Man alive. Crack an egg on the blacktop because Summer is here, folks. This past week it's been far too hot – even with the air conditioning – to consider using the oven, also too hot to step out into the elements to grill. Plus, The Mosquitos are coming. Since my visual cooling aid, Game of Thrones (its Winter hath finally cometh), has wrapped things up for the year (RIP Jon Snow), I may very well have to seek out some Dr. Zhivago. All three and half hours of it.
I'm not complaining. Well, I am. But also, I'm not. I love Summer. I love all of my memories of Summers. But the thing is, those impressions I recall, when I really dissect them, were all before age twenty-five. Every damn one. The wistful recollections of cicada-filled dusks, leaping off twenty-foot high rocks into the river at night with reckless abandon, sitting out on my back deck in a tee shirt and cutoff shorts watching a thunderstorm, scampering around a field of grass at dusk trying to catch fireflies, camping with my friends in the woods, on the beach. I was wild and free. I know the smells, sounds and sights of those Summers like I know my own reflection.
Or do I?
Either more than a decade in LA (such a dramatically different landscape and climate) or just plain old forty-year oldness has caused a radical shift in my perception. Because I don't remember being this HOT. Were there always so many of The Mosquitos? And, my word, the humidity. BUT SERIOUSLY, WAS IT ALWAYS SO HOT?!
Recently, after a couple hours working backyard in the garden and covered in sweat, I sat rooted three feet from the air conditioner in our living room waving my hands in front of my face to speed up the gusts of cool air onto my skin. Over the abrasive 'on' sounds from our antique of a window unit, I could faintly hear a song pop up on my iPad's shuffle in the next room that caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, and I was immediately transported.
Each Summer from our late teens to early twenties, Paz, Sam, Spencer and I would go camping on the beach in Hatteras. We would take Spencer's dad's banged up, mud brown contractor's van, loaded up with our tent, food and drinks, whatever 'entertainment' supplies we deemed necessary, a boom box with loads of cassette tapes, and piles of pillows and blankets for the back of the van as there were no seats save for the driver and shotgun. Paz and I would sprawl out in the back and the boys would be up front, taking turns driving.
The drive was, is, beautiful, especially in the Summer – so green and lush. We would take the smaller, more bucolic roads, stop at little farm stands or yard sales, some would be one and the same. I remember picking up a handful ripe tomatoes and peaches in addition to a fantastic, old, perfectly seasoned cast iron pan at one stop. The drive was just as important as camping and the beach. For us, together, it was all one big, magnificent adventure. We were all wild and free.
One year, on that very drive – I can't remember if it was on the way to or returning from the beach – Paz and I were lying in the back of that old, hot, oil-smelling van with the sweet Summer air whipping through, weaving in and out of lazy, dazy napping. At one point I blinked open my eyes to the warm, orange light of the low sun streaking through the windshield. Sam and Spencer, backlit and shirtless with their tan forearms propped out of the windows, sat silently as a song on the tape deck, grainy from so much play, swirled all around us. It was one of those moments where, even then, I knew was a Forever Moment. That moment, and henceforth, that song summed up our journey, our Summer, our youth, our friendship, and our wild freedom. I didn't dare say a word.
And with my heart filled with love and pure happiness, I closed my eyes again, listened to Nanci Griffith and John Prine sing The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness from that crackly tape and drifted back into that blissed out twilight sleep.
"You're out there running just to be on the run..."
To be desperately sitting in front of an air conditioning unit in my living room and suddenly have THAT SONG appear out of the thousands and thousands of songs that could have come up in the shuffle... well. The Gods of Summer had spoken. And, also perhaps The Gods of Shuffle. They're real.
I marched right into my bedroom to get my tee shirt and cutoff shorts, stripped Emerson down to nekked, grabbed Fred and went out into the hot, humid, mosquito-filled Summer afternoon. While Emerson and I splished and splashed in the baby pool, Fred sparked up the grill. In the warm, orange light of the low sun, we sat as a family around the picnic table (with lots of citronella candles) in the backyard and ate grilled hamburgers and sipped cold wine (Emerson had cold water). As the first cicadas of the year began to sing, my heart ached just a little that those Summers are so far in my past, but began to swell thinking about those that lie ahead for my daughter. For she is wild and free.
The Ultimate Summer Burger
(Directions adapted from Bon Appetît, June 2015)
Makes 2 glorious cheeseburgers
1 pound Ground Beef
2 generous slices cheddar cheese
1 large ripe tomato
1 medium red onion
2 large leaves lettuce
½ cup Sriracha mayonnaise (1 part Sriracha to 2 parts Duke's mayonnaise)
A burger is only as good as the meat you use to make it. So I say, go grass-fed.
The enemy to any burger is overworking. Avoid excessive mixing when forming the patties, and use as light a touch as possible. Aim for about 8 ounces of meat for each burger, and use your finger to create a small divot in the center. The burger will expand as it cooks. And do your delicious buns a favor: Resist the urge to overpack your burger. A dense burger is not a tender burger.
Once you place your burgers on a medium-hot grill, do not press or squish them down with a spatula. That releases all of the fat right onto the flames. Not only would you create a potential fire hazard, but also you’d waste all that juicy goodness. Just let them do their thing for about 5 minutes, then gently flip. They’ll become beautifully browned all on their own.
Add your cheese after you flip the burger, then cover the grill. Keeping the heat trapped in the dome will make the cheese melt faster and more evenly, meaning it’ll be perfectly gooey by the time the burger finishes cooking. At This point place the split buns face down on the grill to get them both a little toasty and a little steamy.
From here, build your power tower of choice. Load 'em up with any combination of lettuce, tomato, onion and your special sauce. We love the creamy kick of Sriracha mayo!
One year ago: Janie's Summer Harvest
Two years ago: Double-Dipped Buttermilk & Chile Vinegar Fried Chicken
Three years ago: Fresh Mint & Chip Ice Cream
Four years ago: An Evening in Gruissan.
Five years ago: Shiso Leaf Butter