Summer is threatening to be hot this year, not that last year was mild. High temperatures above normal this early in the game do not bode well for what June and July have tucked away in their bag of tricks. Perhaps it’s hailing from Nova Scotia, or just a personal fetish, but the full heat of summer is not my favorite time of year. Fire danger living up in the mountains is always a concern, and with blackouts not uncommon on peak usage days, if you don’t have a pool to cool off in the only choice available for respite is often marinating in your own juices.
As a teen, summer was the best. School out for three months, nothing but time on my hands. Fortunate enough to have a pool in my backyard, and the glorious span of Southern California beaches lying but an hour’s drive from my house, advertisements for heaven couldn’t have offered much more. Tanning solutions were concocted in baby oil bottles doctored with a few shots of iodine for color. Pool chairs appeared from sheds, and umbrellas were erected in the center of patio tables. I loved it all. Back then we ran our lives by the motto “ignorance is bliss”. Nobody worried about skin cancer, because we didn’t have enough knowledge about the subject to strike fear in our hearts. Tan faces and bodies were expected during the summer months, extolled. Girls compared tan lines seeing who was the brownest and if you were losing the race, another layer of baby oil and another three hours uninterrupted sun exposure quickly remedied the situation.
I sought out the coast as often as my wallet could front the gas. My best friend had the use of her brother’s restored 57′ Chevy while he finished his stint in the military. Bikinis and shades in place and friends in tow we packed the car to capacity and headed down Beach Boulevard in the direction of Hungtington, Newport, Laguna, or Seal Beaches many times during the summer break. Our salad days were spent body surfing in the waves of the azure Pacific, playing volley ball in the sand, or giggling on blankets while flirting with the male population who flocked there expressly for the purpose of flirting with us.
In the year of my 16th birthday I got a work permit. Not one to sit around gathering wool, I quickly accepted a job at a bakery after school. As an aside here, a perk for hawking donuts was employees were invited to partake of the sticky calorie laden inventory at will. At first glance to a teen this was tantamount to winning the lottery. Throw in a date with Elvis and I would have been set for life. A smart move by the management, in the end it proved an excellent deterrent. Once I’d eaten my 100th or so sticky bun, I felt the need to indulge in another most probably would never arise in my life again. I believe this led to my virtual lack of a sweet tooth to this day and also necessitated some fairly extensive dental work before my 21st birthday. Just before we said goodbye to school the following June, the bakery experienced a fire. The inventory along with my job went up in a huge poof of black smoke. One of the fireman interviewed by a local newscaster commented, “although saddened by the loss of one of one of the town’s small businesses, I have to say it was one of the best smelling fires I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting out”. Words to live by.
Inspired by my need for summer funding, I jumped at a chance to work at a Christian summer camp for eight weeks as a kitchen assistant. The camp itself was located high up in the San Bernardino mountains. Catering to high school students, according to the color brochure, camp personnel were all about the business of building “young people’s minds, bodies, and spirits”. On the Saturday prior to the opening of the camp gates, employees met at a pre-arranged meeting point. New employees and repeat performers boarded a bus looking to have been constructed prior to Teddy Roosevelt’s storming San Juan Hill and driven by a man quite possibly old enough to have wielded a sword during the battle. Despite my misgivings about our mode of transportation, it was a heady experience to watch my mother’s face disappear in the plumes of the substantial exhaust fumes. For many staff members, including myself, it was the first time living away from home. My duffel bag stocked with insect repellent, Johnny Mathis records, and an adequate supply of Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies all I could think was, “Free at last! Thank God Almighty we’re free at last”.
Following a brief initiation speech by the camp leaders, the kitchen staff was dispatched to learn the rules of the kitchen and how to prep the food before campers were to arrive . The kitchen was massive in size, with two huge walk in freezers. Burners and grill were to be manned by two head chefs we nicknamed “Mutt and Jeff” due to their considerable difference in height and personality. Once introductions were completed, the rest of us were assigned stations and familiarized with our duties. Free time was to be after prep and before meal service. Divided into two crews, on alternating days one crew stayed to help clean up the mess left behind by the campers. This proved to be a daunting task, with food fights the norm, and the camp’s thicker than paste oatmeal being stashed in every available orifice or unsuspecting potted plant. All in all, it was a fun summer for me. I fell in love, then out again, and back in again with someone new. I learned I could stray away from the nest, spread my wings and keep from plummeting to earth without my parents to guide me. I danced under the stars, got some cooking tips, slid down a fire trail with a brown bear snorting not far behind me, and donated enough blood to the local mosquitos for them to start their own blood bank.
So in celebrating summers approach I will slather myself with suntan lotion, put on enough protective gear to ward off a hive of bees and enjoy the sunny days ahead.
This dish looks so pretty on the plate and is crispy and delicious. Another quick meal leaving the impression you spent hours in the kitchen, when in fact you were sitting by the pool drinking Mai Tai’s.
Spinach Pesto Chicken Roll-Ups
2 large boneless
8 slices prosciutto
1 cup packed fresh baby spinach
1/3 cup fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup pecorino cheese, grated
1/4 cup EV olive oil
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Vitamin C tablet (to keep pesto bright green)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat small skillet over med. heat. Add pine nuts. Stirring or swishing in pan often, cook about 5 mins. or until nicely browned. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Pound chicken breasts to 1/2″ thickness between two pieces of plastic wrap. Cut each breast in half.
In food processor puree spinach, sage leaves, pecorino cheese, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice and Vitamin C tablet. Season with Kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
Spray bottom of baking dish with cooking spray.
Spread 1/4 of pesto in down center of each piece of chicken lengthwise.
Fold chicken like a taco. Wrap two pieces of prosciutto around each piece and secure with toothpick.Place in prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 mins. or until meat thermometer registers 165 and procuitto is crisp.