So Close, So Far Away

by Liz Caskey on January 25, 2012

Summer is the best. I wait all year for this season in Chile. Hot, dry sunshine-filled days that feel like a loving hug. The nights still dip into the mid-50s and there’s light until 9pm. At 4pm, it can feel hot but find a shady tree, and that balmy summer breeze blows. It is when you want to be outdoors all day, forget the A/C.

Summer has something that’s eternal, nostalgic, full of fresh, vibrant flavors. It connects us with other periods of life like childhood when we were free to roam, play, and forget about all our worries. Summer does coincide with a mental attitude of relaxing, seeing friends, getting out of the house, enjoying. Stress would seem to have taken a vacation and let’s us all breathe a little easier than the rest of the year.

For me, summer time is synonymous with intense food flavors, provoked by the heat. These are the tastes that I yearn for in rainy, cold July when I am glued to our central heating. While many of these flavors may be enjoyed around the world, in every country, region, home, and cook, they express themselves differently. Summer is about abundance, sharing.

These are the flavors that dominated my childhood in Pennsylvania; memories of sticky nights with little gnats and fun thunder storms. In contrast, my summer “reality” is now Chile. I love both.

Then: I was raised on some of the best sweetcorn in the US–Silver Queen. The Amish farms near our house would put up stands by the road and we’d load freshly cut ears into paper bags. Poached for 4 minutes and eaten on the cob, with melted butter and sea salt, it was truly heaven.
Now: Corn is the king (of starches) in Chile during summer and I love, love, LOVE  humitas, fresh tamales, my obsession at this time of year. This could be my year to learn how to make them from scratch. Then again…

Then: My family always called me “Strawberry Girl” since I would run out to the garden to pick our homegrown strawberries. With those, my grandmother would put together her deliciously famous “Strawberry Shortcake”. That spongy cake absorbed the juice of the strawberries and with homemade whipped cream, divine simplicity.
Now: I really adore living in a country where there are more blueberries than I know what to do with. Seriously. Right not, La Vega appears to be a berry festival and the head-lining act is the blueberries. Well, maybe the plump, juicy blackberries too. My breakfast. Every. Single. Day.

Then: Until I turned 24, I couldn’t deal with raw tomatoes. It was the seeds. Slimy, acidic, unwieldly things. Trying to eat a Capresse Salad was a scandal, complication, disgust. Tomato at our house was typically in the form of ketchup on a hamburger or hot dog off the grill. Am I proud of this? No. But, it’s the truth.

Now: Yes, I have gotten over the tomato issue. It didn’t take hypnosis, just the same attitude as learning to eat oysters, sushi, and tartare. Result? Gazpacho fiend. Love tomato salads. Pop cherry tomatoes like they are candy.  But let’s get back to that gazpacho. Eating a soup that’s a liquid salad never bores me. Tomatoes must be good for me since I feel a zip when I eat them. Vitamins!! And of course, since I have professed undying allegiance to humitas, their companion is the ensalada chilena, Chilean Tomato Salad.

Fish & Shellfish

Then: We lived only an hour from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, famous for its crabs. In summer, crab season, we’d head down to Baltimore or the Eastern Shore to the crab shacks where the boats would roll in to pick up buckets of crabs steamed with Old Bay. On picnic tables, with only a bib and hammer, we’d dissect the crabs, sucking out the sweet and salty meat. Dirty fingers? You bet. That was half the fun.

Now: Ceviche, in any form with any fish: Peruvian, Chilean, Nikkei, or my own invention. Invigorating, flavorful, and fresh thanks to the mighty Pacific lapping at our feet in Chile, it’s the perfect high protein, zero carb meal. With a chilled Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Always.

Ice Cream
Then: I swam competitively in the summer and after the races, my parents would often reward us with a sundae at our favorite spot in the forested area of Mount Gretna known as the “Jigger Shop”. Part of the fun was the excursion in our convertible as we zipped through the fragrant Pennsylvania pine forest and ate colossal sundaes on the wooden deck.

Now: I am not really a dessert person at this point in my life. If I am having a rare “sugar moment”, I would usually go for a handful of cherries over ice cream, maybe a piece of dark chocolate. However, if you invite me to Café del Opera nearby, I probably will reconsider for their Mocha gelato.

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