucumber, shred it, and drain in a colander for 2 hours. Then blend it with a block of cream cheese and some salt and pepper and two tablespoons of grated onion. Enjoy it on a sandwich or on crackers -- or alone in the kitchen with a spoon (no one needs to know about that one.) I made this for the first time over the weekend and it was shameful how much I enjoyed it.

Squeezed by squash? Try out these Cheddar and Chive Squachos.