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Summertime - More Please

"it's a smile, it's a kiss, it's a sip of wine ... it's summertime!"

Kenny Chesney

Today, just to demonstrate the yin and yang nature of the world, we have moved into summertime. This prompted David to ask was it now summer? Well no officially it's not, moreover, as we move into summertime (the clock time) we lose an hour of sleep. Not good. But look the sun shines, it's an absolutely gorgeous day. I have weeded, David has the washing on the line, and tonight we shall be dining with friends. And summer isn't far away. Well officially I guess it's another two months, but if I was still living in England, today, at least would be a typical summer day. The summer days of my youth anyway. I believe it's much hotter there these days.

Whether it's actually summer or not it's a reminder of summer anyway. And I have two other starting points for the post. The first is the painting above by Pierre Bonnard - The Terrace at Vernonnet - the weekend's desk diary painting. I'm not sure I actually like it all that much - the colours are somewhat lurid, but it is very French and it is very summer with its reminder of eating and drinking outside. We didn't do much of that last year for some reason although we could have done. This year I vow to do it on any warm enough occasion, because it always makes me feel as if I am on holiday.

And this is the second - the second book I bought in the op shop a month or so ago. It's a delicious. Magazine book published in 2010 when the late Valli Little was the food director. The magazine's glory days in my opinion. It's the kind of book I don't usually buy I have to confess but it was there on the shelf, it was cheap and it was beautiful. The fact that Valli Little was the author was a bonus. Somewhat like Delia her recipes have little twists that make them special, and they never fail.

Any book is a team effort though, and because this one is so gorgeously illustrated throughout I thought I should mention the main three people responsible - Valli Little herself, who, I assume, devised most of the recipes, David Morgan who styled the food and Brett Stephens who took the photographs.

Valli Little was food director for delicious. Australia and at least partly responsible for the success of the magazine. She died of cancer, far too young having established a name for herself that was beyond her role at delicious. David Morgan is a food writer and a stylist, who works for many of the best food magazines around the world, even though he is based in Sydney. The American magazine Bon Appétit, whose photos I often use because they are so good, is one of those. Brett Stephens is a photographer - not just of food - who similarly is based in Sydney but works around the world. I do not know whether delicious. played a role in their fame, or whether it was simply one of their clients. Suffice to say that their joint work on this book is outstanding.

It's a book with a recipe and a photograph of the dish on a double spread. Every photograph screams at you to make the dish being shown, even if it's something you would not normally consider like, for example, this Asian-style caprese salad. That's tofu, not mozzarella on the plate there. I am not attracted to tofu. And I'm not sure about an Asian style dressing either. But maybe I should give it a go. Maybe it would taste as delicious as it looks.

The recipe is not online, but it's really simple. You can see the fundamental ingredients of tomato, tofu and Thai basil, and the dressing is olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, caster sugar and sesame oil - with crunch provided by the sesame seeds sprinkled over the whole thing.

It's a summer dish. For here is the connection with summer - the book is divided into seasons. So because it's such a summery day and because we are at least in part now into summer - longer evenings only at this stage I guess, but still it's a start - because of that I concentrated on the summer section, which also happens to be the first, and is introduced by this glorious looking dish - Pork cutlets with peach pan chutney - well the whole book is introduced by it. Now this one I will try when the peaches begin to appear. Though maybe you could try it with pineapple instead? Alas the recipe is not online. In fact many of them are not.

However, my chosen summer entrée is Garlic prawn pizza bread which, of course, I would love to make but won't be unless we have a big gathering and David doesn't have to eat it. And for dessert? The rather sensational looking Hibiscus strawberries with yoghurt sorbet. Note, however, that one does require hibiscus flowers in syrup which you will only be able to get online or in a gourmet food shop and which, I'm guessing will be horrendously expensive. Mind you, you do use the whole jar, so I guess at least you won't have another exotic jar mouldering in the back of your pantry.

Anyway - if you come across this lovely book buy it.

It also made me check my cookbook library to see how many other books had taken the seasonal approach. Not many it turns out, in spite of everyone banging on about buying seasonal and quality. Maggie Beer's Maggie's Harvest does of course, but in spite of arranging her book seasonally she actually says very little about the seasons themselves and how the food of that particular season affects what you cook. Beverley Sutherland Smith has two - A Taste of Summer - which is actually only about salads, and A Taste for All Seasons. Neither of them say anything much about the seasonal nature of the concept though. I don't think I have used the salad one - I'm not a fan of salads really, but A Taste for All Seasons was heavily used in my younger days. Jill Dupleix has a very small giveaway book called Summer Food of which she says:

"Summer food has to be easy food. It should make you feel as if you're on summer holidays even at the end of the working day." Jill Dupleix

So at least she is making some acknowledgement of the season, Her chicken Caesar Salad which is featured therein is a regular in this house. And I suppose Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries III, by its very nature has a seasonal structure, although it's really more a monthly structure than a seasonal one. And again he doesn't comment on the season.

When cooks and foodie magazines talk about seasonal food it's always somewhat cliché driven though isn't it? Warm comfort food in the winter, light and bright for the summer, fresh for spring and a slight variation on warmth and comfort for autumn. I guess it's inevitable because although these days we can get tomatoes all year round, and most other things too, nevertheless there is a seasonality to what is in the shops. Tomatoes are beginning to slowly come down in price and are a bit more 'real', peppers too. Asparagus has suddenly appeared in quantity and apples are getting pricier. It's also tru that whilst we might be happy to labour over the stove in the winter, in the summer it's too hot and we want quick, light and easy.

"Summer's lease hath all too short a date." said William Shakespeare, and my younger son recently complained that Melbourne's summer was too short - but then when I thought about that statement I realised he had sort of forgotten that for the last several years he has taken his family to Europe on an 'educational' holiday for two months of it. For me sometimes summer cannot be over too soon. Well if it's a very hot and dry one anyway. It's just too frightening here in Eltham where we are surrounded by Australian bushland. Beautiful in its Australian messy way, but alarming in the summer. So maybe I should just take comfort from another great writer:

"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." Albert Camus

But I carry the memory of summers past much more strongly than winters, springs and autumns. Perhaps because of holidays, adventures in foreign lands, youthful romance, sunshine, which is good for the soul. Being warm. The birds seem to have come to vibrant life of late around here. There is much chattering and flying about. Soon there will probably be babies. Soon we shall be able to eat outside again. So here's to summer. And summer food. Can't wait for the summer fruit, and really, real tomatoes, not to mention a cooling bottle of rose.

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