When it comes to grilling, we don't have a history of being very die-hard. We certainly take advantage of the spring and summer, firing up the grill a few times a week, cooking our dinner in the evening air, while enjoying the view of the garden and the chickens wandering through on their way back towards the coop and their roosts. We wave to the neighbors as they head off on dusk adventures and listen to the kids as they swing or play in the brook, lugging buckets of water back and forth to the sandbox.
Inevitably, the weather becomes a bit cooler, days shorten, school starts and life takes on a different pace. We're still grilling, but not with the same leisurely flip of our spatula. Much of this shift seems to be blamed on our schedules, but that is just plain ridiculous -- everyone knows that grilling over a gas grill can be one of the fastest routes to dinner. Perhaps it is as much a kind of mourning; we are missing the lazy pace of summertime nights and standing by the grill just doesn't seem the same.
Late summer progresses to fall. Any meals cooked out on the deck must now be whisked in to the table to keep it warm. Once winter arrives and the first snows fall, grilling at our house ceases, much to do with our unwillingness to stand outside in the cold, but also the fact that at some point we will fall behind in our deck shoveling and simply won't be able to get to the grill.
Predictably, with the cooler nights and start of school, our dinner grilling had begun to taper off. I had been hearing requests for warming, comforting meals like chicken pot pie. The change was happening, slowly but surely, falling into the indoor dinnertime routine that seems to accompany all the autumn transitions in our lives.
And then came Wednesday. Really? Temperatures over 90 degrees? One weather site predicted a high of 100 -- we hadn't seen that all summer! I have to admit, because I already had visions of cozy sweaters, pumpkins and colored leaves, I buried my head and pretended it wasn't happening, willing myself to simply ‘get through' this mini heat wave. I also know that in some sense it is ungrateful of me to complain about the heat when come February I would be happy for a break in the ice and snow. However, a phone call from a very hot daughter asking me to bring more water when I picked her up at soccer practice was a reminder of the sticky sauna outside. And when I left my office to pick up my daughters from their after school activities I could deny it no more - it was just plain HOT.
Air conditioning on full-blast hoping to numb the mental shock as well as the physical discomfort, I drove across town getting my people from their various locations. Eight-year-old Margot was happily drawing inside in a classroom that was a reasonable temperature. But 13-year-old Marielle and her friend Emily were hot, sweaty, stinky and thirsty as they trudged across Famolare field to the car. Grateful for the bottles of water I brought, we hadn't made it 100 yards down the road towards home when the question was raised "Can we go swimming?"
Why not? Suddenly it didn't matter that it was 5 p.m. on a Wednesday night during a school week. Who cared that I had no dinner plan, a column to write and a women's Chorus to go to later that evening. The heat suddenly became a gift, letting me give myself permission to return to a languorous summer evening, if only for a couple hours.
Turning the car south on Route 5 we headed to Broad Brook in Guilford. Other cars parked along the road made it clear that we weren't the only ones with this idea and it felt delicious to have other companions complicit in our temporary waiving of responsibility. Skittering down the path over the stones slippery with condensation we joyously jumped fully clothed in the cool water, the girls shrieking with shock and delight, as well as for the sake of shrieking. Some friends came by the swimming hole, and there were dares and splashing, slipping and sliding. It was beautifully refreshing for body, mind and soul.
Piling back into the car at 5:45 p.m., only vaguely aware of our lack of towels, it registered that I was going to be leaving the house for the evening in a mere hour. Plans for dinner and requirements of school schedules tried to cram into my brain, but I resisted. We pulled into the Guilford Country Store where the owner, our friend Marc Tessitore, kindly provided us with perfect pesto pasta, curried couscous and his wife Suzanne's special kale salad full of feta and hazelnuts while we dripped all over his floor. Once home I found a homemade baguette that my mom had dropped off (everyone needs a Bread Fairy) which Margot and I sliced to accompany dinner.
Now, what else to round out this deliciously motley assortment? Grilled onions, sliced thick and drizzled with olive oil have been a favorite this summer. How about eggplant? Zucchini and summer squash? I had some almost-ripe peaches that would be lusciously sweet when caramelized on the grill. As I stood, tongs in hand, it suddenly became crystal clear to me that THIS was the perfect season for grilling. Not just because it was a night to take advantage of the speedy nature of dinner prep but also because of the bounty of the season. Tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, greens, potatoes and other root vegetables -- with a little knife-work and a brush of olive oil, most anything from your garden or the farmers market can be transformed into a deliciously decadent dinner. And best of all, this harvest will continue for another month or two! What have I been thinking? What trap of putting aside the grill had I fallen into? Time to perk up the bedraggled flower pots on the deck, keep the leaves off the outdoor table and have folks keep a sweater handy -- we'll be enjoying the changing of the seasons up close while we grill the bounty of the harvest!
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn't have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.