The Summer Push

I didn’t expect so much pushing this summer. Pushing my way through a wall of heat to get to my car. At 730 am. Pushing a mower around the yard, through the aforementioned wall of heat. Pushing my kids to get out of bed when I go home for lunch. And lots of pushing other people’s suitcases.
From the last day of school through the 4th of July weekend, there have been just fourteen days when all four of us have had feet on the ground in Starkville. And for the rest of the summer? No change in sight. We have a few more “together days” calendared out before the travel starts up again, then it’s back to school. And I’m good with that – really I am – even though the extent of my personal participation in these summer excursions has been scarce. That means I don’t have a lot of travel food stories to share here in the heart of the season, but as this summer’s token homebody, culinary opportunities of another sort have come my way.
For most of the first two weeks of summer The Wife was the one flying the friendly skies, leaving me in charge of feeding the munchkins. In the past it was easy: I would proclaim it Hot Dog Week and tune my creativity towards developing a multitude of hot dog recipes without repetition. But as I have previously mentioned, Daughter has been convinced that a person’s taste buds change once every seven years (overnight, to hear her tell it) and apparently the hot dog-loving bud left the building after that special week. Who could blame it, really?
This time I had a simple goal: create space. That meant using every possibly edible item in our cabinets, refrigerator and freezer while at the same time going to the grocery only for the essentials. In other words, every meal was an episode of Chopped.
Our first weekend as a wife-and-mom-less crew was Memorial Day. There were lima beans that had been in the freezer for way too long. I was of a mind to do something creative, and pulled up a cobweb-draped memory of a lima bean puree. I did some digging and found a recipe for lima bean hummus, made much the same way as ordinary hummus, with tahini and olive oil, the main differences being the featured legume and the type of seasoning. The resulting dip was a little sweeter than chick-pea hummus, a lot greener, and a bit more complex due to the mix of herbs I happened to have on hand. It was a big hit with Mama and Aunt Kathy. Score one.
Another major freezer-space eater was three bags of chicken wings I had accumulated from Beaverdam Farms. I had never done wings before, but the words “never before” are not very strong deterrents these days. The other deciding factor was the deep fryer. The Wife is not opposed to fried food, but we have an open floor plan, and she is not fond of the deep-fried aroma it spreads throughout the house. (I, on the other hand, am on the lookout for Scentsy to create a Hot Fat fragrance.) The timing was perfect and I was thrilled with how they turned out. I already had multiple barbecue sauces handy and made some buffalo-ish sauce with melted butter and Sriracha. As a side I thin-sliced potatoes and beets and made chips. The beets were almost tolerable that way. And I managed to get the fryer cleaned up and put away before The Wife returned. Score two.
Lest any reader may have seen me at the grocery store during these two weeks, I suppose I should define what I mean by essentials. If you were guessing milk and bread, you’d be mostly right. But as a reward for all the room I was making in our pantry, I allowed myself to test a few limited edition ideas.
I have a love-hate relationship with Pop-Tarts. I love them. That’s the love part. And allow me to say that any Pop-Tart without frosting is an abomination, unless you are planning to batter and fry it and drizzle it with caramel sauce. And even if I might, I bet you aren’t. I hate that I cannot keep a box of them in the house for more than about 24 hours. I will eat them three times a day if they are within reach. Breakfast pack, snack pack, dessert pack. Finis. It was even worse when I discovered the new “Gone Nutty” variety with chocolate frosting and peanut butter filling. Oh my gluten. Score three.
Then came the Strawberries and Cream-flavored Oreos. I rarely buy original Oreos unless I need them for a recipe, for much the same reason I rarely buy Pop-Tarts. It’s because I love them. But if I go to the store, I almost always check to see what new flavor combo has arrived, and there are precious few that I have missed. Score F’oreo.
How about those little cups of mini cookies? Oreos, Nutter Butters, Chips Ahoy? If you ever use the Express Lane at Kroger, you can’t miss them. Comic Tim Hawkins confirmed something via Twitter that I had never considered, but should have: “dumping a package of mini-Nutter Butters in milk and eating it like cereal IS delicious.” Turns out you have to eat them pretty fast or the cookie part turns to mush, but that’s no reason not to go for it. Not to be outdone, the mini-Oreos were fabulous smothered with a combination of Activia strawberry yogurt (for the health) and a Dannon Strawberry Explosion yogurt drink (for flavor and texture). Cinco de Score-o.
Bless my heart, I have run out of space and haven’t told you what The Wife ate on her trip. Stay tuned. And be afraid.

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