Have I mentioned it’s hot out? Well, it is. And despite the fact that my apartment is now deliciously cool, thanks to my new air conditioner (which I installed myself – but that’s another story), the very thought of heating up my apartment by actually cooking anything is draining. It makes me want to retire to the veranda with an icy cold Tom Collins, except that I haven’t got a veranda and I’m out of maraschino cherries.
Summer, like the other three seasons, has its own feel, smells and especially tastes. I’m sure most of us have memories that revolve around blazing burgers and hot dogs on the grill, fresh ears of succulent corn slathered in butter, juicy slices of bright pink watermelon, maybe spitting the seeds at a bothersome little brother or sister, or icy Popsicles that had to be eaten quickly enough so that the last bite didn’t fall off the stick, but not so fast as to induce a headache.
For me, Summer food will always mean my mother’s Macaroni/Shrimp Salad. There are many variations, of course, but hers consisted of elbow or shell-shaped macaroni, sliced black olives, celery, chopped tomatoes, cans of salad shrimp and enough mayonnaise that if we took it to a picnic, we had to eat it first so that it didn’t spoil in the sun.
This is comfort food at its finest for me. When I was growing up, it was a rare occasion when my mother, sometimes working three jobs, cooked. I was raised on fast food and what I taught myself to make. When she did cook, however, there were a few dishes that my brother and I asked for over and over. Macaroni/Shrimp Salad was one of them. She’d make it in huge batches so that it was always chilling in the refrigerator when we wanted it. My brother and I would happily eat it for three meals a day and dessert.
I tell you all of the above because despite the heat, I was moved to make a pot this past weekend. (I thought it through though. I cooked the pasta and stuck it in the refrigerator to chill while I went out and gathered the rest of the ingredients. Smarter than the average bear.) I’ve tweaked the original recipe a bit, mostly in an attempt to convince myself I’m making it a tad healthier.
Instead of the usual white flour macaroni, I used rice flour rotini. Instead of canned salad shrimp, I used fresh 70/90s. I used vine-ripened local, organic tomatoes (if I were making it for company, I’d use grape tomatoes, they look nicer, but I was going for flavor.), gorgeous colossal black olives from Trader Joe’s that I had to stop myself from eating faster than I sliced them, organic celery and real organic mayonnaise. No light or fat-free. A little bit of fat won’t kill you and is a lot better for you than what’s in those concoctions. I just cut it down to a ½ cup instead of a jar. Despite having cut the quantities down from what my mom used to make, (I use a normal sized stock pot instead of a vat) I still ended up with enough to last me for a week. I love coming home knowing that dinner is waiting for me! I’m not sure how “healthy” I’ve managed to make it, but there are just some things that one shouldn’t have to do without.
Here’s a picture, which doesn’t do it justice at all.
I’m about to go rustle up another bowl. What are your favorite memories of summer, food or otherwise? Do you still make something you remember from childhood? Do you do it “just the way Mom did” or do you put your own spin on it? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.