The summer isn’t summer unless I go to the beach at least twice a week, ogle lifeguards there, lounge outside nightly with a beer or cocktail, shop for veggies and fruit at a farmer’s market, and whip up alfresco meals with the produce I bring home. This all sounds like fun and games––and it is! ––but it does require some planning.
Weeks before lifeguards grace the beach, I map out my schedule to make sure these seasonal activities happen. First, I make a commitment to hitting the beach on my free days from work, even if for an hour or two. Next, preferably on a rainy day in early June, I pull every summer issue of Fine Cooking from my bookshelf and leaf through them, jotting down the issue and page numbers of all the dishes that I want to prepare in the next three months. If I don’t prepare each and every one of those recipes, I’ll feel as though I’ve deprived myself of summer.
With all the cooking magazines available on the market, why do I turn to Fine Cooking for inspiration every summer? A good friend from college introduced me to it in the mid-1990s when she became an editor there, and I have been faithful ever since. Fine Cooking’s a truly special magazine. First and foremost, it’s totally devoted to cooking, striving to “bring out the cook in you.” Even all the advertisements are endemic, meaning that they pertain to culinary items only, not to watches, automobiles, or cruises. Also distinctive about Fine Cooking is that every single recipe is tested multiple times to ensure that its method is foolproof and the resulting dish is yummy. Very few publications go to this effort. Furthermore, Fine Cooking believes that there is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak. While some magazines (well, one in particular), publish the one, true way to roast a chicken, for example, Fine Cooking accepts that culinary experts will have different, but equally successful methods to execute the same dish. This attitude underscores the creative aspects of cooking and encourages flexibility instead of rigidity.
While most cooking magazines tend to focus on trends, Fine Cooking concentrates on what works and tastes good. This means that summer after summer I can revisit recipes, even ones over ten years old, and never sense that they feel dated. They just taste exceptional. With just two or three weeks of summer left, I had better be quick about finishing my list of recipes from Fine Cooking!
Next up is a lunch of Ditalini with Tomatoes, Capers & Lemon Oil, followed by a tart grown-up popsicle with vodka. When my stepfather, who doesn’t like cold soups, is away, I’ll make my mom zippy Andalusian gazpacho, and when he returns, I’ll offer a warm summer corn soup with marjoram . With the grill fired up, a cocktail of limencello, gin, and grilled thyme will introduce the main attraction of grilled cherry tomato pasta with crisp breadcrumbs and basil.
Suitable to consult any time during the summer is Fine Cooking’s ingenious “Create Your Own” feature. By following a general cooking method instead of a fixed recipe, you can prepare a meal with whatever seasonal goodies you have on hand. For a side dish, create a novel potato salad, and for dessert, a soulful fruit crisp.
There are too many delicious recipes to list here. Instead I encourage you to check out the recent issue of Fine Cooking at Sickles’ check-out line and visit its inspiring Web site. If, however, cooking isn’t your thing, but gardening, sewing, woodworking, or homebuilding is, then visit the Web site of the Tauton Press, the publisher, to learn about their other exceptional magazines, Fine Gardening, Threads, Fine Woodworking, and Fine Homebuilding.
I also urge you at the beginning of each season to write your own list of new and old recipes that will help you celebrate the time of year. Just be sure to make time to cook them. (And feel free to ogle a lifeguard or two!)
Diana the Cheesemonger