Is it fall? Is it summer? Let’s examine the evidence. First, it’s after Labor Day and students of all ages are back in school. Score one for fall. However, second, it’s still danged hot outside, and Boot Day — that first wonderful crisp and chilly morning when you can wear those cool new boots you snagged for 75 percent off this past April — seems like weeks away. So, a point for summer. We’re tied at one-one. Are Halloween decorations in local stores? Fall. Are people still swimming in their outdoor pools? Summer. It’s two-all. Football? Fall. Baseball? Summer. Three-three. Even produce markets seem confused, giving us juicy and sweet watermelons along with plump orange pumpkins & marigolds along with impatiens. Conclusion: Here in the mid-South, September is the month with an identity crisis combined with minor climate disorder. September needs a good counselor. And a meds refill.
Yea for long holiday weekends! If you’re lucky enough to get one, that is. The Labor Day weekend always has been sort of a random mix of … well, randomness for me. I mean, it’s picnics and cookouts and road trips and fun — unless, of course, you a) have a job that does not recognize long holiday weekends off as the rest of the civilized world does or b) have few social contacts outside of your job so three or four days away from the office sort of stretches into boring nothingness and you promise yourself again that you’re going to get out more. Really, you are. Also, the Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer and the arrival of college football — although it’s still 92 in the shade and you’re going to get sunburned sitting at the stadium all afternoon. So in honor of all this randomninity, here are some random things that have happened to me this week.
1) I was eating lunch with several folks from my lapsed book club — now we just get together and eat and talk and drink — and the conversation turned to books we’d each read and would recommend. Everybody whipped out — or tried to, anyway — their list-making-tools of choice. Top prize goes to my friend who uses both her iPad and her iPhone to keep up with the books she’d read, the books she wanted to read and the books she’d share with others. The rest of us were impressed. And now here’s where the quality of our list-making as a whole goes down rather a lot, because coming in second was me, with my black Papermate Pilot pen — I buy them by the dozens — and my pocket-sized notebook I carry with me always and also buy in bulk. Everyone was complimentary that I not only had these things at the ready but that I could actually find them in my purse/survival bag for potential shipwreck on a deserted Pacific island. Next came my friend who did have a pen but was jotting down books on a the back of a Wal-Mart receipt and then my friend who fished an old envelope out of her purse but had nothing to write with. And, finally, there was the one of us who simply shook her head, ordered more wine and said, “Somebody e-mail all this to me.” I want to be her.
2) Turns out I’d worn unmatching earrings all day on Wednesday. Wore them to the office and to lunch and everything. Talked to dozens of people during the day. Nobody said a word. “I thought that was, like, your fashion statement,” a friend said. Nope — only a statement that I obviously need more coffee before I try to get dressed in the morning.
3) I was hanging out with 2 1/2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable and he said what I heard as “want animal bacon.” I naturally thought he was a genius baby for recognizing the difference between animal bacon and vegetarian bacon, but then I realized that we probably weren’t talking about “bacon” at all because he kept saying it while gazing longingly at the TV. Translation from his mom (my older daughter): “Want ‘Elmo’s Blanket’,” a DVD about Elmo journeying to Grouchland to retrieve his blanket. No bacon involved at all.
If you don’t have your Labor Day weekend menu planned yet, consider these two quick, easy and extremely wonderful salads. My friend Sherry Campbell, director of the Shoals Commercial Culinary Center in Florence, Alabama, that’s part of the innovative business incubator Shoals Entrepreneurial Center, made these salads for us during a recent cooking class — and we all gobbled them down and asked for more. The class focused on end-of-the-summer fresh and local ingredients and simple recipes for entertaining. Her menu included chicken roasted with figs and port wine — yum! Check out the Culinary Center at http://www.shoalsec.com/.
End of Summer Supper Salad
Cook 1 pound unshelled raw jumbo shrimp* in 3 quarts boiling water until pink. Rinse shrimp in cold water, cool and shell. (If holding more than 10 minutes, chill in refrigerator.) Bring water back to boil and add 1 1/2 pounds trimmed green beans until tender-crisp, about 3-7 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Meanwhile, whisk together 1/3 cup rice vinegar, salt and fresh pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon coarse or Dijon mustard and 2 minced large garlic cloves. Whisk in 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil until dressing is thick and add a thinly sliced half medium sweet onion. Toss shrimp and green beans with dressing. Arrange sliced tomatoes around edge of platter and mound salad in middle. Sprinkle with fresh basil, scallion slices and fresh lemon juice. Serves 4. *You could also use chicken or tofu in this recipe. You’d cook the chicken, of course, with your preferred method — the tofu can be used right out of the package.
Whisk together 1/4 cup each red-wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Add 2 cans rinsed and drained cannelloni beans, 3 cups cubed country bread, 1 pound plum tomatoes cut into smaller pieces, thin slices of English cucumber, thin slices of red onion and 4 ounces diced provolone cheese. Toss, cover and chill 2-8 hours. Just before serving, stir in fresh basil. Serves 4. Note: Sherry also used bell peppers and celery when she prepared this. “Just use up whatever fresh veggies you’ve got,” she said. “That’s the whole idea.”