Endless Summer

Blinded by the midday sun, slung high above sparse, pillowy clouds, I close my eyes and throw my head back in submission. Ice clinks against the glass in my hand as it slowly melts, shape-shifting into smaller and smaller fragments before giving up on maintaining solid form altogether. Cicadas buzz and sizzle in the heat, flooding the air with their electric symphony. All extraneous details quickly fade away; this could be anywhere in space, at any point in time.

Just like that, days turn into weeks, trickling by without particular notice, blending into one another to create the fabled “endless summer.” Undoubtedly, the heat will persist well beyond the calendar’s seasonal boundaries, strengthening that illusion with every subsequent sunny forecast. Unfortunately, that magic never lasts, choosing to suddenly disappear for its final trick. With it goes the bounty of luscious summer produce. Goodbye to the watermelon and blueberries, so long tomatoes and cucumbers; we know you’ll come visit again, but a year feels like forever away.

We can’t make summer stay, but we can preserve some of that magic. Pickling is one of the easiest ways to save these seasonal gems while injecting some extra flavor. Inspired by the classic cocktail featuring gin and lime juice, gimlet pickles transform simple seedless cucumbers into savory snacks elegant enough to act as a garnish, but without being so fussy as to stand out in a sandwich or served on a charcuterie plate.

Gin contributes a uniquely woodsy flavor, imparted by juniper berries, that reminds me of pine needles with a touch of lemon. Since that can be a bit polarizing, a popular variation on the mix uses vodka instead. Taking a page from that traditional twist, feel free to play around with any distilled spirit you prefer.

Whatever you do, don’t let summer slip away. It may feel limitless right now, but in an instant, it could be swept away by cold winds and dark days. Drink in every savory moment while you still can.

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Seoul Food

There’s nothing that lights my fire quite like smoky, charred fresh corn still hot off the grill. Juicy kernels bursting with sweetness, still golden and tender-crisp, it’s a bite of pure summer brilliance. You can practically taste the sunshine infused right down to the cob. Not a week passes without some form of corn gracing my dinner table during prime harvest season for all the ways it can be dressed up or down. My very favorite serving suggestion, without a doubt, is elote. Add in a creamy, cheesy coating that’s at once cool and refreshing yet lusciously rich, and I could very well make a meal of that alone.

That doesn’t mean I’ll always stick with conventional methods, of course. A bit of spice is always nice, but rather than the predictable bite of cayenne or chipotle, it’s even more compelling when we cross cultural boundaries for a Korean flavor infusion. Kimchi is the greatest form of spicy pickle I can think of, so when it’s blended right into a vegan mayonnaise dipping sauce, the results are more spectacular than fireworks on the 4th of July. Lucky Foods has done just that with their game-changing eggless offering here, introducing the added smoldering heat of gochugaru, the essential chili pepper that gives kimchi its distinctive punch.

If you happen to like it really hot, they’ve got you covered with potent gochujang paste, too. Beyond pure fire power, the paste offers a warm sensation with lingering heat while introducing a subtle sweetness and umami flavor from fermented soybeans. Use in moderation to really elevate your elote game.

I’m entering my K-Elote (that’s Korean Elote, of course) into the Lucky Foods Blogger Recipe Challenge! You can find more spicy ideas by visiting out Lucky Foods on Facebook and Instagram. Look their products at Whole Foods, Target, HEB, and many more stores. Wish me luck in the contest!

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Nuts About Summer Snacks

I received free samples of California Walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Walnuts and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Snacks make the world go ’round. On the go or at home, it’s easier to eat lots of small bites to keep hunger at bay, rather than two or three big meals. No matter what’s on the agenda, smart snacks are necessary to power through the day. Few foods come close to the powerful nutrition contained within the humble walnut. Research suggests walnut consumption may be associated with improved cognitive function thanks to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

That doesn’t mean that trail mix or raw nuts are the only options. This incredibly versatile nut is ideal for mixing seamlessly into all sorts of sweet and savory applications, or in this case, thoroughly coating some of summer’s best produce.

Unripe green tomatoes, firmer and tangier than their juicy red brethren, were born to be batter-fried. Fried green tomatoes are a time-honored southern staple that look like crispy gold coins and taste like a million bucks, too. Some use cornmeal, finely ground crackers, or breadcrumb for that gilded crunchy exterior, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to go a little bit nuts.

Pulverized walnuts create a completely gluten-free crust, further enhanced by aromatic herbs and spices. Though flavorful enough to satisfy cravings all by themselves, a dip into spicy remoulade sauce can really take these savory slices to the next level. That, too, is made from a creamy walnut base, demonstrating the full range of culinary potential locked inside each unassuming shell. Punchy paprika, horseradish, and hot sauce add flavor with firepower for a truly mouth-watering flavor sensation.

If a more substantial snack is called for, consider this the base for the most epic BLT ever. Replacing raw red tomatoes with fried green tomatoes adds heat and texture to this foolproof sandwich, and you can even use the remoulade instead of plain mayo. Piled high on soft slices of bread with crisp lettuce and umami meatless bacon, each bite is pure summertime brilliance. Now that’s a real snack with both brains and beauty.

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Trifling Matters

Shattered beyond repair, my once grand glass trifle dish lay in ruin. Wordlessly closing the cardboard shipping box that had become its tomb, I placed it by the door, ready for the next trip to the dumpster. No tears were shed, no outpouring of emotion could be summoned. It was a devastating loss, without a doubt, but I was already numb from uncovering the very same scene in each of the over 40 packages I shipped to save moving expenses. Of all the pieces I would mourn, the trifle was at the bottom of that list. Who really needed a vessel that would feed a crowd in the middle of a pandemic, after all?

Glorious layered affairs that are the stuff of royalty, grand parties, and celebratory gatherings throughout the centuries, there is no such thing as a small trifle. It transforms into a parfait or a verrine when scaled down; no less delicious, but a far cry from its original grandeur. Even the most humble of ingredients can become sublime in such a magnificent presentation.

This one stacks as a summery strawberry shortcake fit for a crowd. Soft cubes of freshly baked vanilla cake soak in jam like sweet sponges, layered with fresh berries, buttery custard, and clouds of whipped coconut cream. Though simple in concept, it makes a big impression as one generous, family-style indulgence.

Time heals all wounds. No, it’s not possible to put those irreparably fractured shards back together, but there is hope for a new start. A new life, a new community, and a new trifle dish; some how, they all seem linked in my mind. It’s just a trifle, but being able to share it freely with a full home of new friends feels incredibly significant.

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Rice, Rice, Baby

Young vegans today don’t even know how good they’ve got it. Back in my day, dairy-free milk was still a rarity, available only in niche health food stores. Even there, your choices were limited to only soy or rice. Oat? Almond? Cashew? Forget about it! Who knew there were so many potential sources of creamy liquid back then?

Shelf stockers at mainstream markets would either scratch their heads, dumbfounded by the request, or haplessly led you to the lactose-free cartons. For a compassionate eater living in the suburbs, without a driver’s license, that meant stocking up and paying obscene prices for the luxury of access, or getting a bit more creative.

Guess which path I chose?

When sold in watered down cartons, rice milk was usually my least favorite option, but at home, I found a crafty loophole to create a thicker, richer blend. Creating a dense rice milk concentrate, not entirely dissimilar to wallpaper paste, I could better control the viscosity, flavor, and sweetness, all while building up a stockpile to easily whip up another cup, quart, or gallon at a time if I so desired. It was cheap, effective, and highly satisfying to beat the system.

Over time, my own means of access improved along with a boom in widespread availability. Once an essential staple, that formula that served me so well fell to the back of the digital recipe box. Collecting virtual dust, forgotten until an unfortunate computer crash forced me back onto an old laptop, it suddenly popped up like a long lost friend.

Today in 2021, I don’t need to make my own rice milk in bulk (thank the stars) but the concept spoke to me in a whole new way this time around. With a few little tweaks, a little polish, and some modern upgrades, I had a beautiful, brilliant instant horchata concentrate on my hands.

Perfect for sweltering summer heat when all you need is a tall, icy drink to keep your cool, horchata is the ultimate agua fresca. Creamy but not thick or rich, subtle notes of cinnamon and almond play in the background with in delicate, balanced harmony.

By skipping the time-consuming step of soaking whole grains of rice, prep time is slashed by an eighth or more, and it’s ready to reconstitute whenever a profound thirst strikes. Whether you’re serving a solo drinker or making a pitcher for a party, this stuff is like liquid gold for a quick fix.

We may not need bulk rice milk anymore, but you can never have too much horchata.

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