Summer’s Swan Song

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What a Diva

It is that time of year when summer’s moment in the spotlight should be drawing to a close. Her exit cues are all there – the days are growing shorter, the nights cooler – and yet she persists on stage, front and center, like a true prima donna. Though her matinees are lovely with their warm mornings and sun-drenched afternoons, we, in the audience, are beginning to grow restless, wondering just when this show will end. An endearing ingénue named autumn keeps trying to elbow her way onto the proscenium, but the reigning leading lady called summer shows no hint of retreating behind the red curtain … at least not anytime soon.

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Chasing Summer Down South

In mid-July, we traveled to Louisiana and spent a lovely long summer weekend with my in-laws. Each time we visit, my husband and I always look forward to stuffing ourselves silly with soul food, especially our most beloved dish – a mess of squash. While we can get soul food in various places around Los Angeles, some of them even quite fancy, it is simply never the same as a home-cooked meal down South. On this occasion, my in-laws prepared days ahead of our arrival to cook us a proper Southern feast. In fact, my sweet mother-in-law, bless her heart, informed us she tried for a week to find yellow squash, driving from store to store, only to be turned away and told to try back the next day. It was odd, she remarked, considering it was the height of summer, when the markets are usually brimming with summer squash. The situation was looking rather precarious, she warned us when we landed, for she was not yet able to procure our prized ingredient anywhere. But being persistent pays, as we made one final attempt and hit the jackpot, arriving at the store just as the deliveryman was stocking the produce stand full of perfectly golden yellow squash. They say the chase is sweeter than the catch, but for this meal, after gloriously indulging our palates with some of the South’s finest dishes, fried okra, purple hull peas, cornbread, and of course, an exquisite mess of squash, I can say with certainty that is not always the case.

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A Swan Song

I realize that posting summer recipes in late October is not very timely of me, considering most of the markets are overflowing with autumn’s bounty, but here in Los Angeles summer is still having her day. There, right alongside her butternut squash and pumpkin co-stars, are piles of summer squash, refusing to bow out gracefully, and mocking us in her abundance after playing so coyly with us in Louisiana. This poses quite the predicament for me at times, standing there in the store aisle, wondering whether I should embrace the fall harvest or relish the last bit of time I have with summer’s crop. Since I have a feeling that autumn is growing increasingly impatient as she waits in the wings for her time in the limelight, I decided I shouldn’t wait to post these until next year, in case any of you are still enjoying the lingering days of summer. For now, until the lady summer decides to make her final curtain call, these soulful recipes will serve as her swan song.

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RECIPES COURTESY OF MY MOTHER-IN-LAW, SARAN

Mess of Squash
Ingredients (serves 4):
8-10 small yellow squash, sliced*
3-4 onions, sliced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

Directions:
Coat bottom of sauté pan (cast-iron is best) with olive oil and place over medium heat. Sauté squash in pan, stirring frequently to ensure all slices are evenly browned, about 5 minutes. Add onions to pan and sauté another 5-7 minutes until squash and onions are soft. Add vegetable broth to pan and cover with lid. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

*If you prefer your squash to have more bite, slice it into thicker pieces. Slice squash thinner for a softer, “messier” texture.

Fried Okra
Ingredients (serves 4):
1 lb fresh okra, sliced*
½ cup all-purpose flour*
1 egg
1 tbsp water
Canola oil (for frying)
Salt and pepper

Directions:
Whisk egg and water together in bowl. Place flour on plate and season with salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Coat okra pieces in egg wash and then dredge in flour until evenly coated. Tap off any excess flour. Coat deep frying pan or high-sided skillet with about 1 inch of canola oil and place over high heat. Fry okra in batches until golden brown, about 5 minutes, transferring to a plate lined with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

* My mother-in-law recommends looking for small, tender okra; avoid big, long okra, which can be tough. Slice the okra into thirds, as this will ensure a thick bite of okra. If you slice okra too thinly, the flour coating can overwhelm the flavor. Also, you can substitute a gluten-free all-purpose flour or almond flour for a gluten/grain-free option.

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