Growing up across the street from a city beach in Boston, I learned very early in life from my mom, my aunts, and our neighbors how to make the most of every precious sunny summer day. Most weekdays, this tight knit group of stay-at-home wives and mothers got up early, dispatched with breakfast and housework before mid morning, packed a picnic lunch, rounded up the neighborhood kids, and headed for the beach.
The lunches were pretty standard fare – ham and cheese, tuna salad, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with fruit and some “store-bought” cookies for dessert. Sometimes the adults got a little creative. On a day when a chilly wind blew in from the ocean, they would fill a wide-mouthed thermos with hot water, drop in a few steamed frankfurters, pack some rolls and mustard, and treat us to a hot lunch. How we savored the little unpretentious meal that warmed our insides as our teeth chattered and we shivered beneath the big shabby bath towels our moms thought most appropriate for the sand, seaweed, and grit of our local beach.
Now more than half a century later, I still incorporate the strategies I learned in my childhood concerning how to appreciate the gift of a beautiful summer day. If one has to work and can’t get away to the ocean or a lake, one can usually manage to step outdoors, look at the blue sky, breathe deeply, listen to the sounds of summer, and maybe even pick a bouquet of whatever is around to take home as a reminder of a lovely day.
This past weekend was one of the most beautiful in recent memory, with nearly cloudless skies, low humidity, warm breezes, and the late sunsets of early summer. I was unable to get away to the beach, drive to the mountains, or even to leave my own backyard.What I could do, however, was to follow the lead of my mom and her friends and give myself a few days off. I took a little staycation, spending as much time outdoors as possible, puttering around the garden, reading the Sunday papers and sipping iced tea on the deck, and preparing easy meals with what I had on hand.
When I heard the rosy weather forecast on Saturday morning, I spent about an hour in the kitchen after breakfast preparing in advance for some quick meals for the rest of the weekend. I baked a batch of brownies, sliced up some fruit, washed and dried some mixed lettuce, hard boiled a half dozen eggs, and made some concentrate for iced tea by steeping five teabags in a small cup of water for about 45 minutes.
For dinner on Saturday night, we had ham steaks, pineapple rings, and zucchini halves, all cooked on the outdoor grill, a tossed salad, fruit and brownies for dessert, and iced tea. Prep time took about thirty minutes.
Sunday brunch consisted of orange juice, scrambled eggs and bacon, English muffins with blueberry jam, sliced fruit, and coffee.
For supper on Sunday evening, I made good use of the leftovers from Saturday’s cookout as well as those hard-boiled eggs by fixing ham salad sandwiches and deviled eggs. To round out the meal, I served sliced tomatoes with an oil and vinegar dressing topped with chopped basil from the garden. I had enough leftover brownies, fruit, and iced tea for the finish. Following are my recipes for the ham salad and deviled eggs.
Leftover Ham Salad
1 cup of cubed ham, 1/2 cup of chopped grilled pineapple rings, 1/4 cup of chopped green onions, 1/4 cup of chopped green pepper, and mayonnaise.
Place all the ingredients except the mayonnaise into the bowl of a food processor and
pulse until all are finely chopped and of uniform size. Empty contents into a small bowl
and add mayonnaise a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
Spread on toasted whole wheat bread or rolls lined with lettuce. Enough filling to make 4
Deviled Eggs (adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery, 1972)
6 hard boiled eggs, shells removed, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, 1/8 tsp hot sauce, 1/8 tsp of salt or to taste, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, 1/2 tablespoon of minced chives or grated onion, mayonnaise, and paprika or chopped parsley for garnish
Slice the eggs carefully lengthwise, place whites on a plate, and mash yolks in a small bowl.
Add the next five ingredients and mix well.
Add the mayonnaise a spoonful at a time until the mixture forms a firm paste.
Carefully fill each egg white half with the yolk mixture and sprinkle the tops with paprika, and/or chopped parsley.