The other day, I asked Lucy how her summer is going. (Summer only technically began a few weeks ago, but in kid time, it feels like AGES since kindergarten ended.) Joyful as always, Lu threw her arms in the air and shouted, “GREAT! It’s all bare feet, swimming, seeing friends, fireworks, and reading books. I love this summer.”
I have to say, I agree with her.
Dirty bare feet, tromping around the back yard, is a sure sign of summer for me. We live on a rural island, after all. Most kids here spend most days barefoot in their gardens and in the woods. There is always time for a bath later.
We’ve been spending lots of time in our backyard, dipping our feet into the rainbow-colored baby pool, the cold water a balm on the hot days we endured. Desmond has been roaming free about the yard, doing the specific toddle of someone who has recently learned to walk: arms up, shoulders hunched, so excited. We’ve been clipping basil from the plant that is growing in profusion, slicing it up as one of the greens in my daily big salad. We’ve been going to the beach. We live on an island, after all, surrounded by water. Everyone on Vashon has a favorite beach. I love KVI, where we go most of the time. Lu loves this one, Dockton Park, because there’s a playground right on the water. We’re having her birthday party here in a couple of weeks. My god, she’s going to be 7 this summer.
Summer anywhere is something special, I think. But summer on Vashon is something particular. Foxgloves arching over the green of June gardens. Kids in mismatched clothes, still wearing boots, with chipped nail polish, running to show you their beach treasures. The splash of the outdoor pool by the high school, the squeals audible from the main highway. An ice cream cone at Minglement, after an afternoon of kids paddling in warm beach water and building sand castles together, the adults talking on blankets. An enormous fireworks show over Quartermaster Harbor, as the night settles over the Olympic mountains, and families sprawl on the green grass of the golf course at the country club, which opens its view to anyone in town for one night. There will be Strawberry Festival soon, a small-town parade (I like the grocery store’s shopping cart brigade), booths lined up and down the main street in town, dances in the street at night, and a chance to see everyone we know on the island while licking the snow cone juice running down our arms in blue rivulets.
Plus, a lot of time at the library, which is air conditioned and offers an oasis of stories yet unread for Lucy. She is determined to read them all, all the books that interest her, in the rows and rows of books in the section of the library overlooking the park. I love being surrounded by books. Our girl does too.
Summer. I love it.
Summer means a lot of salmon around here. Danny smokes a side of Coho salmon, poaches another one, lets them both cool, and makes us salmon salad with capers for lunch. I plop some down on a big bed of fresh arugula and top it with a tomato vinaigrette he made with grilled tomatoes, shallots, sherry vinegar, a dab of mustard, and a peppery olive oil. We make up a new dressing when we need it, eat it on everything for a week, then play with flavors and fill up a jar with something new. (Someday, Danny and I want to write a cookbook called Dips, Dressings, and Sauces. I swear, as long as you have a catalog of interesting dressings, eating vegetables all day feels like the only way to be in the summer.)
And we always have hummus around too. Put cut vegetables around a bowl of fresh-made hummus in the refrigerator and Lucy will take care of her own snacks all day. I’ve always loved hummus, but as soon as we started making Yotam Ottlenghi’s hummus from Jerusalem, our hummus game has been one slam dunk after another with the kids.
Summer is when we eat nearly every meal on the porch. Sometimes in January I look out through the rain dripping down the windows of our back doors, and try to remember what it feels like to eat in air so warm we have to move the table under the shade of the tree to make it through dinner. January feels like the memory now. We haven’t eaten a single meal inside the house since the middle of June. When we see friends, we gather on our back porch, talking while dipping and grabbing another spoonful of potato salad. This makes me truly happy.
And those summer meals around here wouldn’t be good without Danny’s barbecue sauce.
“This sauce was from my first internship during culinary school. I left NECI and went to Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek, Colorado. It was a private club, a restaurant that only people who owned property in that town could visit. In the late 80s, those houses were going for over a million dollars. And then people had to pay dues to become members of the club. This wasn’t my world. The food was outstanding. I thought, given the community and the quality of the food, that everything there would be complicated to make. But sometimes, the best food is the simplest. All this sauce took was half an hour in a pot, simmering, then strained, and it is amazing. At Beano’s Cabin, we used it for a pizza: smoked duck slathered in this barbecue sauce, with scallions, corn, and a touch of Fontina cheese. (That pizza was the best snack when I was hungry in the middle of service.) This barbecue sauce has been stuck in my head since 1989.”
For years, we have made pots of this barbecue sauce all summer long, then slathered it on grilled chicken or salmon or duck or even tofu. Have some in the refrigerator and summer dinner takes no thought.
And it’s so easy to make.
That’s what summer is supposed to be, after all. Easy.
Danny’s barbecue sauce
The first time Danny made this sauce, I thought, “Wow, I’m never buying another bottle of barbecue sauce again.” And we haven’t.
The only ingredient here that might feel unfamiliar to some of you is oyster sauce. What is it? First of all, delicious. It’s a thick liquid, viscous, made traditionally by simmering oysters in water, low and slow, until the juices reduce and caramelize. As you can imagine from the taste of oysters, oyster sauce is a little sweet, a little ocean salty, and earthy, with a ton of deep umami flavor. Most commercial oyster sauces, however, have preservatives and fillings to make that flavor happen faster. Given how often you might be using this barbecue sauce in your summer meal, it’s worth finding a good oyster sauce.
Mostly, you have to be careful and find a gluten-free oyster sauce. Most of them are not gluten-free, since some producers use wheat flour to thicken the sauce rapidly or MSG to flavor it. (MSG made outside of the United States has gluten in it.) Most often, we use this one, because it’s available at our grocery store. When we get into the city to go to Uwajimaya, we look for the Lee Kum Kee brand, because we prefer the taste. However, be aware that only their green label oyster sauce is gluten-free. You have to pay attention when you’re gluten-free.
Other than finding the oyster sauce, this might be the easiest barbecue sauce you make: dump, simmer, stir, and strain. Make some now because you’re going to want to eat this all through the summer.
1 cup ketchup
1 cup oyster sauce (make sure it’s gluten-free. most aren’t)
1 cup rice wine vinegar
large nub of ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 green onions, finely sliced
2 heaping tablespoons chopped cilantro
Set a large pot on medium heat. Add all the ingredients and stir. When the sauce comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take the pot off the heat. Strain the sauce into a large bowl.
Makes about 3 cups of barbecue sauce.
This should last in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
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