If you're like me and spend more time than you should browsing food blogs and recipe sites, you've probably noticed the plethora of seasonal posts out there. You know the ones I mean — the ones that breathlessly extoll the freshness, versatility, and intense flavor of the produce available in the markets right now: Sweet blueberries! Juicy tomatoes! Meaty eggplants!
As a food writer, I've written a countless number of such posts myself, and it's a certifiable fact that wonderful fruits and vegetables make my summer meals more delicious.
But it's not just the produce that makes me a better chef in the summer.
Summer's Long Days Are Energizing
I don't know about you, but for me, at least, the season's blessing of long hours of sunlight somehow seems to expand all the possibilities for creating bountiful meals — even after a long day at the office.
Throughout most of the year, getting dinner on the table is a race against the clock. As the working day grows longer, and we answer yet another after-hours email, our plans for braising that veal shank get downgraded to quickly stir-frying some vegetables. When we finally walk through the door, exhausted, at 8 p.m., we wonder if we have the energy to press together a buttery grilled cheese.
But summer's bright evening hours are invigorating: When the workday is done, there are still plenty of hours left to do whatever you want before bedtime. For me, that often involves creating more ambitious meals than I would be inclined to on a dark, cold winter night.
With sunlight streaming through my kitchen window, peeling, seeding, chopping, and puréeing mountains of tomatoes and cucumbers for a cooling gazpacho seems like a perfectly appropriate 8 p.m. task; likewise, there seems to be no rush to fire up the grill for an evening's worth of charred skewers and blistered fruit.
Summer's Laid-Back Nature Is Contagious
Which brings up another aspect of summer that improves my cooking: its no-pressure, laid-back nature. Normally, I'm a cook who's touched with more than just a little type-A behavior. When hosting meals, I'll meticulously plot my menu, make detailed shopping lists, and, if I'm feeling particularly frisky, even sketch out a timeline for how to best plow through my prep work.
This attention to detail has resulted in some memorable feasts — the three days I spent making a deliciously authentic mole de poblano come to mind — yet in spite of all my efforts, the meals haven't been quantifiably better than some of my more on-the-fly creations.
Summertime's freewheeling feel nurses my spontaneity; instead of reading recipes and drawing up lists, I tend to improvise in the kitchen. I create less picture-perfect but more soulful food. It tends to be more whimsical, colorful, and, at times, even tastier.
Sometimes, a messy, juicy watermelon-and-feta salad is every bit as satisfying as a labored-over three-course menu — and a lot more fun to make.
What's your favorite part about cooking during the summer? Leave us a note in the comments.