Saturday, July 2, 2011

The taste of summer

Hyde Park smells amazing lately. Is it the cottonwood? I hit patches of this piney, floral, sweet smell from block to block, but I’m not well versed enough in tree species to know which trees are producing it. It smells right to me. Our old building was flanked by two three-story cottonwood trees that let loose a flurry of fluffs at the beginning of every June, clogging the gutters with pillow fodder. Now in July the full force of mulberries will be raining down from on high in the building’s backyard. We found the joy of making inedible jam was always outweighed by the inconvenient stains suffered by our bare feet. We also had a bush in the back growing between a cork telephone pole and a chain link fence that smelled like peanut butter. It did, it really did. We called it the peanut-butter tree. Obvs. I’m having a hard time adjusting to summer three blocks north of where I grew up. Le sigh. Let’s reminisce about the summery goods I ate this week instead.
Another Thursday market trip proved successful with the best strawberries of the season (I froze three pints for winter) and another opportunity to splurge on squash blossoms.
Alex’s mom makes a pasta salad that is served at every one of her summer barbecues. I have been filling my plastic plates with it since I was sixteen, and Alex has been eating it his whole life. Legend has it that the pasta salad was inspired by combining all of Small Alex’s favorite foods: olives, hardboiled eggs, peas, carrots, and macaroni elbows. Held together by a mayo, olive oil, and vinegar dressing, this pasta salad is satisfying and stands the test of time (Small Alex had good taste). I have a bad habit of picking out all the egg. Don’t do it. You’ll mess up the ratios. Like a square piece of cheese on a triangular cracker.
(Cue the opening music from 2001 A Space Odyssey)  Behold! Is that three, four, FIVE flavors of ice cream? All piled together in one cone? I give you: RAINBOW CONE

The rainbow of flavors is made up of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (cherries and walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet. Chunks of strawberries and nuts add texture, while the tangy, bright, fruity power of the sherbet cuts through the richness of the creamier flavors. Is it too much? No. It is never enough. Only available out in Beverly during the warmer season, this local treat is worth a journey or two!

Except, for the last week, the Cone has set up camp a few blocks from my office. Fear kept me at bay, but I braved the fierce crowds yesterday, marching through the Taste of Chicago on a mission.

The Taste is often something to be avoided. It is hot and sticky, and causes traffic delays (both for pedestrians and vehicles). Standing in line to exchange my money for tickets, I listened to the people behind me discuss whether or not they would eat “rat skewers” if they saw them. This isn’t Taste of Fear Factor, ladies. Street food means something else. Ahead of me, a family was caught in the Taste’s web of deceit—they had not enough tickets left for the cheesecake item their daughter had set her heart on, yet if they bought another set of 12 tickets to compensate, they would again be one ticket short for more beer. An impossible conundrum! I don’t know how many NASA math geniuses the Taste has working for them, but it is incredibly difficult to get out of there with no tickets left. You bring some home, thinking that you’ll come back. You won’t. Just get the watermelon taster for two tickets that you don’t want. Or the pecan turtle for three—yeah, it’s small, suck it up.

I collected my tickets near the north entrance and began weaving through the crowd down Columbus to Congress. I had my eyes on the prize, not flinching at the Billy Goat burgers, or Bobak’s, or any of the pizza stands. I faltered once, just before my destination. A breeze wafted by, carrying on its invisible wings the sweet scent of corn grilling and butter melting. I turned away, and saw a rainbow in the heavens. (It wasn’t a real rainbow. Just a logo.)

Prize melting down my wrist, I smiled in triumph. And I ate it. All nine tickets worth of it. Savoring and slurping and getting a sticky nose and dripping on my skirt. I ate it. It was outstanding.
I took a detour through some nasty propaganda about how farming “technology” has improved so much (to allow more corn production in less acreage—and look how much milk this cow can produce if we pump her with hormones!). Passing by the corn stand again (maybe I should get another set of tickets—I just need a few more…), I made my way out of the scene. The journey had been perilousalbeit tasty.


  1. My local haul: two pints of those same small strawberries, a pint of raspberries, 6 ears of bread and butter corn, 8 tomatoes on the vines, 5 small cucumbers, 2 zucchini (what Pop-Pop referred to as bikini squash)and Delmonico steaks (all raised and sold by Yarnick's Farm Market) and a loaf of whole wheat bread (from Six Hand Bakery.) My haul could have been even more local if I had been able to shop on Wednesday, when Six Hand Bakery has baguettes made from Reeger's Farm wheat.

    I am nervously watching my basil plants. All 8 have yellowed leaves: per my internet research caused by too much water, not enough water, too much sun, not enough sun, too much fertilizer, or not enough fertilizer. Last night I watered the roots, without wetting the leaves. Not sure how that is supposed to work in case of actual rain falling from the sky (perhaps I should purchase a patio umbrella) but they look a little better this morning, with a few tiny green leaves at the top.

  2. Jealous of your acquisition of and ability to consume rainbow cone. Also, the p salad looks epic. And what an EPIC farmers market haul!