Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Love Summer

Of all the seasons, summer is my favorite. Maybe because I have a summertime birthday, maybe because school lets out, or vacation trips are in the works, relatives plan their visits or swimming becomes part of each day's routine. I can't narrow it to any one of those to explain my preference, but summer is and always has been the best time of year for me.

Besides cucumber sandwiches as a herald of summer time eating, for me another summer staple has to be cucumber salad. Growing up, I used to joyfully choose cucumber salad whenever they served it at the Luby's Cafeteria where my family and I ate lunch after attending Sunday church services.This was part of my Mother's sabbath routine, to skip cooking a "main meal" after church on Sundays, especially in the summer when the heat of cooking dinner made the kitchen an inhospitable place at the end of the day.

On Saturday night we would clean up, Sunday morning we would dress up, worship, pile back into the car after church and race over to "our" Luby's Cafeteria to get there before it got too crowded. If all went according to plan, we beat the lunch rush, loaded up our trays and slid smugly through the line to reassemble and take a seat at "our regular" table.We had "our place" on Sunday which we filled regularly in both settings, and if anybody else happened to be there in our seats when we arrived either place, it was slightly unsettling.

In either instance, the timing of when we left church or where we sat was totally out of my control, so maybe as a counterbalance I developed the habit of eating the same dishes as part of our Luby's lunch.

Sunday in and Sunday out, I got a breaded veal cutlet with cream gravy, a roll, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, all of which resided inside of or on top of their own individual beige plastic bowl or plate. Eventually my brother and I also developed a drill whereby we would split a piece of chocolate cream pie every week.

Luby's pie slices were luxuriously large affairs and neither my brother or I was able to eat an entire slice solo. I have no active recollection of how we discovered this, but as it turned out, my brother and I each liked a different part of Luby's chocolate pie. He craved the meringue topping with the chocolate sprinkles, and I wanted nothing more than the chocolate pudding and pie crust below.

Once we figured that out we developed a divide and conquer system by turns. My brother started out, cleanly devouring the top off the pie slice, as I waited impatiently to finish off the parts below. Perfection.

Years pass, some things change. If I were to order a piece of pie in a restaurant these days, it wouldn't be chocolate and I'm pretty sure I'd finish it all by myself. And, as I usually attend worship services alone, my family and I rarely go out to eat Sunday lunch.

But one thing hasn't changed. I still love cucumber salad, and was thrilled when I found this simple recipe years ago to address a bit of my nostalgia for that Sunday Luby's experience.
Anytime Cucumber Salad

3-4 large cucumbers, sliced
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon dried dill, or 3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, combine cucumbers, onions, and dill.
In a saucepan, combine sugar, vinegar, water and salt; bring to a boil. Pour over cucumber mixture.
Cover and chill three hours to overnight. Yield: 6 cups.
After the cucumber/onion mixture has been marinating in the vinaigrette for some time, I like to stir it up and make sure everything gets a chance to be well covered by the liquid. When I store it in a tightly covered container, I just give it a shake.

Even more than cobblers or shortcake or ice cream, cucumber salad is for me, a truly nostalgic taste of summertime. Crisp, cold sweetly vinegary cucumbers mixed in with slightly softened equally vinegary onion bits. Just the antidote for the Texas heat. Do try some!

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