SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Fat and happy as a tick on a lazy dog: A state of being whereby one happily rolls along with no bigger aim than to suck up the bounty that’s readily available. Interchangeable with “happy as a clam in sand at high tide”: The living is easy.
The Dog Days of Summer are in full flower. Sunrise occurs before 6:30 a.m. and sunset follows after 7:30 p.m. The cicadas and frogs and crickets make sexy music every night in an atmospheric “bath” where the humidity hovers above 50 percent and the 24-hour temperature cycle doesn’t drop below 70 degrees.
But a change is about to come.
Here in Oxford we can spot the signs of seasonal change, even in early August. Blue and red folding tailgate tables go on display at the local stores. Orange construction traffic cones disappear overnight along major thoroughfares. Newly striped parking lots suddenly appear all over town. A mountain of ramen noodles occupies an aisle at the Walmart. And most telling of all, lumbering yellow school buses begin rumbling down suburban streets before 7 am.
It happened this week, all too soon. Call me an old-school fuddy-duddy, but I still adhere to the philosophy of no school before Labor Day. I believe in making hay while the sun shines.
Folks here in Oxford and Lafayette County tend to support that philosophy. We pride ourselves on our (relative) intelligence and worldly sophistication. But we love to get down into the dirt. Literally. If in doubt, just show up at our local farmers’ markets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Two weekends ago, I was reminded of why I love the farmers’ market experience. Before 9 am I had already greeted and hugged friends whose lives similarly take them around the globe. We had caught up with a bit of local gossip and avoided the pitfalls of discussing politics. Everybody was in our happy place, the mood enhanced by the musical entertainment always on tap at the Saturday morning market.
On the way home, I planned ways to use the bounty overflowing the bags snuggling each other against the floorboards of the car.
Here’s how my free-form thinking went.
“How do I love thee, ripe tomatoes, okra, peas, squash, peaches, peppers, fresh herbs, eggplant, cantaloupe and cucumbers?
“Let me count the ways.
“In white bread sandwiches with Duke’s mayo. Breaded with cornmeal and fried in a cast-iron skillet. Stewed with onions and baked with egg and cheese. Sliced, eaten plain, or transformed into cobbler. Pickled with vinegar and chopped into casseroles….”
I daydreamed and planned while listening to a radio transmission of Rameau’s Suite in D Major. The musical fireworks created by the orchestra exploded in my ears in notes of blue and white and red with splashes of yellow and orange and green and violet. At that moment, on that Saturday morning, Rameau and I were in perfect harmony with the colors of the summer market.
End-of-summer change be damned. I’m still sweating and it’s a good thing. Besides, Labor Day’s still weeks away.
GRILLED EGGPLANT WITH LIME DIP
This simple lime dip is the perfect foil for grilled slices of eggplant dusted with Greek seasoning, or seasoned potato fries. The seasoned and dipped eggplant slices will be as tasty as any fries.
3/4 c mayonnaise
1/4 c Dijon mustard
1/4 c fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
Two young (medium size) aubergine or white eggplants
Extra virgin olive oil
Cavender’s Greek seasoning
Combine mayo, mustard, lime juice and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk until completely blended. Scrape into a jar, cover tightly, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Peel and slice eggplant one-quarter to one-half-inch thick. Brush with olive oil and grill outdoors or bake for 15-20 minutes, turning at midpoint in a preheated oven set to 350˚F. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Cavender’s while still hot. Dot with Lime Dip and serve.
CORN AND BLACK BEAN SALSA
This recipe was adapted from a Fort Worth friend’s Tex-Mex version. It’s great for dipping with crisp tortilla chips. I also like to sprinkle this salsa onto a warm tostada dressed with layers of hot refried beans, queso cheese and chopped lettuce.
2 to 3 c cooked corn, cut off the cob (about 3 ears or 2 cans)
15-oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 bell pepper, fine-chopped
1/2 c chopped green onion
1/2 c fine-chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
Firm, medium-size slicing tomato, chopped
1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped fine
Large avocado, chopped
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
2 T fresh lime juice (about 2 big limes)
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped fine
1/4 c corn juice (from the can or from the boil water)
Drop the fresh ears of corn into boiling, salted water. Boil for 7 minutes then remove from water and plunge into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and cool before cutting off the cobs.
Combine all the veggies in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, cilantro and corn juice. Whisk well. Pour over the bowl of veggies and toss to blend. Refrigerate for at least an hour, stir or fold gently to remix before serving.
GREEK BEAN AND TOMATO SALAD
This is a light-tasting side salad chock full of nutrients. Make sure the green beans are cooked but not mushy — too al dente, on the other hand, and they will taste raw, not blending properly with the other ingredients.
4 c cut green beans, steamed until tender
1 c cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or 2 slicing tomatoes, diced)
1 c canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 c sliced and chopped pepperoncini peppers
1 T juice from pickled pepperoncini peppers
1 c diced sweet onion
1/2 c chopped green onion
1 c Italian dressing
2 tsp Cavender’s Greek seasoning
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 c crumbled feta cheese
String and cut the green beans and steam until fork tender but not mushy (they are still bright green). Remove immediately and plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water. Chill for 10 minutes before draining. Toss with remaining ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve.
SIMPLE SUMMER SALAD DRESSING
This dressing is fantastic when tossed with one or two large packages of mixed spring greens Be sparing and add only enough dressing to coat but not drench the greens. I doubled the recipe and we made enough salad to serve 110 workshop attendees. It was as though I had channeled my preacher’s-wife grandmother, who left me recipes for feeding 100 people.
1 c extra light (extra virgin) olive oil
1/3 c fruit-infused golden balsamic vinegar (pomegranate or cranberry-pear)
1/4 c honey
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 to 3/4 tsp Hawaiian (or regular) sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Whisk vigorously in a bowl or combine all ingredients in a quart jar, cover tightly, and shake until completely blended, about 3-5 minutes. Use at room temperature. Refrigerate leftover dressing for up to a month. Remove from fridge and bring back to room temperature before each use.
Serve this dressing on a tossed salad or as a dip for meat shish kebob, grilled shrimp or salmon.
1 c mayonnaise
2 T lemon juice
1/2 to 3/4 tsp Smokin’ Chili infused sea salt, or two parts salt to one part red pepper flakes
1 c seedless cucumber, chopped and well drained
1/2 c unsweetened whipped or sour cream, creme frâiche or plain Greek yogurt
Puree the cucumber with all ingredients except the whipped cream, creme frâiche or yogurt. Fold in the cream ingredient until blended. Do not puree or it will break down the thickness. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.