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Of Woods and Words: Summertime and the Eating is Easy

Rhubarb Pie Photo by Zak Hubbard on Flickr
Rhubarb Pie Photo by Zak Hubbard on Flickr

FinalCut_OWW06082011.mp38.52 MB

If you know where to look, it’s easy to tell when the summer season is upon us at the cabin. You could check in the bay to see if the neighbors’ seaplane is parked at its summer dock. You could note whether the cabin’s yard and gardens are looking rather tidy while the cleanliness of the cabin’s interior slowly deteriorated. Or you could just look in the fridge.

Summer’s officially arrived when the potatoes and carrots in the bottom of the fridge’s crisper drawer get smothered under an avalanche of green beans, Brussels sprouts, spinach, zucchini. Although our little garden is a long way off from providing food for the table, I get so excited this time of year when the grocery store produce sections grow lush and green. The items on the shelves stop looking like they’ve just survived a bumpy ride from somewhere very far away. I find myself throwing armloads of produce into the cart during my weekly shopping trip, only to spend the rest of the week frantically trying to use everything before it goes bad. Granted, you can also tell it’s summer when you can consistently find a couple containers of fuzzy, molding leftovers in the fridge’s deep, dark corners.

That frantic sense that everything must be done right now before summer is going, going, gone infuses everyday existence this time of year. I watch the wildflowers start to cycle through their season of blooms so rapidly I can hardly keep up, flashing from violets to marsh marigolds to columbine, moccasin flowers, and wild roses. As the days grow longer and longer and longer, I want to yell “stop.”

I want the world to hold still for a moment, to let the columbine bloom a day or two more before some other even more fantastic bloom comes out. I want to savor each green bean I find on my plate, but the sheer quantity of veggies in the fridge dictates that I must grill up heaps of veggies each night. The lowly green bean or broccoli, or what have you, gets lost in the shuffle. I can’t make summer slow down, so I chop, chop, chop vegetables, trying to cook up as much summer goodness as possible while simultaneously creating meals that are often consumed while standing up.

In summer, things get sloppy. There’s always some other task to move onto and meals are rarely leisurely. As winter slogs by in its slow stately way, I think nothing of spending the dark evening hours standing in the kitchen, chopping and dicing vegetables, sautéing onions, and stirring a gently simmering pot, waiting for dinner to slowly cook to perfection. In the summertime, I try to find meals I can make in 15 minutes. I feel growing exasperation over the fact that every meal creates dirty dishes, which are just about the last thing I want to spend my already thinly stretched minutes on.

They say summertime’s when the living’s easy. I’m not sure about that, but I do know summertime’s when the eating grows easy, when meals turn into somewhat thoughtless collections of calories. Yet, as I try to savor everything this crazy season called summer has to offer, I know sometimes I’m the one who really needs the reminder to slow down.

After all, technically it’s still spring, and while we have many hasty meals ahead of us before the leaves start to turn, I know this summer will also contain many meals meant to be consumed on the deck or at picnic bench with family and friends. During those meals, the food is just a precursor to gathering as the conversation burbles happily and often bursts into laughter. But every once in a while, the crowd grows quiet, and we pause to stare out across the lake and let the world hold still for a moment.