No sweat! Meals for the Dog Days of summer

Aug 1st, 2007

Yes the dog days of summer¦. Where in the world did that expression come from anyway? Lenore tells me the origins are ancient, coming from the big dog constellation, whose brightest star, Sirius, rises with the sun during the summertime in the northern hemisphere. I have lived a long time not knowing that. To me it denotes hot and muggy weather and a great time not to cook, especially indoors. It inspires me to make salads and all things cool and crisp! It also makes me think of another dog, as in hot dogs cooked over a beach fire—but we will save sausage making for another article.

So the ancient Romans thought that because Sirius is such a bright star that we must surely receive heat from it and when it coincides with the sun July 3 through Aug 11, or there about, it delivers even more heat. Of course we are much wiser than the ancient Romans and we know rising summer temperatures have nothing to do with that star. Still I guess it is nice to know the origin of the saying.

So now back to the better known and popular meaning for the “dog days. When I worked in Wash DC, on the muggiest days, so very hot and very humid, only cold liquid seemed to matter. Especially since most of those days I was in the kitchen where even with air conditioning, the ovens and stoves always prevailed. Those were the days our Cuban and Mexican cooks would put together some pretty refreshing concoctions that kept us all going. They’d refer to these drinks as agua fresca. The reason they were so interesting to me is that it would never occur to me at any other time to drink cucumber flavored water sometimes using only the peels and a few lemon slices. Except on those dog days, when I would actually crave it. More recently, I make my own version of agua fresca that has little more fruit in the water to keep it only lightly sweetened. I have included a couple recipes that I make for our staff at EVOO during the work day to keep everyone well hydrated.

As for no-sweat menu ideas, I like salads. No-heat menu planning at its best! And now the market is overflowing with all the best salad ingredients. This week, I brought in the first of the season Oregon grown tomatoes, and tomatoes will star in every meal until September 30 or as long as they are available! Panzanella salad, aka Italian bread salad, is one of our favorites where tomatoes are prominent. This sandwich in a bowl conjures up memories of dining in Florence Italy during tomato season. Making Panzanella in a restaurant I would most likely peel the tomatoes, but during the dog days even boiling water to blanch a tomato is too hot! In the recipe that follows make it with or without skin on the tomatoes, your choice.

Melons offer cool dining with cantaloupe, honeydew, Crenshaw’s, and watermelon, eaten as is, slightly chilled or made into a great summer soup, beverage, salsa, or salad. Try your favorite summer fish with a watermelon salsa for a refreshing summer meal.

When eating out, I admit to enjoying a good sushi bar for the real deal. I love watching the masters create their tasty works of gourmet art. Homemade sushi is easy when you stick to the basics and use great Pacific Northwest ingredients to produce the cool light fare.
One tip for relaxed summer dining is to find a spot with a view of a cool body of water, whether you are inside or outside, it’s the view that offers cooling satisfaction. I enjoy eating light during the dog days. I enjoy time off from the stove and the ease of creating satisfying meals with little more than produce. Lenore reminds me that eating protein is important too, so remember to grill a few extra chicken breasts to freeze and use when no cooking in the house is preferred. Legumes such as garbanzo beans offer good protein and can be purchased in cans—but do rinse them well and chill before using.

I would be remiss to leave the topic of dog days without mentioning our canine friends. After all they get hot too and we need to remember that they need to remain well hydrated in the summer. So we are including a recipe for them, created by Caron Hart, part of the EVOO family. She makes them for her Labrador, Iris, and has taste tested them on our standard poodles, Olivia and Taylor. All give their enthusiastic approval for beating the heat of the doggie days of summer!
CUCUMBER FRESCA makes 1 quart
½-1 cucumber, sliced
¼ cup fennel, sliced
½ cup black berries
½ cup raspberry
1-2 stems of tarragon
(or basil leaves)
½ quart filtered water
½ quart sparkling water or Gingerale ( for sweeter results)

Put together in a pitcher and muddle* to extract flavors; Add the chilled filtered water and chilled sparkling water or any combination of liquid. Sometimes we use leftover sparkling grape juice that is not going to last for our next service.
*to muddle is to mash or crush with spoon or rod-like tool with flattened end.

CITRUS WATER makes 1 gallon
Up to 2 cups of citrus juices such as lemon, lime and orange
1-3 TBS honey (optional)
½ gal cold filtered water
½ gal ice cubes
Method: Blend all in large container. Adjust the honey to suit your taste, but keep it on the less sweet side. Chef’s note: Don’t expect this to taste like pop or fruit juice as it is meant to flavored water that is refreshing, nutritious, and low cal.

PUPPY POPS (by Caron Hart)
Chicken bones, skin, giblets, scraps of meat after roasting a chicken