Nosh Box: Food Independence
Independence Day’s always July’s prime event. And July holds the essence of the “salad days of summer.” That’s actually a Shakespeare idiom from Anthony and Cleopatra that aptly captures the spirit of July—but has nothing to do with first course cold plates, or munching vinaigrette-dressed garden greens. Paraphrasing Wikipedia, it’s a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion associated with youth.
Now let’s see how that applies in July to some popular activities, and the foods that fuel them. Two threads run through these dishes. The first is simplicity. Second is the popularity of finger foods: sliders, tacos, stuffed eggs, skewers and kabobs, corndogs, and other foods cooked and served on a stick.
County Fairs – In Pleasanton, beginning mid-June through July 7, Alameda County produces one of the finest fairs among California’s 58 counties. There’s a massive midway with rides, and games of chance and skill; exhibition buildings galore; a concert series; thoroughbred horseracing, with Parimutuel betting; art galleries; craft vendors; livestock and 4-H judging. But perhaps best of all is fair food.
There are the usual burgers, hot dogs, and corndogs, as well as grilled or BBQ turkey drums. But for more esoteric foodies, be sure to check these out: the lobster corn dog; a macaroni-and-cheese-stuffed bacon burger; spaghetti ice cream; crawfish etouffee; deep-fried, bacon-wrapped, pork belly; and red velvet funnel cake. Perhaps the ultimate is the red, white and blue baked potato, with chunks of chicken white meat and blue cheese, a Greek yogurt Sriracha sauce, and a white-truffle Alfredo sauce. While not very simple, this dish exemplifies both fair food and the salad days of summer.
Backyard Grilling is in full swing on the Fourth of July, and all month long. While hamburgers remain the fave, seasonal fruits like avocados, pears, peaches, and pineapple respond well to live-fire cooking, as do sliced potatoes. These grilling hacks will improve the results.
• To avoid a petroleum taste, don’t use starter fluid.
• Avoid match-lite charcoal, for the same reason.
• Don’t press on meats while grilling. Doing so dries them out.
• Season meat up to two days before grilling, not at the last minute.
• Pat meat dry, then oil surfaces lightly before placing on hot grill grate.
• Instant-read thermometers determine doneness better than poking or timing.
Baseball – We’re talking MLB from the spectators’ viewpoint. Even though MLB produces a 162-game season, July is when the local teams recover from June-swoon and begin to show their true mettle. Stadium food enhances spectating with simplicity and variety: chili dogs and hot dogs; peanuts in the shell; ballpark popcorn and caramel-corn; nachos; soft pretzels; and an early seasonal appearance of corn on the cob, slickened with butter-flavored yellow stuff. Whatever the selection, wash it down with a cold draft beer. According to CheatSheet.com, the cost approaches $20 today in Bay Area ballparks. That same beer cost 69¢ when MLB arrived here in 1958.
Camping became so popular that campgrounds are overcrowded and require reservations. Here are tips for first-timers. Placing a Sousaphone on your camp table usually keeps neighboring campsites clear. Ardent campers agree that foods cooked outdoors over an open fire tastes like nothing else. But that’s a two-edged decree. Place a potato into hot embers, and in an hour it becomes a savory side dish; in two hours it becomes a lump of charcoal. Remember that few backcountry containers are really bear-proof, including plastic coolers, bear-resistant canisters, and the trunk of your car.
When camping, the logistics for cooking and food refrigeration influence the degree of difficulty—and increase the popularity of glamping, and motor camping. The former is more upscale, using tent-cabins or yurts for shelter. The latter allows purchase of a quarter-million-dollar motorhome that gets 4 mpg, with a carbon footprint the size of Montana, and that can’t be parked within five miles of your home. Also, the costs of a campsite with electrical and water hookups is more than a two-room suite—with kitchenette—at the nearest motel. Plus, after all that, you get to pressure-wash the mechanical monster, and purge both waste tanks.
Literal Local Hack – For real-time salad days, discover nearly endless combinations on a summer salad menu right now. Drop by the new downtown Oakland Mixt, at 2299 Broadway. Owners claim you don’t have to choose between fast food and good food, boasting “…1,000,000 pounds of local, sustainable and organic vegetables served per year,” prepared and served ultra-fresh, ultra fast. Check it out!