What a weird summer we’re having.
If I were writing a six-word memoir of this season, that sentence above would have to make the short list, along with ‘What Is Up With The Dog?’ and ‘Try Starting Dryer Before Clothes Rot’ and possibly 'Let's Put Kombucha In That Hat.' It’s a weird-weather summer, dry and yet humid, and the plants (and the people) are showing the strain. It’s a weird summer of keeping a watchful, helpless-feeling eye on politics and on various relatives and on an increasingly senile house pet, a weird-in-general, hodgy-podgy summer of things both coming together and falling apart, of things being limp and drippy, yet parched.
It’s still summer, though. Which means popsicles and more popsicles, as many as possible, and being certain, late at night, that as summer wanes (didn't it just begin?!), there is more fun to be had than I am making time for. And it means enjoying unscheduled stretches of minutes and hours with my three kiddos, all home under one roof by dint of a miracle I am not taking for granted. The other day I told someone that I am even enjoying the bickering, when it happens (which is rarely) because I mean: everyone all together. I like a full nest!
Of course the universe heard me, and both the mercury and whatever –ometer it is that measures the humidity when it is over one million percent but it is still not raining rose, and the bickering—though as I have said, it’s rare—that I came home to that day, mere hours after saying I didn't mind it one bit….well, it took an extra beat to remember to hear it as music to my ears. But there is so much fear and sadness and outright grieving swirling around the globe these days. It's not a big stretch to remember that I am luckylucky to have this time with the three of them all together, even as they grow and grow and prepare to flyyyy.
This summer I also finally got a grill, a present-in-theory that I was given almost a year ago, but which I took many months to finally manifest on the back steps (thank you, Craigslist search email alerts). Now I am grilling allthethings. The pair of grilled items on the table today, conversationally speaking, formed the backbone of a birthday dinner set onto an actual table in the new barn, and how upright it stood, this dinner (and the barn), despite the limp weather.
The chicken marinade worked wonders on boneless breast meat, sliced into strips and threaded onto skewers (which are a little bit fussy to prep, then grill up in a few minutes) and on bone-in parts (which are not fussy to prep but take longer to cook). Your call as to where you want to stand for longer.
A note on the fresh herbs: I have an abundance of monarda fistulosa, a terrible name for a beautiful plant that is a friendly host to pollinators. This pink- or lavender-flowered variety of the plant known also by the common name 'bee balm' has a delicious, oregano-like flavor and when it's at its peak, I put in everything and I dry some for the winter. This year, despite a deep and unreasonable and obviously very inconsistent personal bias against red flowers, I heeded the urging of an expert to also plant the more common monarda didyma, which has a more basil-like flavor, and which I'm told dries up nicer than basil does (dried basil doesn't taste like basil, or really like much of anything, IMHO), but as of this moment that plant is limping along as a single, thirsty stalk. The purple one, as you can see, is a self-seeded, drought-tolerant superhighway for bees and butterlies. Fresh oregano or thyme or marjoram or summer savory would all make fine substitutes. If you haven't got a jar of homemade preserved lemons in your pantry, make a note to whip some up as soon as Meyer lemons become plentiful again, but regardless if the preserved lemons are your own or someone else's, please accept my fervent encouragement to puree the entire contents of the jar in your blender or food processor before you stash them in the fridge. You will reach for this magical, no-muss no-fuss substance again and again.
The Aleppo pepper on which I also depend as a seasoning and which makes an appearance on the grilled peaches here is the drier, brighter-red variety; there is a darker, moist/oily version sold in Middle Eastern markets that is approximately a quarter the price and triple the heat and an entirely different (still delicious, but less versatile) ingredient. It is a sad testament to the messed-up nature of the world that Aleppo pepper doesn't come from Aleppo anymore. The pepper fields and associated industry there have been destroyed by war, and when I dip my fingers into the spice jar here under my quiet roof, I try to think of all that's been destroyed there and elsewhere by fighting, as goofy as that may sound in the context of blithely grilling up some peaches. Though it's the absolute least we can do, I think making those energetic connections has tremendous value and is the best place to start from, especially if we keep going once we start.
With deep breaths from my kitchen to yours.
mustardy chicken and a little heat on the peaches
First, the chicken:
In a small bowl, whisk together:
- 1T dijon mustard
- 1T fresh lime juice
- 1T fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 c fresh grapefruit juice
- 1/4 c EV olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, microplaned or very finely minced
- 1T very finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme or bee balm
- 1T preserved lemon paste
- fresh pepper to taste (depending largely on the bite of the mustard you use)
This is ample to season a couple to three pounds of chicken, which you'll want to marinate at least an hour if you can, and it would be right at home getting brushed on to slices of zucchini as they hit the grill as well.
Then, the fruit:
In a small bowl, combine
- 2T EV olive oil
- 1T fresh lime juice
- 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
- 3/4 tsp ground or well-crushed toasted cumin seed
- a pinch of smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp salt
Whisk these together. Halve and pit 3-4 firm-ripe peaches or nectarines, and brush the cut surface with this mixture before laying face-down on a hot grill, lightly oiled if your grill tends to stick. Grill about 5 minutes, until nicely seared, then brush the skin side with the spice mixture before using a very thin spatula to carefully flip the halves. Brush the cut side, now face-up, again, and close the grill to allow the fruit to cook through, about 3 more minutes.
Served with a minimally-dressed green salad, maybe an ear of corn or two, that's about all a person needs in this heat I reckon.