It is August, and by rights, I should be a wreck. Last summer, the shock of it all had me at my wit's end. I was entirely unprepared for Ohio's August heat, the past-midnight lows higher than my home town's highs. And the humidity, hoo boy. Moist-steaming-sticky I'd only experienced my senior year in high school, when I visited a friend for a week in Virginia. I wrote it off, along with SAT's and college essays, as a rite of passage, over and done with. Our reunion, last year, was not what you might call graceful.
But here it is, one week in, and I'm doing alright. Fine, even. I am more than a little astonished over this. I've been wringing my hands for, oh, eight months now, and added lip-biting after our stint in Seattle. I worried the contrast might just undo me, after two-plus weeks in pants and polar fleece (in July). And yet, here I am, alive and smiling.
I owe this, in part, to last year's lessons, which we've committed to memory like inhale, exhale. The outside is bearable, lovely even, so long as we hit it right off the bat. I've taken to padding outside in my p.j.'s, inhaling my coffee and the early morning cool. Besides, the anemones and riot of zinnias seem especially fetching in Nick and Nora, somehow. We were in the Creek by ten a.m. last week, no small task when I'd just as soon start our day at noon. But even with hours of splashing and crawdad catching behind us, we were out by late lunch, before the red line crept into the nineties.
You read that right: Nineties. Or higher, per the heat index. This nifty number is new to me this year, but as far as I can tell, it's wind chill's summer sister. I don't understand the algorithm, exactly, but I believe it figures in both temperature and humidity. The end result reads something like this: actual temperature: 93°, heat index: 167°. I try to ignore it. Staying inside all afternoon helps.
This is Part Two of our first-year take-away, shutting up like hermits between noon and six. We draw stuff, play stuff, build stuff, take apart stuff. Save the world from certain disaster. Go a little ape. Hold tea parties for one-eyed pirates, who, by all appearances, have lost their mind.
Which is sort of how I feel, holing up on all day. And I'm fairly sure I would count myself crazy, save a (life-saving) conversation late last Spring. I was chatting up a born-and-bred Ohio girl, grousing on and on a bit about a withering 3 p.m. park outing. She looked at me funny, then remembered I wasn't from around here, then mentioned they never go out after noon. That stretch between lunch and dinner, she told me, is strictly reserved for indoor activities, errands and movies and libraries and such. I've been meaning to submit her name to the Vatican.
Which is not to say we don't go outside, ever, once the sun hits its peak and before it goes down. It's just that we've ditched our old casual summer innocence, and replaced it with whip-smart surgical strikes.
We slip onto the grass for a quick outside play, whole adventures transpiring between half-past and quarter-'til. We gather iced drinks and stories and courage, and attempt to reach happily ever after before we melt. We dart with bravado out into the shock of it, and stay ten or twelve minutes, as long as we can stand. Much like I used to do as I child, only then it was the Pacific instead of the backyard.
And I'm finally getting hip to the whole summer thing. I've been parsing summer lists like some study the Psalms, cross-examining them all to tease out what's to love. To admit sprinkler-running is a revelation, I realize, makes me sound rather empty between the ears. But a cold hose is more duty than joy in Seattle, where I slid through several summers never once wearing shorts. Here, I haven't much been out of them, since May.
And here, summer's icons suddenly make sense, in a way they never did when I was a kid. Shorts and t-shirts? Vital. Popsicles? Essential. Cold water? Pure stinkin' genius, squared. Soaking wet, we've decided, equals guaranteed bliss, a state I thought was off-limits until October. Gone, even, is my ten-year ban on all firearms, abandoned in favor of four buck-a-pop "squirters". My only regret? Not caving any sooner.
(Speaking of popsicles? These are all that, and then some. But, you know, don't take my word for it.)
I feel the same way about cold soup, which I've always considered unnecessary and weird. Ordinarily, my eyes skip right over such soups, the way I don't even see pants with 'toothpick' in the title. But somehow, this soup here caught my eye. Maybe it was the source; Shauna's been nailing delicious for years. Maybe it was the color; I'm hopeless for pale celadon. Maybe it was the fact we've been pulling giant, fresh cucumbers (plural) from our bush (singular) daily. Anyway, I caved, and I'm beyond thrilled, because this particular cold soup is completely fantastic.
The basic idea is chunk, chuck and blend, five minutes' work, with no stove involved. That right there almost sold me, as is. But it's what goes into the blender that's magic. The ingredients don't look like much, to the eye, a few cukes, plain yogurt, fresh dill and mint. But they blitz up into something else entirely, a riveting, cool, creamy bowl of fresh. Can you imagine that, fresh, by the slurp and the spoonful? Or, maybe, better, F-R-E-S-H? And gentle, and bright, and deeply invigorating? Did I mention delicious? Because that's there, too.
I've tweaked it a bit, to suit my tastes (and temperatures). I upped the mint, because I could and did and loved it. And I embellished a little, to make it a meal, adding eggs and tomatoes to the flotilla of cukes. Sweet 100's or Sungolds are so very good here, bringing sweetness and spunk to all that pale cool. The eggs are a little unexpected, and excellent, toothsome and tender and cheery, to boot. All told, you end up with a bright, brilliant party, calming and soothing and deeply refreshing.
I've called it lunch three times already this week, pouring from a pitcher that neighbors the iced tea. I'm not saying I'm done with iced drinks, or the sprinkler. But when it comes to keeping cool, I need all the help I can get. And this is some of loveliest help I've come across yet.
Minted Cucumber Soup + Confetti
Adapted from Shauna, at www.glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com
Yield: 4-6 servings
This soup keeps beautifully, refrigerated, for five days. Just whisk briefly to re-incorporate.
Please note chilling time: 1 hour - overnight.
2 large cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large fistful fresh mint, chopped (around 1/2 cup, after chopping)
1 Tbl. fresh dill, chopped
2 tsp. gentle vinegar (sherry, champagne, white whine)
24 oz. plain, whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. kosher salt, + more to taste
To Serve (Confetti):
1/2 dozen small, sweet cucumbers, or 1 large one (seeded), peeled and finely diced
fresh, local cherry tomatoes, quartered (sweet 100's and sungolds, if you can find them)
hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced
more fresh mint, chopped dill, kosher salt & freshly ground pepper to serve
Place all soup ingredients into blender, and blitz until smooth. Check for salt, and adjust seasoning to taste.
Refrigerate soup at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Soup will separate in the refrigerator; just whisk briefly to re-incorporate, before eating.
To serve: Fill a bowl three-quarters full with soup. Top with generous handfuls of diced cucumber, quartered cherry tomatoes, and diced egg, plus a smattering of finely chopped fresh herbs and s + p, if you wish. Enjoy. Repeat.