The fresh fragrance of fall has greeted my nose as my golden retriever, Gracie, and I have been out for our brisk morning walks together. It's that exhilarating smell that signals the transition of summer to autumn. It prompts me to say good-bye to the comfort I've settled into during one season and get ready to embrace new experiences of the days ahead. I remember feeling the same way when I was a child anticipating the start of a new school year.
For Midwesterners who love to eat food fresh from the garden, this is the best time of year. Local gardens are teaming with bright heavy tomatoes, slender green beans, colossal cabbages, a variety of peppers, zucchini almost as long as my arms - all kinds of vegetables - fresh and full of flavor. I am getting a few tomatoes and some gorgeous Hungarian and Bulgarian peppers from my own garden, but other than herbs, that's all I can get to grow.
Last summer when I was spending time with my young granddaughter, the ice cream truck rolled down the street. We could hear the lilting, clearly recognizable music coming from the truck when it was a block or two away. Suddenly, I was a child again. We ran into the house for some money, in a panic the truck would come by before we got back outside. And then we giggled with excitement as that feeling of great relief washed through us when we could hear the music getting closer. Sitting cross-legged on the grass near the curb, we waited and thought about what cold sweet treat we might choose.
When my husband and I travel, we find our stops seem to be all about food. One of our favorite activities when we get out of town is exploring restaurants that are new to us. Ethnic restaurants are a favorite. One of our recent discoveries was an Indian restaurant in Fridley, Minn. Arriving at midday, we were in time to choose Indian food from the lunch buffet. And that is where I learned of pakora.
I've been to wine tasting parties, cheese tastings and olive oil tastings, but a garlic tasting party? Never. When veteran gardener Carol Schmidt invited me to her farm near Pelican Rapids, Minn., to sample some of the 20 varieties of garlic she grows, I immediately said yes. A small basket of plump garlic bulbs sits on my kitchen counter at all times. I find the small nutritionally rich vegetable indispensable and I use at least a couple of cloves a day in my cooking.
Fresh long, seedless cucumbers are showing up at the farmers market and some grocery stores that carry produce from local growers. I buy cucumbers just as I buy fresh tomatoes - only in the summer when I can get them from local farmers or pluck them from the two plants I have in my little garden.
Hot summer weekend afternoons are meant for lounging with friends on a pontoon boat floating down the Mississippi River. Preferably with a cooler full of ice and beverages. It's best followed with a dinner made by friends. Our last lazy cruise was followed by a bowtie pasta dish at a table for four in a cozy screened porch. My boating friend pulled the dinner together in no time. While the pasta pot was bubbling, she mixed a zesty vinaigrette, chopped cherry tomatoes, minced red onion and sliced fresh basil, then tossed everything together in a big pasta bowl. Done. In minutes. No sweat.
As soon as I see shiny dark red cherries in the grocery store, my mind floods with memories of summer days spent with my grandparents on their Indiana farm. Midway through the summer, my dad would pack up the trunk of the Chrysler and drive me and my mom and my brother from our home in St. Paul all the way to the Indiana farm - in a car with no air conditioning. Hot kids sharing a back seat can get cranky. I'm sure that annual drive was not a high point of parenthood for my mom and dad. Once at the farm, though, it was three weeks of bliss.
Sometimes it takes baby steps, or baby tastes, before we realize we actually like a certain type of food. For some, it might have been a first bite of a Reuben sandwich that led to a love of sauerkraut. For others, a bit of tapenade dabbed on a goat cheese-topped cracker that led to an appreciation of olives. For me, it was my first taste of crispy baked pieces of torn kale that led to an affinity for the firm green leaves with thick hardy stems. I'm a newcomer to the versatile world of kale.
I had my eye on an old ice cream maker at an antique shop a couple of weeks ago. I found it when I was crouching on the floor digging through a cardboard box filled with an array of treasures someone must have dropped off at the shop. It was an old hand-cranked model with a deep narrow tin inside of a round wooden container, with room for packing in plenty of salt and ice. I took the old ice cream maker up to the counter. I was getting close to the purchase when I silently reminded myself I already have two large electric ice cream makers on a shelf in the basement. They work fine.