Yep, the Fourth of July is just around the corner and that means THE BEACH! Summertime fun, room for everyone. But for me the best part is the planning of the menu. I have sent out the request for suggestions. Missy wants seafood Paella again, Macon wants steak, I want red snapper, Billy wants shrimp. What I love to do is stroll through the food blogs to get ideas. My mother gives me a subscription to Fine Cooking and there are lots of recipes in there. We try to grill in the evenings to keep the kitchen and the rest of the house cool. So I have already been watching the meat sales and planning menu ideas around that. We will go out to Mayport to buy fish and shrimp just off the boat. We will go to the farmers market on Beaver street to get produce when we go into town to visit my mother. As the groceries come into the house we begin preparing the various dishes for the day. Some of it we can make in advance, like cold soups for lunch, and the never-ending fruit salad. The desserts will be baked, and put out for nibbling. But the best part is the trying out new recipes, sometimes they are put in the permanent rotation, others well it seemed like a good idea at the time. If you are in the kitchen late in the afternoon you will be put to work peeling, chopping, dicing or something to get the meal prepared. Nobody needs to be told when to uncork the wine but it happens and the pace accelerates from there as the kitchen becomes the social hub of the house. Some folks are put to work setting the table, that in of itself is a task since the number usually floats depending on the visitors from the afternoon who decide to stay for dinner. Then the dinner bell rings and we go through the buffet line and take our plates to the table. We sometimes eat inside, sometimes on the deck, either way always enjoying the camaraderie of summer.
As for breakfasts I have been working on biscuits, and I might just have found the secret, White Lily flour. I made a batch last night that was wonderful. It seems it has a little lower protein content than other flours and that makes the difference. Two cups of flour, quarter cup of butter cut into the flour, then two-thirds cup plus a splash of buttermilk mixed in and then roll onto a counter dusted with all-purpose flour, knead the dough for a three or four times, then roll out and cut into circles for baking at 500 degrees for about eight minutes. They were light, airy, and buttery. Click here to watch how to make biscuits. I will try another batch with half butter and half shortening to add some flakiness. I am also working on homemade breakfast sausage. Trying different combinations of spices to get the right flavor. Usually breakfast is a two-hour ordeal as the custom orders are prepared when the diners wander into the kitchen. So we have a never-ending fruit salad, on some days bacon and others sausage, eggs any way you like ’em, pancakes, frittata, french toast among other menu selections rotating daily.
Lunch is usually catch as catch can, a medley of leftovers, cold soups, sandwiches, and salads for those around midday. It happens sometime after the last breakfasts are cleaned up and before the late afternoon dinner preparation begins. Lunch is described in two words; serve yourself.
The best part of the deal is that cooking keeps me in the house during the afternoon and that makes my dermatologist super happy. So what happens we will get the kitchen ramped up to full speed by late afternoon prepping the food and get everything staged so it all comes to the table at the same time and serve dinner around seven. We eat, recount the events of the day, talk about tomorrow and tell stories, jokes, and embellish memories of summers past. Then after the kitchen has been cleaned we grab the chairs to head to the beach far enough into the ocean to get our feet wet, swap stories of the past year, and laugh late into the evening. Then we go to bed and the next day awaken to do it again.
To some people it looks like a lot of work but for me it is the sharpening of the saw and very relaxing. We see Missy’s high school classmates and their families and we have been doing this for I can’t remember how long, well long enough for all the kids to get grown up and have jobs so that some make it and some can’t get off work. Maybe the constant of the beach visit is what has made aging seem gracious and natural. Maybe the lessons of life shared amongst friends make the sting of disappointments abate and mellows the hubris of accomplishments from the past years. There is an ebb and flow to life, and when you can honestly compare notes with long time friends it smooths out the peaks and valleys and makes it more level. This is what makes this time of year so special for me.