Summer 1982

One more time.  Summer 1982. The weather in Pittsburgh is unbearably hot.  Two weeks of high temperatures and high humidity.  Nights not much better than the days.  Nights too hot for sleeping, days sapping what’s left of the strength the sleepless nights don’t replenish.  You get sopping wet climbing in or out of a car.  Especially if your car’s little and not air-conditioned, like my mother’s Chevette.  Nobody remembers the last time they felt a cool breeze, nobody remembers pulling on clothes and not sweating through them in five minutes.  “Unbearable” is my mother’s word.  She uses it often but never lightly.  In her language it means the heat is something you can’t escape.  The sticky heat’s a burden you wake up to every morning and carry till you’re too exhausted to toss and turn anymore in your wet sheets.  Unbearable doesn’t mean a weight that gets things over with, that crushes you one and for all, but a burden that exerts relentless pressure.  Whether you’re lifting a bag of groceries from a shopping cart into the furnace your car becomes after sitting closed for twenty minutes in the Giant Eagle parking lot, or celebrating the birth of a new baby in the family, the heat is there.  A burden touching, flawing everything.  Unbearable is not that which can’t be borne, but what must be endured forever.

Of course the July dog days can’t last forever.  Sooner or later they’ll end.  Abruptly.  Swept away by one of those violent lightning-and-thunder storms peculiar to Pittsburgh summers.  The kind signaled by a sudden disappearance of air, air sucked away so quickly you feel you’re falling.  Then nothing.  A vast emptiness rubbing your skin.  The air’s gone.  You’re in a vacuum, a calm, still, vacated space waiting for the storm to rush in.  You know the weather must turn, but part of the discomfort of being in the grip of a heat wave or any grave trouble is the fear that maybe it won’t end.  Maybe things will stay as miserable as they are.

-from Brothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

storm clouds over homestead smokestacks

My favorite summer recipes

that's hot sauce, not blood spatters

I don’t normally have a lot of patience for cooking, so when it gets hot out I have even less patience with things like ovens and meals that require more than 20 minutes to prepare. Enter the wonderful world of tacos/burritos and dinner salads! This recipe for black bean hummous is delicious and really fast/easy to make – as long as you have a food processor. Once I make a batch of this stuff, it’s useful as a snack, as a spread for sandwiches, and – I recently realized – in tacos. Here’s what I think is the best combination:

aforementioned black bean hummous
fresh pineapple chunks
fresh avocado slices
sour cream
grated cheddar cheese
fresh cilantro
brown or wild rice

optional: salsa? ham? sauteed mushrooms? really you could go nuts with this. wrap it all up in a whole wheat tortilla and you have a delicious and basically nutritious meal with no heat source required.

Now onto the salads.  I’m a big fan of Everyday Food, and one of my favorite pasta salad recipes is from their magazine: I give you Pasta salad with goat cheese and arugula.

I recently discovered a recipe for Lemon Kale Avocado salad that doesn’t require cooking the kale in any way.  You smush it up with avocado and lemon juice and that softens it enough to make it edible and tasty.  This salad is reminiscent of fattoush (minus the pita) to me, but the combination of avocado and olives gives it a different flavor.  It is my new favorite way to eat kale.

This recipe for Kale with orzo is my old favorite way.  It requires a heat source, but I have to include it since it’s so quick, yet tastes like something that would take a lot longer to make.

Finally: Gnocchi with summer vegetables.  The combination of lemon juice and the sauce from the tomatoes makes a delicious coating for the pasta that’s not too overwhelming as far as sauces go.  The cheese helps too.  Never skip the cheese!  I recommend using some sort of stuffed pasta for this recipe, like tortellini or ravioli, instead of gnocchi.

Bon appetit, mes amis.