Prairie Living

One Hot Summer

Hilda by Duane Bryers
After weeks of rain, the pin has been pulled on the hand grenade of summer in Colorado as temperatures explode into the 90s. I’d long known I’d been living a blessedly charmed life up on the mountain: Hot was August, when the number of nights I dunked my head in the shower in order to sleep cool could be counted on one hand and I didn’t use more than a fan. But June and early July on the prairie feel as stifling as those brief days and already, I’m hovering moth-like next to the air conidtion.  

I know I’m squinting down the barrel of one hot summer.
This puts me in a bit of a pickle. I want the days to be long and glorious—full of writing and food and kissing; I just don’t want them (the days) to be hot. Anything above 82 degrees makes me cranky.  Ask Greg, the man who loves way too warm days as much as a lizard. Our house has been a hot bed of heat-sharpened tempers as I try to adjust to my new climate.
Hilda by Duane Bryers
Really, I’m already hot-blooded enough; I don’t need the climate to bring me to a boil.
I’ve often said I’m a seasonal eater which to me means I eat according to weather. Short frigid days have me digging into lovely stewed meats served over cremy polenta while long hot days make me crave the taste of lime and water-rich foods, like cucumbers. This year, I find myself praying at the altar of cooling foods as I work to get my temperature and temperment down. Here are some old and some new ideas for ways to flip the finger at these oven-baked days. 
Grilled Lamb Tacos with Tzaziki + Cilantro Relish
Cilantro Relilsh
Meet my newest condiment. The relish is easy to make:  blend to a paste a cup of toasted slivered almonds with a bunch of cilantro, two cloves of garlic, half a jalapeno and the juice of 1-2 limes in a food processor.  Then fold in 4 tbsp of sour cream and 1-2 tbsp mayo.  I’ve been using the relish on lamb street tacos and as a dip for cold shrimp, but I’m pretty sure it’d be fantastic slathered on chicken for the grill. 



Watermelon Soup

Chilled melon or berry soup is salvation whenever the outdoors emulate the inside of an oven. In my version, I simply pick the ripest (seed-free) melon I can find and blend it with a bit of lime zest, lime juice, agave, salt, and fresh mint to taste. Don’t over blend the ingredients or you’ll too easily liquefy the soup, and add the mint sparingly at first. I chill the soup in the freezer so it takes on a bit of texture (think slushy) and then sip spoonful after spoonful of the purest taste of summer. 
Pickled Veg
I got the pickle bug after n I made Cochinita Pibil for the first time, a lovely dish of slow-roasted pork topped with pickled red onions.  The smokiness of the ancho-rubbed meat marries perfectly with the tart, lime-pickled onion. The result is something greater than its part (which are already pretty fabulous)—a meal that is, indeed, worth shooting the cook for.   I always have a container of pickled red onions in the fridge and add them not only to pork tacos, but use them to enliven fresh veg salads like slaws made from raw kale and coconut or bacon, broccoli, and cranberry
This year, one of the pluses of prairie living is that I have a cool basement, a place where I can store food.  By September, it should be full of pickled things from my own garden:  radishes, jalapenos and cucumbers spiced with peppers. 
Home Made Ice Cream
Nancy’s Ice Cream, Cherries, & Olive Oil
Photo:  Nancy Grosso
What’s happier than making your own ice cream?  Those of us who are old enough remember the hand crank machines and summers when all the kids took turns at the churn.  It seemed like hours before we were served bowls of fresh peach or vanilla ice cream but the time and labor made it the best we’d ever had.  In more modern times, with so many affordable automatic makers on the market, it’s easier than ever to make ice cream.  This is one sure way to forgive the summer its heat.  Today I’ll be making a simple strawberry ice cream in a freezer bowl attachment fitted to my kitchen aid for my niece Ava, who is coming with her parents for 4th of July.  We’ll start by mixing the cream with a little milk and eggs and sugar before pouring it into the already spinning blender.  The berries are added near the end and the ice cream is best eaten just out of the mixer, when it’s cold, but still soft and velvety. 
For an additional wow, drizzle the ice cream with very good extra virgin olive oil and salt. I learned this trick from my sister Nancy, a fabulous and enthusiastic cook.  Try it. Your mind will be blown. I guarantee it.
Part of learning to love my new life is about learning to embrace what’s unfamilair (and hence, what’s uncomfortable).  By reaching for foods that make me feel better, I soothe my prickly skin and ground my days in a grace, that’s not easy perhaps, but which connects me deeper to unique rhythm of these days. 
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