What To Do When It’s 1,000 Degrees

It has been too hot to cook here (although I stupidly volunteered to make 100 chocolate chip cookies for incoming Duke Methodist fresh-people over the weekend, but that’s another story).

And I read the most horrific article in a women’s magazine (my first mistake) that basically said that if you don’t eat FIVE to NINE servings of fruits and vegetables a day and exercise SIXTY to NINETY minutes MOST DAYS OF THE WEEK you would DIE, DIE, DIE of a heart attack right this second. (Who are these people???)

So thank you, Raleigh, for having a real farmers’ market, where you can buy real honest-to-God tasty and delicious vegetables and fruit that will not only keep you cool but allow you to live forever.

Here are some of my recent meals:

1. Tomatoes with olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt, and olive oil.
2. Cucumbers in a vinegar/sugar mix with salt and pepper.
3. The fabulous bean salad from a few days ago.
4. Watermelon.
5. Canteloupe.
6. Tomatoes with fresh corn cut from the cob, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt, and olive oil.
7. Pesto over green beans and rotini pasta.

That last one is getting fancy and so deserves a recipe. Or at least sort of a recipe. When it comes to pesto, it’s a matter of taste. Adjust ingredients to yours.

Pesto over Green Beans and Pasta (serves two)

1/2 lb. green beans, snapped into 1″ pieces
1/2 lb. rotini, penne, or gemelli
2 – 3 large bunches fresh basil, stems removed
1/2 c. (or more) olive oil
1/4 c. (or more) pine nuts
4 cloves (more or less) garlic
1/2 c. (more or less) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Cook pasta as directed. Place green beens in a saucepan with about 1/4″ salted water on the bottom and cover. Puree remaining ingredients in food processor (or blender if that’s all you have). Adjust ingredients to taste. Turn green beans on high and steam for 3-5 minutes or until just tender. Drain pasta and mix all ingredients together. Serve with more Parmesan.

J.C.’s Kitchen

Today I went on an excursion to J.C.’s Kitchen on East Main Street in Durham. Much to my surprise, it’s actually the same location as Parker’s, a favorite haunt of Duke students desperate for good barbecue when I was in school there.

Mr. Parker was reputedly an ex-Army cook from WWII. He looked frail, ancient, and a little gray even in the mid-80s, when I was a frequent visitor to his restaurant. Most of his customers were black residents of the neighborhood and the mostly white students who went there for a little local color (in many senses of that word, not all of them so great). I like to think I went there because I was a Southerner and wanted Southern food, but I was in reality probably no better than any other student who showed up to be what they thought of as daring and edgy.

So here we show up 20 years later. This time I’m probably even more out of place in my business clothes. The building is the same. It’s been suspended in a state of genteel aging shabbiness, like a fifty-year-old woman addicted to plastic surgery. But it does have a fresh coat of paint and a new mural that reads, “The food is anointed and you won’t be disappointed.” Or something like that.

Inside the “new” owners have disposed of Mr. Parker’s plastic cafeteria-style trays and replaced them with styrofoam plates, set upon placemates printed with the “Footprints in the Sand” story. And there is a sense of holy wonder in the fact that Parker’s/J.C.’s Kitchen endures. The tea (iced, of course) is still like simple syrup and the barbecue doesn’t seem to have changed significantly–finely chopped, a little spicy, with no need for extra sauce (a rarity for NC barbecue, which can turn out dry).

Thank God for some stability in this crazy world.

Poop and Salad

As I was walking in to my office this morning, I felt breezily confident and airy despite the tropical 100+ heat here today because of my cool light blue linen pants, my new sunglasses, and my hair pulled back (I thought) rather elegantly. I strolled down campus drive, thinking of my own sophistication, thinking how Clinton and Stacy on What Not to Wear would view me as a veritable fashion icon.

I approached the office door, walking under a lovely magnolia tree. I pulled my hair out of its elegant updo (okay, it was a ponytail) in preparation for entering the cooler office.

And a bird pooped right on my pants.

I think that sums up today. However, for lunch, I do have a nice salad that is very easy and a good use for leftover pork. Do not let the proximity to the bird poop story put you off.

Summer Navy Bean Salad

1 pork chop, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 large tomato, cubed
1 can navy beans

Drizzle above with 2-3 tbsp. good olive oil, 2-3 tbsp. white and red balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Do not allow to spill into the bag you carry into work, as it is hard to get out of wallets, checkbooks, hairbrushes, and the serial port in your Blackberry.

The Blessed Tomato Sandwich

I wrote the column below for the Oakhurst Leaflet. After yesterday’s excursion to the Farmer’s Market, it seems like a good time to post it.

If I were to open my own restaurant, this would be the signature dish: “Summer Sandwich: Sliced heirloom tomatoes served on toasted home style bread with sea salt, cracked pepper, and mayonnaise.”

Southern natives will immediately recognize this as a gussied-up version of the humble tomato sandwich. I offer this as the signature dish for my imaginary restaurant because this ordinary concoction is to my mind one of the greatest pleasures of the summer–and with summer coming to a close, you have precious little time left to enjoy one.

No food is more perfect than the tomato while it’s in season. The plastic blobs tossed carelessly on our dinner salads and the pale tasteless linings to our fast-food sandwiches blind us to the glorious and heady wonders of an authentic, home-grown, blood-red tomato, sun-warmed and sweet. It’s the kind my grandmother described with joy in her old age: taking a jar of tomatoes she’d canned in August, she would sit down in the middle of December and lay one, whole, on a sandwich, just to get a taste of the bygone summer in the dead of winter.

Everyone who loves tomato sandwiches understands this feeling. The tomato is one of those foods whose days of wine and roses, like ours, are not terribly long. To prepare one for eating therefore requires an appropriate sense of reverence. The tomato sandwich–a blessed sacrament of warm bread and sunny tomato resting on a bed of cool creamy mayonnaise–provides a wonderful opportunity to experience this blessing.

Here is my version, honed after years of practice:

1. Go out into your garden and pick a tomato. Failing that, get the best local tomatoes you can find, preferably from a roadside farm stand. Hurry, because you won’t find them in the store from October through May.

2. Take two pieces of white bread and toast until lightly brown. Do not use wheat bread–it will overwhelm the flavor of the tomatoes and, even worse, will deteriorate into sogginess almost immediately.

3. While bread is toasting, slice your tomatoes, then halve the slices. This allows for proper distribution of the tomatoes on the bread.

4. When bread has toasted, spread a thick layer of mayonnaise (no light or nonfat!!) on both slices of bread. Distribute tomatoes over one of the slices. Salt and pepper tomato slices. A New York Italian friend who spent many years down South suggests celery salt. I am skeptical but he’s a great cook, so I offer it as a variation. Press second slice of bread on the first and cut into two triangles.

5. Pour yourself a glass of milk and head outside. Enjoy your tomato sandwiches while the last rays of summer shine on you. Then stay outside for a little longer and watch your neighbors walk by. Later, play with your children or give someone you love a phone call. Life is short, but tomatoes are still around, and there’s always hope for another summer.

Raleigh Farmer’s Market

Yesterday was my first excursion to the Raleigh Farmer’s Market, and what a great event it was. I can’t yet download pictures but will show them in all their glory in a later post.

Obviously re-invigorated by the sight of the field-grown tomatoes, the multi-colored peppers, the slightly crooked home-baked cakes, and the piles of okra, the tattered remnants of my East Tennessee accent suddenly mustered themselves and came charging out of my mouth.

“Kin ah git sum of those tahmaytahs?” I heard myself say.

“Sure, hunny.”

The best part was picking up tomatoes and knowing their ACTUAL VARIETIES: Mountain Spring, German Johnson, Brandywine. The Brandywine were by far the best I sampled but it’s easy to see why they haven’t become widely popular: not only are they tender and easily bruised, but they also look like mutated creatures from outer space. Unfortunately I ate the most interesting sample last night for supper, but it looked like a red spaceship that had sprouted multiple horns.

My wallet empty and my car full, I went home happy. I have no recipes to report–the best way to prepare vegetables this good is sprinkle them with salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and maybe some balsamic vinegar if you feel zippy.

I just wish I could transfer some of these vegetables to Fred, who is apparently subsisting on hot dogs, wings, and corned beef sandwiches.


We return to blog-land, but now with a whole new life.

This morning I start a new job in Durham, NC, leaving our beloved ATL behind. Fred has gone back there to finish his job and sell our house. He will join me in January if all goes as we hope.

I miss him. But I’m living with a friend here, enjoying reconnecting with good friends here, and glad to be starting this job. And looking forward to visiting the Raleigh Farmers Market this weekend.