Just like our personal and family activities, eating and cooking habits shift from season to season. There are no hard and fast rules but foods and dishes slip away and then return, as do seasons, weather and special events. For example, I rarely make homemade spaghetti or soup in the hottest months of summer. Similarly, I rarely grill fresh corn or skewered shrimp in December, even in California. Many of our cooking preferences are influenced by seasonal harvests; others are based on longstanding traditions and patterns - we eat more figs in fig season; we eat more ice cream in July than January.
Culinarily speaking, I try to hold onto summer as long as possible, as in the "last of crop" heirloom tomatoes, cherries, corn-on-the-cob and fresh basil plants. I rarely do canning any more but, whenever possible, I make an effort to freeze some of the best of summer's bounty - fresh-squeezed lemon juice from my tree, cobbler made with peaches from my daughter's tree, ratatouille from the best-of-the-summer zucchini, etc. Freezing the dishes, even with fresh-picked ingredients does not totally equate to serving it in season but it's pretty close. And, enjoying peach cobbler from those peaches in December pleasantly brings back the memories of summer, when I'm stuck inside on a rainy day or bundled up near the fireplace.
On the other hand, I always look forward to fall's arrival. As the cooler breezes blow through my thin summer sundress, I begin to yearn again for the foods and dishes that I have gone without for months. To resolve my seasonal ambivalence, I try to make a culinary ritual of the transition from one season to the next. Don't distress over summer's end or autumn's start. Try one or more of these recipes to create your own seasonal transition!
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Savoring the 'last of' summer's delights
* Cook your favorite summer veggies without seasoning. Freeze in freezer-proof bags in sizes that fit your favorite recipes or family meal needs.
* Clean, rinse and prep (hull, peel, slice, etc.) your favorite summer fruit for pies, cakes, jams, etc.
* Freeze in required quantities as needed for recipes.
* Squeeze lemons or limes into a pitcher, remove seeds and transfer in small quantities to freezer-proof sandwich bags. Freeze for homemade lemonade as cravings occur.
End-Of-Summer Beet Salad (serves 2-4)
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
2 lbs. medium gold beets, cleaned and trimmed
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5-6 fresh sprigs mint, torn
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread thyme on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place beets on top of the thyme, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat and cover tightly with another piece of foil, to create a pocket. Roast about 1 hour, until tender.
2. When beets are cool, peel and cut into wedges, discarding the thyme. In a serving bowl, make the vinaigrette by blending the juices, zest and salt, slowly whisk in the olive oil until smooth.
3. Toss beets with vinaigrette to coat. Serve on a bed of leaf lettuce, sprinkled with torn mint leaves.
Where-Did-Summer-Go? Grilled Chicken Wings (serves 2 as main dish; 6-8 as appetizer)
2 lbs chicken wings (tops trimmed and separated at joint)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Asian chili paste
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp Hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 green onion, chopped
1. Combine soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chili paste; marinate wings in mixture, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Grill, covered, over medium heat, turning regularly until golden, 10-15 min.
2. In a small bowl, combine honey and Hoisin sauce, With a pastry brush, glaze wings and continue grill, turning as glaze caramelizes, 3-5 min. more. Don't overcook or burn glaze.
3. Transfer to platter, sprinkling with toasted sesame seed and green onion.
Ease-into-Fall Corn & Chicken Chowder (serves 6)
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 Tbsp flour
1 lb. potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
Kernels cut from 2 ears of corn, about 3 cups
4 cups shredded chicken (from a 2-3 lb. roasted chicken)
1/4-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
2 limes, cut into wedges
1. In a large, heavy pot, cook bacon over medium high heat until the fat renders and the meat starts to brown. Add onion, reduce heat to medium, and cook until soft, about 3 min.
2. Sprinkle in flour and cook until flour smells like piecrust but has not browned, about 3 min.
3. Add potatoes and broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and bring to a simmer; cook until potatoes are barely tender, about 5 min. Add corn and chicken and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to low and stir in cream to taste. Heat thoroughly, about 2 min.
4. Serve immediately in individual bowls, along with a platter of garnishes - tomatoes, avocado, cilantro leaves and lime wedges - so everyone can personalize their servings.