March is one of the busy months of the year, with spring arriving, St. Pat’s being grogged, daylight saving springing forward, and thoughts of summer time pleasures just around that next bend. There are many things that make the arrival of spring more than just pleasant, and one that gets me going is thinking about spring and summer foods.
I grew up in a small town, Santa Cruz, CA, it’s on the north end of Monterey Bay, and back in the 30s and 40s there were three driving industries: Agriculture, Commercial and Sport Fishing, and Tourism. With the exception of tourism, Santa Cruz today is not the community I grew up in.
The agriculture and fishing were dominated by a strong Italian community, flavored with Mexican farm laborers, and despite the fact our family is primarily Irish, the influence of Italian and Mexican food held sway over our table. My mother was an excellent cook, and my grandmother was an excellent people person. She said to me one time, “Oh, Grandson of mine, I see some possible personality flaws that suggest you just might spend many years alone. Learn to cook, it will save your life.” Grand words from a grand lady, and possibly a seer of the future.
Here’s one for you a little down the line. Take a French roll or a hamburger bun, split, and slap some garlic aioli on one side, lay one or two thick cut fresh tomato slices on, layer several basil leaves and cover with crumbled goat cheese. Slather some horseradish on the other bun, pour some nicely chilled white wine, and contemplate the meaning of the universe as you enjoy this repast.
Spring and summer dining, whether at the beach, in a camp deep in the forest, or in a backyard full of screaming neighborhood kids, simply can’t be beat. Mom, dad, and us three kids would go to Twin Lakes beach, half a block from where we lived, dad and us kids would gather drift wood for the fire, mom would make salad and cut long loaves of French bread, lengthwise.
Dad would dig a hole in the sand, fill it with drift wood and light the fire. We’d put a large cast iron kettle about one third filled with seawater, put one small length of sea weed in the pot, and all of us would take our shovels and go dig clams, bringing them to the pot. Mom would put a half-gallon jug of white wine in the pot just before the clams were ready.
Fill your bowl with clams and that wonderful broth, rip off great chunks of French bread, maybe look at the salad, and have a magnificent summer evening, watching the sun settle into the blue Pacific. God I miss those days. They can never be brought back, but with slight alteration, the food can come close. Steamed clams over an open fire, or BBQ them on a grill, and make a good dipping sauce or broth, close your eyes, and listen for the sound of the surf breaking on the beach.
Patty and I spend hours at our picnic table all spring, summer, and fall, the table spread with lunches or snacks or dinners. I’ve actually worn out, burned it through, a Weber grill. But it’s always the spring and summer meals and snacks that stand out. My daughter Trish makes and exceptional bleu cheese dressing, and smeared over a piping hot rib steak will make you want to dance and sing. Add that glass of deep burgundy, and you will.
Throw me some of your favorite ideas for spring and summer dining and I’ll make them a part of an upcoming blog. Until next time, read good books and stay regular.
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