Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer's Strange Effect

     I think it's appropriate for any introduction to begin with a discussion of the weather, and hope that you'll agree. After all, weather provides framework for polite conversations and inspiration for the greatest works of literature and music. It also dictates what you'll cook for dinner. 
      The cult phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze really does exist - simply as a consequence of Seattle's lack of heat. In other regions, people know "the dog days of summer," air conditioning, the smell of hot asphalt, great backyard tomatoes, brown lawns, smog, roaches, mosquitos, fireflies, and night choirs of crickets and cicadas. In the temperate Pacific Northwest, July sun can turn the landscape into a storybook spread of bright rolling hills and shimmering waters, but we escape the dramatic, character building traits of a "real summer." Seattle-ites are acclimated to mild weather. If the temperature rises above 85 degrees, forecasters issue a "severe heat advisory." There are only a handful of summer evenings where one can feel the novelty of sultry night air on the skin or the pricking surprise of a buzzing mosquito. The city's only humidity comes from clean grey rain washing away any accumulated sins - we don't know the thick stagnant drama of summer skies east of the Rockies. I grew to love the more relentless model of summer when I lived in Texas. Flying back to Seattle for a salmon-eating visit one August, I unexpectedly burst into tears as the plane touched down amid the pretty, clear skies, vividly pure evergreens and still snowy mountains. I didn't know I needed the fresh and clean environment to shock my deeply Texan summer-ridden body. 

     This year a blessing of bold summery days has replaced the more typical, pre-4th of July gloom. When it's this early in the summer and I've lost track of the last cloudy day, a Pacific Northwest miracle is taking place. Although there will never be any crickets or cicadas chirping me to sleep, could it be that summer, in some respectable form, has arrived early? A party begins brewing in my mind, and I tap into all that is odd, surprising or pointless. Around my parents house I walk down the street and hear a kid practicing the recorder - the pathetic strains of a snake charmer sounding melodic minor scale, with obsessive repetitions of the augmented 6th to 7th step. On the next block - dutifully played scales from a 12 year old boy's saxophone, which compulsively break out into the hook from Macklemore's Thrift Shop. One more block and I walk past the house Macklemore grew up in. I recall crossing paths on the street with the future rapper and his basketball, back when I was 12. I make notes to myself - "Things to Google: Naval gazing. Arabesque. Linden trees." I read three books in a row by the same author, who becomes a dear new friend. I manage to get horrific sunburn, and find myself writing a blog. Clearly, there's a party in my mind.

And here is a party of a meal. Last Sunday, I believe it hit that sweet and controversial 85 degrees. Matt jumped into Lake Washington before dinner. Dinner was taken fully Al Fresco, to the backyard. 

     There's a small secret in my glass of iced mint tea, shown above. Not being a person who lets a simple pleasure alone, I had to improve it with splashes of rose water and orange blossom water.  I don't suppose you have a bottle of either lying around? They are found at middle eastern grocery stores and sometimes at Whole Foods. I continued to sneak rosewater into other varieties of tea and even ice water this week, but I know that you'd rather hear about Grilled Chicken Under a Brick. Under Two Bricks. I don't suppose you have two bricks lying around? Of course, Linda did. They were already wrapped in foil, waiting patiently in the cellar for their time of service. When you remove the backbone from a chicken and split it open, you are "Spatchcocking" it, yes, that's the term. Placing bricks on top of the chicken produces a crisper skin, reduces cooking time, and yields juicy evenly cooked meat. 

Chicken Under a Brick, Zesty Salad with Pickled Pink Beets and Mama Lil's Peppers, and Corn and Black Bean Quinoa Salad

   When I am in charge of making a salad, it inevitably turns out "Zesty." I throw in pickled this and spicy that with some abandon, and maintain that salad leaves need to be additionally salted, as you would salt meat or season pasta water. Here is a nice trick to change up any standard oil and vinegar salad dressing: whisk in some mayonnaise and mustard until you have a slightly thick and creamy emulsion. It will give any green salad a great zing. 

The colorful quinoa salad

      I promise that we will be sharing some original McElroy recipes of our own invention in the future, but surely I don't need to point out the fact that we live in post-postmodern times. Even the most creative foodies are now doomed to re-cook and re-hash the same old creations. I swear we could have invented this quinoa salad, but the editors of a cooking magazine beat us to it. However, as a great teacher once told me, "Great art is about Unity and Variety." There is always something to keep the same and something to change. In that spirit, please do not follow our version of the recipe below exactly. Should you decide to make it, let your reality of a summer day guide the ingredients and outcome. 

Corn and Black Bean Quinoa Salad 
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine

1 can black beans
3 poblano peppers
2/3 cup red quinoa
2 ears shucked corn
olive oil
1/2 of a large red onion, sliced
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 lime
a large tomato or cherry tomatoes
fresh cilantro to taste
1 chopped avocado

Preheat oven broiler on high and broil peppers on a baking sheet, 4 inches from heat source. Turn them frequently until they are charred, 10-14 minutes. If you have a gas range, you can char them directly on the stove flame. Put them in a bowl covered in plastic wrap, leave for 1o minutes and then peel skins, getting rid of the stems and seeds inside. Chop into strips and then cut into small squares. 
Bring plenty of water to a boil and add quinoa - cook until tender, 10 to 14 minutes, then drain well. 
You can boil the corn for three minutes at the same time, then allow to cool before slicing the kernels off. 
Sautee onion in oil until it's nice and brown.
Combine all these things in a bowl and add two or three tablespoons of olive oil, lime juice and salt to taste. Right before serving, fold in chopped tomatoes, avocado and cilantro. Sprinkle the feta cheese on top. 


  1. I have changed the comment settings, and anyone is free to comment, no need to be registered for anything.

  2. This is awesom, Megan!!! I cant wait for more recipes!

  3. Oops Megan, you forgot to add salt. Just salt to taste people!


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