Randi Kreiss

Dancing on the balance beam of summer 2019

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We are at the apex of summer, a peach-perfect moment, and how sweet it is. Tomatoes grow heavy on the vine, corn is coming in sweet and crisp and berry-mania is evident in every backyard barbecue.

I know we’re not at the precise astronomical high point of summer 2019, but it feels as if the atmosphere and the mood and the fruit are all about to become slightly, minutely overripe. It’s just past midnight, and the days are getting shorter. The moon was full last week, and tides ran over into local streets. Cicadas screech in the night. Oh, it’s late August all right.

Greedy for every moment of this season in the sun, I go to Costco and buy two crates of peaches. I live in a two-person household, but one can’t ever have too many delicious peaches.

I know William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about plums, “so sweet and so cold,” and if I could write poetry, I would pay homage to peaches. It isn’t that there aren’t tons of peaches around; it’s that perfect peaches, red-tinged, yellow-fleshed, and sweet and slightly tart and firm and fuzzy, are here for us only in the waning weeks of August.

I baked three peach tortes: 1 cup of flour, 1 stick of butter, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, a pinch of salt, 1 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Mix flour, butter, eggs. Add dry ingredients and mix. Slice 4 big peaches on top. Sprinkle with topping of butter, brown sugar, chopped walnuts. Bake 50 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Repeat three times. Freeze if you must.

I eat one peach a day with my breakfast yogurt. I grilled peaches with dinner last night. I have six left, and I’m trying to be disciplined enough not to invest in another crate or two. A wasted peach is a sin. My hunch is they’ll be gone soon, replaced by those impossibly over-sized purple emperor plums, about which no one ever wrote poetry.

Summer is so much about the food. This week I cooked soft-shelled crabs on the barbecue. As I soaked them in milk in preparation for their grilling, I swore I saw a leg move. But that would be unlikely, since they had been gutted and cleaned at the fish store.

Still, one can’t think too much about the critters as one prepares dinner. They are grotesque creatures, really, with soft shells and so many legs. Truly, if they weren’t so delicious, I would be tempted to douse them with Raid. I recall reading that in the early days of the settlement of New England, lobsters were considered trash food. They littered the beaches and were fed to prisoners.

My other summer dinner special is steamed clams. I tell the fish seller that I need enough for four people even though we are only two. Summer just invites overindulgence, like the time I ate a pound of Bing cherries and lived to regret it. You soak the steamers in cold water for 20 minutes. Then you drop them in a pot of broth made of water, clam juice, salt, pepper, a bit of vinegar, carrots, celery and onion. Boil until clams open. Eat clams. Drink broth. No calories.

Back in the day, I grew my own tomatoes, planting too many in too small a space because I wanted more tomatoes than I could ever eat come August. Eventually the mosquitoes put me out of the tomato-growing business. But the lust for summer’s bounty is energizing. Last week we went out East and cruised the farm stands for early tomatoes and corn. Summer tomatoes, when they’re really, really sweet and delicious, need to be eaten straight up, maybe with a sprinkle of salt. Actually, that was lunch today: tomatoes and Gouda cheese. Tomatoes are summer itself, transitory and easily spoiled.

The day lilies are blasted, the peonies are gone and the lilacs are resting until spring. Chrysanthemums, anyone?

We dance on the balance beam of summer. Soon a shriveled leaf in the wind or a sudden morning chill will brush us off this perfect spot, and tip us into autumn.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.