Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Cruisin' Gourmet

The 1998 Summer Guide to making tasty meals.

By Scene Writers

MAY 26, 1998:  Many people hate cooking in the summer, but not me--I absolutely revel in it. Though I rather fancy the heat generated in the kitchen, when I sit down to eat on my porch, or on a blanket spread under a tree, I want to chill out. And that's how I like my summer food--slightly chilled or, at most, at room temperature.

As the seasons change, chefs begin fiddling and tweaking, revising and experimenting. A seasonal menu change is the culinary equivalent of spring cleaning and fall storage. By Memorial Day, we'll all be ready to lighten up.

For your cooking and eating pleasure, here are some cool foods for hot days. The recipes are provided by some of Nashville's most skilled cooks, but we guarantee that even the most hapless home chef can manage them.


Carlo Giordano, co-owner A Taste of Italy

A Taste of Italy, the specialty food market in Paddock Place, is just about my favorite source for bruschetta. Carlo Giordano keeps it simple; he even shakes his head at the notion of adding cheese. With cheese or without, it's the perfect accompaniment to a glass of pinot grigio or chianti, served on the deck at twilight. I also persuaded Carlo to reveal how he makes the cold Arborio rice salad that's available for take-out daily at the shop.


Classic Bruschetta

Tuscan bread, sliced a half-inch thick and cut into squares or rounds

  • Garlic cloves, peeled
  • Top-quality olive oil
  • Roma tomatoes (optional)
  • Fresh basil (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place bread slices on a baking sheet and heat until crisp. Remove from oven. Rub toasted bread with peeled garlic, then brush with olive oil. For a variation, chop ripe Roma tomatoes and fresh basil, using them to top the garlic-rubbed toast. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.


Cold Arborio Rice Salad

(Serves 12, as side dish)

  • 1 bag (1 lb.) Arborio rice (available at Taste of Italy)
  • 2 thick-cut slices cotto prosciutto, cut into cubes
  • 2 thick-cut slices Fontina cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1 can (7 oz.) Genova tuna packed in olive oil (do not drain)
  • 1 jar (16 oz.) artichokes packed in olive oil (drained), chopped
  • 1 cup Giardiniera mixed vegetables, available at Robert Orr-Sysco
  • 1 cup pitted black olives
Cook rice in salted water, until just al dente (not mushy, Giordano warns). Let rice cool in serving bowl. Drain and chop artichokes and add to rice, along with prosciutto, cheese, tuna, mixed vegetables, and olives.

Make dressing, using:

  • 3 Tbs. mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. vinegar
Pour over rice and mix.



Mark Cygler, personal chef Gourmet to You

Try your hand at these starters, or if you really have an adverse reaction to cooking, let Cygler bring them to you. Not only does he cook for you; he shops, he packages, he freezes, and he cleans up. Such a deal.


Hearty Shrimp Gazpacho

(Serves 6)

  • 3/4 pound ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. marjoram
  • Juice of 1 grapefruit
  • Zest of 1/2 grapefruit
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 7 ounces cooked fresh corn
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1/4 cup green onions, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 7 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1 20-oz. can vegetable juice
  • 1/4 cup hot salsa
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/4 pounds cooked medium shrimp
Combine first 12 ingredients in a large bowl; sprinkle with lime juice and chill in refrigerator for one hour.

Combine vegetable juice and salsa in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for one hour.

Stir salsa mixture into tomato mixture and store in refrigerator. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with shrimp, fresh cilantro sprigs, and lime wedges.


Salpicon de mariscos (Spanish shellfish salad)

(Serves 4)

  • 3/4 lb. mussels, in shell
  • 3/4 lb. clams (topneck or littleneck)
  • 3/4 lb. large shrimp, cooked
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. capers, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cornichon pickles, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. pimento strips, chopped
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
Clean clams and mussels (debeard if necessary). Steam open in four tablespoons water. When they are cool enough to handle, remove most from shells, reserving a few in their shells for garnish. (Discard any that have not opened.) Peel and devein cooked shrimp.

Beat together the oil and vinegar until emulsified. Mix with remaining ingredients. Pour this mixture over shellfish, being careful to coat all thoroughly. Chill at least four hours (preferably overnight) to allow flavors to mingle.


Caponata

(Serves 6)

  • 1 medium eggplant (approx. 1 1/4 lb.)
  • Salt
  • 1 onion
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil
  • 3 celery ribs, including leaves
  • 1 lb. plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 cup green olives, crushed
  • 1 Tbs. capers, rinsed and drained
  • Black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
Slice eggplant into rounds, one inch thick. Cut slices into quarters; salt and blot. Peel onion; cut in half and slice in half moons. Heat two tablespoons oil in skillet and cook onion until translucent and soft.

Dice celery and add to onions along with celery leaves. Cook for 10 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes and cook five minutes longer.

Add vinegar. Stir in sugar. Add olives and capers. Simmer for 10 minutes, until tomatoes have broken down to form a sauce.

Pour remaining oil into separate skillet to a depth of one inch, and warm over medium heat. When oil is hot, add rinsed and dried eggplant pieces; cook until brown on all sides. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Stir eggplant pieces into tomato and celery mixture. Taste to test the balance of sweet and sour flavors. Add a little more sugar if necessary. Season generously and stir in parsley. Let dish stand for two-to-four hours to allow flavors to mingle.



Ed Arace, chef Laurell's Central Market

Roasted Caribbean chicken is a fabulous addition to Chef Ed Arace's peppery menu at Central Market. He sells it hot, but it's just as good cold--the perfect summer supper food, indoors or out. It comes with a divine jalapeño molasses sauce that you'll be tempted to eat with a spoon.

Arace says that, as summer approaches, he goes lighter on the sauces, moving to glazes and marinades. For salads, he uses less mayonnaise and more vinaigrettes.

The Caribbean chicken marks a transition from the Cornish Hens Arace offered when the Market first opened. "At first we were just roasting the chickens, but when we threw them on the grill, that's what made the difference." The molasses sauce will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator without breaking down.

Caribbean Roast Chicken

(Serves 4)

  • 2 chickens, 4 lbs. each
  • Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Seasoning (available at Laurell's Central Market and other specialty stores)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Rub chicken inside and out with poultry seasoning. Cook uncovered for 50 minutes

Prepare a hot grill.

Remove from oven, baste generously with jalapeño molasses sauce. (See below.) Return to oven for five-10 minutes.

Remove chicken from oven, cut in half or in pieces, and place on hot grill to caramelize the sauce.

Serve with extra jalapeño molasses sauce and cole slaw.


Jalapeño Molasses Sauce

(Makes approximately 1 gallon)

  • 1/3 gallon cider vinegar
  • 4 cups canned jalapeño peppers (do not use fresh)
  • 3 large yellow onions, diced
  • 1/3 cup chopped garlic
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 qt. molasses
  • 4 cups ketchup
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
Mix altogether in large container, then place in batches in blender or food processor until well mixed. Store in airtight container.


Cucumber Salsa

(Makes 1 quart)

  • 1/2 large red onion, diced fine
  • 1 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 1/2 lbs. cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded, diced
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced (Leave seeds in if you want lots of heat.)
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 4 Tbs. fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • Splash of olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together and let sit in refrigerator for 24 hours to allow flavors to blend.



Jeff Lunsford, chef Sunset Grill

By early May lettuce was already $1.99 a head at area produce stores, and some chain restaurants were removing green salads from their menus. This tomato salad takes advantage of the bounty of home-grown tomatoes (by July the Farmer's Market will practically be giving them away) and uses just a bit of greens; so it won't break the bank. Lunsford only adds this salad to Sunset's menu when the season dictates. He insists on organic tomatoes, but I've found the backyard variety does just fine.


Arugula and Organic Tomato Salad With Grilled Red Onions, Cheese and Basil Vinaigrette

(Serves 6)

Vinaigrette:

  • 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. minced shallots
  • 6 Tbs. olive oil
  • Fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
In a small mixing bowl, combine the shallots, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil; then add basil to your taste.

Salad:

  • 4 oz. arugula
  • Assorted red, green and yellow tomatoes
  • 2 red onions
  • 4 ounces Asiago cheese (or substitute a good-quality Parmesan)
Slice tomatoes quarter-inch thick and reserve. Slice the onions quarter-inch thick, brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender and reserve. Slice cheese, using a vegetable peeler to get nice ribbons.

On chilled plates arrange the arugula in small bunches, stems pointed toward the middle. Arrange tomato slices in the middle of the plate, garnish with grilled onions and cheese, then drizzle with the vinaigrette.



Steve Scalise, chef The Corner Market

Not only is The Corner Market ideally located for quick stops on your way home after work or tennis (provided your home happens to be in that tony neck of the woods), it's got the corner on picnickers headed to Warner Parks as well. Scalise was raised in New Orleans, where food is a religion. In spring and summer, he is inspired by the fresh colors of the season. "Everything is so bright and colorful and fresh. It just makes me think about what I want to eat, about what's fresh, and how colors might go together." With an eye for design, a predilection for colors, and a fondness for fresh fish, Scalise suggests a summer supper menu for two that is as pretty as a picture and good enough to eat.

All recipes serve 2.


Seared Tuna With Black Bean Salsa

  • 2 tuna steaks, 6-8 oz. each (sushi quality only)
Marinade:

  • 1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic (chopped very fine)
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbs. Tamari
  • 1 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Mix all marinade ingredients together. Pour over tuna steaks and marinate for one hour.

Grill on high heat, 3 minutes first side. Turn. Grill 2 minutes longer. Remove to platter.

Salsa:

  • 2 qts. water
  • 2 cups black beans
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 4 Tbs. diced red bell pepper
  • 4 Tbs. diced yellow or orange bell peppers
  • 8 Tbs. red onion, French cut
  • 1/2 oz. cilantro, chopped rough
  • 1 Tbs. toasted cumin
  • 1-2 Tbs. hot pepper sauce (Jamaican or West Indies Flambeau)
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced large
  • Fresh lime juice
Boil cleaned beans in salted water (or chicken stock) until tender but not mushy.

While beans are cooking, sauté vegetables until tender. Add cumin. Remove from heat; add cilantro, tomatoes, and hot sauce. Add drained beans, then lime juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Make salsa a day ahead. (This recipe serves more than two, but it keeps well in refrigerator.)


Saffron Basmati Rice Pilaf

  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 2 cups lobster or fish stock (available at The Corner Market)
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 3-6 Tbs. sweet Vidalia onion, diced small
  • 6 threads saffron, cut with sugar crystals to make powder
  • 1 tsp. salt to taste
  • Fresh parsley
Sauté onions in butter until transparent. Add rice; stir until all grains are buttered. Add stock, then saffron. Bring to a boil, stir well. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting. Cover tightly for 18 minutes. Turn out onto plate, garnish with parsley.


Spring Greens With Kiwi Vinaigrette

  • 2 ounces fresh, cleaned spring greens (Add watercress if you have it.)
For garnish:

  • Fresh grapefruit sections
  • Cilantro sprigs
  • Lime wedges
  • Kiwi circles
Vinaigrette:

  • 4 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 oz. sherry vinegar
  • 2 kiwi, puréed
  • 1 Tbs. roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 Tbs. fresh roughly chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbs. fresh roughly chopped basil
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together and drizzle over greens and tuna steaks.

Garnish salad with grapefruit sections, cilantro, lime wedges, and kiwi circles.



Anne Clayton and Mary Blackmon, co-owners Clayton-Blackmon Inc.

Anne Clayton and Mary Blackmon have fed gazillions of Nashvillians--so many, nobody would be surprised if there were a 12-step program for folks addicted to their signature veggie rollers. But the rollers are just one item on a vast repertoire of recipes, none of which is especially top secret. "I don't understand people who won't share recipes," says Clayton. "Food is meant for sharing." Here are three of their specialties:


Roasted Beef Tenderloin

(Serves 6-8 as main course or yields 40 slices for rolls)

Have butcher clean and trim a beef tenderloin, about 3 lbs. finished.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the meat with generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper, dried basil, garlic salt, and olive oil.

Roast for 30 minutes. (Meat will be rare to medium rare.)

Let meat sit for 15 minutes before slicing or refrigerate and slice cold for a picnic.

Serve with horseradish sauce or fresh basil pesto blended with good mayonnaise.


Vidalia Onion Salad

(Serves 15-20)

  • 2 lbs. assorted colorful bell peppers sliced (red, yellow, orange and purple)
  • 4 lbs. sliced Vidalia onions (use yellow and red, if available)
  • 1 bunch green onions, tops only, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
Dressing:

  • 3/4 cup salad oil
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 heaping Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • Generous grindings of black pepper to taste
Blend all dressing ingredients together. Check seasonings and pour over salad. Refrigerate. Best if made a day in advance. Gets better with age. Great also as a topping for sandwiches or with roasted chicken.


French Green Bean Salad

(Serves 10-12)

  • 2 lbs. fresh baby green beans (haricots verts)
  • 2 oz. thin-sliced red onion
  • 2 oz. thin-sliced Vidalia onion
  • 1 yellow bell pepper sliced thinly
  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges -- or 2 pints ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 oz. toasted, blanched slivered almonds
  • 6 oz. goat cheese
Dressing:

  • 4 oz. basil pesto
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt, or to taste
  • Generous grinds of fresh black pepper
Blanch beans in boiling water for one minute to set color. Cool immediately in cold water to stop cooking; drain.

Place first six ingredients in a bowl and toss. Blend dressing together and pour over salad just before serving (It is important to dress salad just before serving to preserve color of beans)

Crumble goat cheese over top and garnish with fresh basil leaves.



Cathy Lewis, co-owner Nick of Thyme Gourmet to Go & Cafe

Nick of Thyme brought gourmet take-out to Brentwood two years ago. "I always try to put myself in my customer's shoes," Lewis says. "In the summer, they want lots of cold stuff that requires little extra preparation. We offer what we can get seasonally, what is fresh, a little bit lighter, but with a lot of flavor. " She's particularly fond of couscous, for which she uses the Israeli variety, which is larger-grained, is made from wheat flour, and has virtually no fat, sodium, or cholesterol.


Israeli Toasted Couscous Salad

(Serves 6)

  • 2 cups Israeli toasted couscous
  • 4 cups water
Put couscous in cooking pot and add boiling water. Cover pot and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When cooking time is completed, strain and run cold water over the couscous to stop the cooking process.

Combine couscous with:

  • 1 red pepper, diced small
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced small
  • 1 small red onion, diced small
  • 2 cups roasted corn
(To roast the corn: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Take four ears of fresh corn and cut off the kernals. Toss with 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil and about 10 grinds of black pepper. Add two medium-size jalapeño peppers, minced. Spread ingredients in a flat, shallow pan. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown.)

Dressing:

  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 50 grinds black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
Put all ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor. Using blade attachment, process until smooth. Start adding oil, slowly, almost drop by drop, to form an emulsion. Gradually add more oil until completely incorporated.

Toss couscous and other ingredients with about half the dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed. Reserve rest of dressing for a marinade for grilled fish or chicken. You can also toss it with black beans.



Freddy Brooker, executive chef The Trace, 2000 Belcourt Ave.

Pasta is the perfect simple entrée all through the year. But in warm-weather months, you'll want to forsake heavy, cream-based sauces for lighter, fresher ingredients. Brooker plans to make use of the bounty of tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables.


Zucchini and Tomato Sauce

(Serves 4)

  • 2 pounds zucchini (sliced into 1 inch-thick rounds, then sliced thin lengthwise and blanched)
  • 6 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. minced shallots
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 Tbs. fresh oregano
  • 3 Tbs. fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb. pasta
Heat 3 tablespoons oil over low heat, add shallots and garlic and cook until soft. Add green bell pepper and sauté to soften. Add thyme, oregano, and basil. Stir in tomatoes and zucchini and season with red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes to thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil and adjust seasonings. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Toss with vegetables. Serve immediately or refrigerate. (Keeps three days.)


Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce With Garlic

(Serves 4)

  • 2 medium-size red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 2 medium-size yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 2-3 Tbs. minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound pasta
Mix roasted, diced peppers with olive oil and garlic in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and freshly chopped herbs. Cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blends. Cook pasta according to package directions. Toss with peppers and serve or refrigerate. Keeps three days.



John Kraus, executive pastry chef Magnolias

Kraus loves dramatic desserts, but in the summer months, even sweets addicts can be happy with a bowl of berries or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. "Summer is hard on chocolate lovers," he concedes. Kraus compensates with cool treats such as strawberry shortcakes with black pepper vanilla ice cream, a lemon tart that closely resembles a flan, and this lime sorbet. It's simple to make at home, and you can leave the drama for the presentation. Kraus suggests serving it in a chilled martini glass, topped with fresh raspberries.


Lime Sorbet

(Serves 6)

  • 1 1/4 cups fresh lime juice
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup Karo syrup to stabilize, if desired
Make a simple syrup: Combine sugar and water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Combine with other ingredients in ice cream maker, if available. Freeze according to directions. When solidified, put in freezer. Otherwise, place in a bowl, stir, cover and put in freezer. Stir again frequently until solidified.



John Twichell, pastry chef Bread & Company

It's berry-picking time in Tennessee. But you don't have to subject yourself to the backbreaking labor. Berries are everywhere you look these days. Twichell is lightening up on desserts for the season: a lowfat lemon mousse cake, a lemon curd tart with kiwi and fresh pansies. But strawberry shortcake is the classic. Here's how he does it:


Old-Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

(Makes 8-10 shortcakes)

Shortcakes:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. Half & Half
Glaze:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 Tbs. sugar
Topping:

  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 1/4 cup strawberry preserves
  • 2 qts. strawberries, quartered
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles small peas. Combine one egg and Half & Half. Mix into dry ingredients to form dough. Roll out on floured surface to three-quarters-inch thickness. Cut with a two-and-a-half-inch round cutter. Place shortcakes on parchment-lined or buttered baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Cool thoroughly.

To assemble the shortcakes: Split each biscuit horizontally. Spread preserves on bottom. Place a tablespoon-size dollop of whipped cream on each. Divide strawberries among biscuits. Top with remaining cream and replace other biscuit halves. Serve with vanilla ice cream or ice cold whole milk.



Heath Williams, executive chef Provence Breads and Cafe

Provence's cheese selection has grown steadily since the bakery and cafe opened a couple of years ago. (Williams particularly likes the French artisan cheeses, some of which arrive only a couple of times a year.) As far as Williams is concerned, cheese can stand alone, it can start a meal, it can end a meal, or it can be central to the meal itself.

For spring, he says, goat cheeses are perfect. Choose young, middle-aged, or mature versions, depending on your personal taste. The younger ones are creamier; the more mature ones are firm enough to slice. All do well at room temperature; so they're fine for outdoor dining.

Williams likes to serve olives with cheese. Green olives with fennel and lemon complement mild or sweet cheeses; spicy olives with lemon and dried spices or mixed olives with chili peppers can stand up well to strong cheeses. Dried cured olives are great for picnics because there are no worries about briny spills. In the spring, he also likes to serve toasted almonds with cheese.

For larger parties, five people or more, Williams suggests serving at least three different cheeses. He likes a mix of Coach Farms goat cheese, either plain or with green peppercorns; the fairly new Umbriaco Puro Pecora, an Italian cheese, aged two years in red wine; and Cabrales, a strong Spanish bleu cheese.

When setting out a cheese board after a heavy meal, Williams says, select a cheese that can stand up to what's gone before. But he makes sure to serve it along with a palate-cleanser--greens, fresh fruit, or even a sorbet.




Bitter With the Sweet

When life gives you lemons...

By Jim Ridley

Better than anything else I can think of, a glass of lemonade perfectly evokes the bag of mixed blessings that is summer. It is more than refreshment. It's a signpost to the only sure path that'll get you through life.

The first thing you learn about lemonade is that you can't drink it all at once. For one thing--and I hate to be gross, but such is the price of knowledge--too much lemonade triggers a doomsday burp so acrid and astringent it'll make your eyes water. Some Sunday School pals compared the effect to putting Alka-Seltzers in Pepsi, but I didn't listen--these same buddies once wasted an Easter Sunday arguing about whether Jesus could get jock itch.

A bigger problem, though, is that within seconds of that first gulp, you're immediately stricken by the Lemon Face--that weird, uncontrollable pucker reflex that temporarily turns the most dignified citizen into Don Knotts. Your eyes bug, your lips balloon outward, and the inside of your mouth feels like Velcro. So vivid is the sensation that even the smell can cause severe flashbacks. One whiff of Lemon Pledge, and I look like Mick Jagger in the throes of thrombosis.

Once the initial sour smack subsides, however, it's instantly replaced by a soothing tide of sweetness that sends a tingle down your spine. Your facial muscles relax. Your lips decompress. The sugary bliss makes your teeth feel spongy and soft. The rush is so warming that you want to brave the sour puss again. This time, however, you know better than to gulp it. You take a gentle sip, and this time the sour and the sweet are inextricable sensations, each enhanced somehow by the other.

Pretty soon a kid learns that yardwork and lemonade, like sweet sugar and bitter fruit, are nowhere near as pleasing by themselves as they are together. One summer, my father drafted me away from the TV to help him clear out the quince bushes behind our house. The bushes were scratchy and thorny in themselves, but they were also threaded from fruit to root with snaky, defiantly entrenched honeysuckle vines. The harder I yanked, the harder they dug in, until finally I went sprawling with nothing but a handful of leaves. Sulking and muttering oaths, I threw off the work gloves and stormed into the kitchen. Screw the honeysuckle.

My mother stood at the counter with a sackful of halved lemons, squeezing their juice into a large bowl. The whole room smelled citrusy and bright. On the stove, a boiling syrup of sugar and water popped lazy opaque bubbles. My mother set aside a couple of the lemons for garnish, then poured the juice into the boiling syrup. It swirled into a mixture the color of fossilized amber, and breathing in the heavy candied scent was like inhaling a lollipop.

"It'll be ready when you get through," she said, looking out the window at the backyard, where my father wrestled alone with a thick rope of a vine. An hour later, my father and I piled the last of the vines into a mound of brush and watched them burn with a roar. From the front porch, as the flames whooshed into the sky, we toasted the honeysuckle's demise with tall, steam-covered glasses. The heat, the cold, the sweetness, the bitter tang, the physical exhaustion, the mental exhilaration--each was magnified, yet mellowed somehow, by the nearness of its opposite.

I've since done yardwork without lemonade, and I've done lemonade without yardwork. Neither is quite the same, although the latter is preferable. Even so, unearned lemonade seems sort of decadent, as if you'd gotten something for nothing. You have to work for lemonade. It was made to clear away the taste of dirt and grit and sweat. It needs to be set off by some tiresome chore. For lemonade to taste perfect, you have to drink it on a sweltering June afternoon, accompanied by sore calves, the scent of newly cut grass, and the shadows of a setting sun.

Every May, the great cosmic equivocator lugs out his balance sheet and pairs off heaping portions of the blessed and the intolerable. That pure, unadulterated sunshine--it comes with a side of sunburn or skin cancer. Those fields of wildflowers and gently waving grass--they're packed with armies of ticks and chiggers. Even when a thunderstorm billows in to chase away the sticky heat, it hurls death rays of lightning at treetops and golfers. Every silver lining has its cloud, and, if you obsess over the threat hidden in every fleeting pleasure, pretty soon you become a misanthrope, a madman--or worse still, an actuary.

But from the time a child is old enough to clear brush--usually on a day mislabeled "summer vacation"--he returns from every onerous hot-weather task to find a tall, steam-covered glass sitting on the kitchen counter in a puddle of condensation. The liquid inside is a dusky yellow, clouded over with sugar and bits of pulp. By that point, the poor kid would probably drink developing fluid if somebody served it on ice. But that doesn't matter. All that matters is thirst and immediate fulfillment. The kid upends the glass and takes a greedy gulp.

Summers fade; summers return. With the onset of every new season comes the aching awareness that it too will pass. But without the moments of tragedy and folly, without the inklings of mortality and the imminent falling of the leaves, the most joyous of days would pass in a blur. Taking away one would leave the other meaningless. As a kid, I used to dread that first bitter taste of lemons. These days, when I drink lemonade, I cherish the sour for the way it brings out the sweet.



Lemon Aid

Stir it in the shade--no spade required

There is no such thing as a foolproof lemonade recipe. Everyone has different levels of sweet and sour tolerance, and no matter what instructions you follow, you'll eventually have to doctor the results to your tastes. That said, we offer Frances Moudy's recipe for lemonade, perfected over several decades at Moudy's Drugstore on the Murfreesboro courthouse square. Sadly, Moudy's is long gone, but the recipe lives on:

First, make a sugar syrup in a large pot by dissolving five pounds of sugar in a gallon of water. Bring to a boil, then let cool. Store the syrup in the refrigerator. Place several ice cubes in a glass, then add the sugar syrup until the glass is half full. Pour in the strained juice of one lemon, or to taste--we sourpusses use three. Then fill the rest of the glass with cold water. Garnish with lemon slices, and repeat when necessary. --J.R.


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