Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Give me Heat

Sometimes, to make the world feel right, you have to trick yourself.

See, it's supposed to be summer. It's supposed to be hot and sticky, with so much sun you have to hide under trees or umbrellas or sunscreen.

But summer in San Francisco is grey. Really grey. 

From my kitchen window that looks out towards the Pacific, I can count on one hand how many times I've seen the sun in the past three weeks. Sigh.

It's okay, really. If I don't think about how half an hour away in any direction everyone else is getting that barbeque, picnic, and swimming pool weather. If I remind myself that everyone else in this foggy city is in the same situation, and are used to it, and have probably lived through it many years and survived.

But I just can't help myself - I want true summer.

So I've been trying to trick myself. From the Chinese grocery down the street, I've been buying baby coconuts, sawing them open, and drinking the coconut juice. A cocktail umbrella, a beach chair, and some sand would be nice to complete the equation, but I've settled for thick socks and scarves while I slurp the juice.

I've also been eating mountains of cherries and strawberries, which, in a sane world, are only available in that thick summer heat. I eat the cherries, and I think about driving with my mom the long way home from school, a huge bag of Bings sitting between us, spitting the pits out the wide open windows with the hot wind blowing in our faces. I eat the strawberries and I think of searching through our jungle-like garden for the tiny wild varieties, and sneaking them like precious jewels before my sister found them and I would be forced to share. 

And then there is the bread salad. A concept I'm just getting used to, for one thing. It seems so contradictory: not bread and salad, but bread salad? But with that just right combination of tomatoes and basil, bread salad is not only delicious and easy, but to me, it screams of summer.

I got the idea from reading back through my journals about last summer's trip through Spain. I've talked about this trip before, and about my great friend Eli who showed us around her home town of
Torremolinos in the south of Spain. It was unbelievably hot there in July, so hot your flesh seemed to cook from the moment you woke up in the morning, even if you weren't in direct sun. It was a game to find ways to stay cool. We tried everything from living in the ocean water, to drinking copious quantities of tinto de verano (see photo), to taking long siestas under slow-moving fans. 

When we weren't trying to stay cool, we were eating. I credit Eli with introducing me to one of my true loves in life: churros y chocolate, as well as making sure that I got my daily tapas from a different bar in the city every day. But from her own kitchen, Eli would make us an Andalucian classic: fried bread topped with a puree of tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil, with a good pinch of salt.

We ate it on the balcony of her top floor apartment, the high rise hotels and the salty sea before us on the hot mornings of July last year. When I think of those breakfasts, I can't help but feel the heat: hot, sticky, oppressive and wonderful.

My own version isn't quite the same, and granted is not followed up by a freshly fried Spanish churro dipped in a thick pudding-like chocolate, but it still brings me back to those mornings of glorious heat in the height of summer.

Bread and Tomato Salad

1/2 of a sweet baguette, preferably day old
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
6-8 tomatoes, depending on size, chopped
small handful of basil, torn
salt and pepper

1) Cut up the bread into bite sized chunks, crusts included. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, then add the bread. Cook for about two minutes, till golden on one side, then flip bread and sprinkle garlic in the pan. Cook another two minutes or so, until bread is golden on both sides and garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat.

2) Combine tomatoes, basil, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. When ready to serve, quickly toss together warm bread and garlic with tomato mixture. Serve immediately. 

Serves 2

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