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Garden Lifestyle

Dog Days of Summer

I don’t know about the rest of you throughout the country… it is as hot as the dickens here!

  • Here's what is in season in my garden as well as the local farmers' market. Click on pix to enlarge and read captions.  
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Eggplants are one of my top five favorite foods; they come in a variety of shapes and colors and there are infinite ways to prepare them.
  • Some folks think of okra as slimy, however they mustn't have had it prepared right! I prefer the smaller ones best.
  • My friend Pat Crocker, gifted me with this tagine and am I ever lucky! I can fill it with veggies early in the day, place it over low heat, stir it a few times, and voila! I have a mouthwatering vegetable stew ready for supper. Eggplant, green beans, okra and tomatoes--yum!
  • Everyone likes beans--green or yellow--I enjoy them steamed with a light vinaigrette using savory (known as bohnenkraut--the bean herb) or in my recipe for Three Bean Salad.

I don’t know about the rest of you throughout the country… it is as hot as the dickens here! The past few days have reached 100° F and above. The ancient Romans actually came up with the term for dog days of summer in reference to Sirius, also called the ‘dog star’, which is the brightest star in the summer sky found in the Canis Major constellation. From about July 24 to August 24 was thought to be an evil time; the dog star shone so bright it was believed to give off heat and was the cause of the hot weather. The Farmers’ Almanac refers to the dog days of summer as the 40 days from July 3 to August 11, when we have the least amount of rain in the Northern Hemisphere. Whatever and whenever, these dog days are wicked hot and you’ll find most dogs and people lying around if they are able to do so.

I haven’t reported in for a couple of weeks. The first week of July, I went to the Outer Banks for vacation with my family. There were 14 of us with an age range of 13 months to 84 years—so it was fairly nonstop—and not exactly what I would describe as relaxing. It was however, fun and pretty much my whole family loves the beach. I especially like the Outer Banks, since they are more remote than many beach vacation spots. We always stop on our way south; once we cross the bridge onto the island we picked up local corn, tomatoes, melons and some of the best peaches which we enjoyed all week. We stayed at the very edge of the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge so we had a great view of the Pamlico Sound for bird watching, sunsets, not to mention a constant sea breeze. Tomaso is a windsurfer so we took windsurfers and sails, a stand-up paddle board and a two-person ocean kayak for family recreation and the wind blew every day.  I meant to blog from the beach… it just didn’t happen.

My sister-in-law who stayed at home, watered the outdoor pots, greenhouse and filled the birdbaths while we were gone. I cut herbs to dry the day before I left and they dried while we were gone. The garden seemed to have grown in leaps and bounds in the one week that we were gone. Beans, squash, eggplant and chiles were ready to harvest; tomatoes are still green so I have yet to harvest my first of the season, although I have been harvesting cherry tomatoes.

I wasn’t home long and had to pack up and get ready for the International Herb Association conference in Midland, Michigan. That was another nonstop event—huge work and big fun and just about as hot there as it is here in Maryland. I shall tell you about the highlights from there in the next post. I just got home on Thursday and am making easy summer suppers that I want to share with you along with a few recipes.

What to serve when it’s too hot to cook
I just don’t want to cook much in this weather, especially since we have no a.c. and I don’t want to heat up the house. If I do cook—I try to do it in the early morning or at night— and do make ahead dishes that will last a few days. Some standbys are pesto, salsa verde, bean spread or hummus made with garden herbs and garlic, used to spread on just about any summer vegetable or sandwich or toss with pasta. I like to sauté or steam veggies such as squash, eggplant, beans, okra and corn and dress or marinade them and let them stand during the day; then I don’t have to make the kitchen hot at suppertime.

Sometimes I make a pasta or potato salad or slaw and have that ready in the fridge. I love egg salad, deviled eggs or frittata and of course bean salads of every type. Summer-ripe tomatoes, sliced or chopped, can stand on their own, however combined with cucumbers, chiles, onions, garlic, herbs, and /or avocadoes they make for an infinite variety of tasty salads. Although most of my tender spring lettuces are long gone, I still am eating the hardier greens and harvest salads of spinach and arugula in the morning before they wilt, and have them washed and chilled for the evening meal. I keep a variety of cheeses, olives, pickled veggies and pickles handy and with some good-quality bread and garden produce, who needs anything more than maybe a cold beer, fruity cocktail or glass of wine? Cut up you honeydew, cantaloupe or watermelon into chunks and put in the fridge so it is ready and chilled.  Keep it simple, prepare ahead and chill out on these dog days. Check out my favorite Herbed Three Bean Salad with Tangy Vinaigrette for an easy tasty recipe using yellow or green beans—it is even better the next day—if there is any left over!

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