Sunny days and no-kitchen nights

Hey. It’s summer. Get the heck out of the kitchen. You’re making me look bad.
I maintain it is the time for fast food with a clear conscience. I like to rationalize it this way. I could be on an expensive vacation somewhere, spending oodles of money. But since I am still home, dealing with all the cares of home, then I will take my own sort of mini-vacation — from the kitchen.
Well, you could argue that I have more time to cook, but I counter that I have less inclination, if that is possible. Besides, I am out and about, at the beach, on the road. It’s time to live on made-to-order sandwiches, Mexican food and soda pop at least three times a week.
In my further defense, I will say that during the school year, when life is regimented, I was known as the vitamin pill drill sergeant and the green vegetable queen. I never had any compunction about denying my children anything palatable unless they had choked down some zucchini or broccoli first.
But when you do summer, do it with gusto and the main rule is that there are fewer rules. Breakfast, eaten by my champion sleepers at around 11 a.m., ranges from cold pizza to cold cereal. It is based on the well-known dietary laws of whatever is closest when they open the refrigerator.
They used to graze until we hit the road, when they were always, suddenly ravenous. I love the idea of real drive-ins with those nifty window trays and big root beer floats. Most drive-throughs just aren’t the same and just to complicate things, my children no longer consume the real, down-and-dirty fast food. It has to be somewhat fresh, and not altogether packaged. That takes us into a new price range, but they have discovered some great spots. Still, I sometimes go by that funky hot dog hut with the killer chili dogs. They usually break down and manage to gobble down some chili fries, just to be polite.
Occasionally, at some point in the summer hiatus, I am stricken with a wave of nostalgia and I will actually peel, boil, mix and bake the picnic fare that made my childhood summer’s memorable. For me it was homemade potato salad, barbecued chicken and chocolate cake with fudge icing. It will never taste as good as it did when mom made it because I don’t risk our lives like she did. I fear the key to that flavorful potato salad was that it was just this side of bursting out in salmonella. But if our generation has learned anything, it’s that almost everything good is bad for you.
Then occasionally, I flip through a cooking magazine and get delusions of grandeur. For a few minutes, in my mind’s eye, I am at the backyard grill, preparing perfectly seasoned shrimp-kebabs, vegetables drizzled with flavored olive oil which will complement my pasta tossed with exotic mushrooms, tiny, odd-colored tomatoes and olives from the far corners of Greece. Then I remember that one or both of my children won’t eat fish, mushrooms or things with strange grill-stripes on them. The meal, which would cost $50 per person, would go right down the disposal.
So it’s back to basics. Tonight, hoagies and watermelon. And in my house, ketchup is still a vegetable.

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