Tuesday, July 22, 2014

a typical Summer dinner.

There's a reason Summer is a celebrated season in so many parts of the world.  If you're a child, it means weeks or months of time away from school.  Depending on where you live, it might represent the time when the sun finally conquers the snow or rain, or it might be the time when certain favorite fruits and vegetables finally become available again.

Recent immigrants and visitors to San Diego like to complain about the lack of seasons here.  They remark how much they miss the proper seasons of their home (though I notice that most seem hesitant to leave.)  For those of us who've been here most (or all) of our lives, however, there are definitely distinct seasons, each with their own flavors, scents, and feelings.  Yes, the changes are more understated.  I prefer to think we San Diegans are in-tune enough with our environment that we don't need some garish lightshow of leaves changing colors to know when Autumn has arrived, or the first snowstorm to know when Winter is coming.  We can smell these in the air, and sense it in the way the sun feels on our skin.

Summer arrives with similar subtlety.  It is not the sudden brash arrival of hot days, we can have those any time of the year.  It is not the remarkable absence of rain or snow - they are rare enough to be a curiosity (or a miracle) in any month.  Summer in San Diego is the end of "May Grey" and "June Gloom".  The shift in humidity and the lack of onshore flow from the Pacific changes everything.  If you're an early riser, you'll smell the change in the native sagebrush as it starts to dry out and prepare for the late-summer bloom. The transition period can be a rough one for those prone to hayfever or allergies.

One of the markers of Summer we notice the most is the difference around dusk.  The sun sits higher in the sky, so porticos and pergolas have provided cooling shade through the day, but the days are longer.  As the sun finds the horizon, oblique, orange light filters in under our precious canopies and casts a glow on these spaces.   Evening mealtime tends to coincide with sunsets and the cooling breezes that seem to rush out as the sun finds the ocean.  

So of course, Summer for my family means dining outside.  Between late June and early October, it seems we take almost every evening meal on our patio (to the point we tend to allow the dining room table to become covered in junk mail and preschool art work.)  On many days, dining outside happens out of pure necessity; all the food comes from the grill, as putting any energy into the home envelope via cooking would be an act of madness.

On this evening, our meal begins with a simple salad of grape tomatoes, ciliegine mozzarella, and homegrown basil tossed with just a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

This day was cool enough that using the oven was not utter suicide, so I roasted a half-sheet worth of halved Brussels sprouts tossed in olive oil and salt.  Since the oven was already hot, it was an easy choice to add a second half-sheet, filled with quartered red potatoes herbed with fresh oregano and thyme from the garden.  

These alone with a glass of Chardonnay from our favorite local winery is enough for my wife the vegetarian.  My daughter and I split some nearly-healthy chicken piccata (with a minimum of flour and omitting the butter).  I'm impressed and proud that she likes such strong flavors in her chicken, but I only wish the same were true for the Brussels sprouts.

I admit, this meal is built of what some would call "Fall" flavors, but by July we have already gorged ourselves on early-arrival "Summer fare" from Mother's garden.  Corn, green beans, and peaches have to be eaten immediately.  The "Second Summer" of homegrown nectarines and tomatoes is coming, though. Visitors and newcomers probably won't tell you, but the locals with good internal clocks and calendars know that Summer came slowly in 2014.  June Gloom lasted into July this year, so Summer arrived late.  Will that mean Fall arrives late as well?  If you are curious, come October, find a local and ask them.