26 July 2009
Late July is the time of year when even those who get cold in summer have to admit that they are warm.
Most people are warm all over. Our low temperature at night for the last three evenings has been staying above eighty degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature there is little cooling at night.
The only choice is to abandon any fear of the warmth and the South. You have to embrace the heat. If you boldly go outside and do not worry about the heat, you will be fine as long as you drink lots of fluids.
With the breeze and the ocean waters, even this heat will be a pleasant memory when January rolls around. Then you can remember how warm the sand was and the shock when you first walk from your air conditioned home into our humid blanket of warmth. Your body adjusts pretty quickly especially if you are wearing the minimum amount of clothing.
Once you have embraced the heat, you might as well explore Southern life a little. The best way to do that is with some Southern food.
My wife and I were both born in North Carolina so we are well versed in North Carolina's culinary arts. One of the things that helps us survive the heat, is the food we eat.
Once summer begins and the tomatoes are ripe the first week in June, we quickly start eating tomato sandwiches. While there are lots of people who will argue that you cannot have a good tomato sandwich on anything other than white bread, I am very partial to using Pepperidge Farm soft oatmeal bread. I have learned to live with Kraft light mayonnaise. I even skip the salt on my sandwich and make do with lots of pepper, but you have to find some homegrown tomatoes to enjoy a real tomato sandwich at its finest. On a hot evening a tomato sandwich both feeds you and keeps the kitchen cool.
Our mothers were fond of abandoning meat on hot evenings. You might have green beans, corn on the cob, cornbread, sliced tomatoes, perhaps fried squash and cantaloupe or watermelon.
While turning out perfect cornbread involves significant expertise, a well seasoned cast iron pan, and a good recipe, hush puppies are easier but do make something of a mess. Our family recipe for hush puppies gives you a real taste of the South.
if you want something really easy, try fried yellow summer squash. It is so simple that I am usually in charge of it. Find the nicest, small, blemish free yellow summer squash that you can. Slice it into rounds about one quarter of an inch thick. Heat about one quarter of inch of vegetable oil in a large frying pan. My wife claims the oil wiggles when it is hot enough. While the oil is getting hot, dip your squash in some Egg Beaters or beaten egg on a small plate and then coat them on another plate that has cornmeal on it. When you put one of the coated squash rounds into the frying pan, it should sound like frying. If not, the oil is not hot enough. Once you have filled the pan, salt and pepper them, then go back and see if the first ones are brown on the bottom. When they are brown, flip them over. When they are brown on both sides remove to a plate covered with paper towels. Eat while hot.
Another favorite hot weather food happens to be pimento cheese sandwiches. My pimento cheese recipe is easy to fix and has won a number of accolades on the web.
There are some coastal things that we eat in hot weather which are not a lot of trouble. One of my favorites is simple grilled scallops. I use cooking spray on our fish cooking grill tray. I buy scallops that are in their own juice either in a bag or container with a top. As soon the grilling sheet is warm, I place the scallops on the sheet so they are not touching. I close the grill for two or three minutes, and then flip each scallop and close the grill for another two or three minutes. You do not have to let the scallops start flaking to know that they are done. The best way is to cut one and see if it is cooked through. As soon as they are done, we remove them from the grill to a platter and then people fight over them.
Some other favorites to fix on the coast in the summer are chilled cocktail shrimp, and if you love fish, classic pan fried flounder. Another favorite of ours happens to be crab cakes. Our "secret recipe" is the one on the Old Bay seasoning can. We usually use lump crab meat and pack it in ice even when it is stored in the fridge before cooking.. Just make sure you use fresh, local NC seafood.
With these Southern dishes and your new found love of the heat and humidity, you will not only enjoy the beach, but you might go back home with some new recipes.