The weather has definitely been delivering some one-two punches lately between the extreme flooding in West Virginia and the heat and wildfires in California. No matter where you live there is something to watch out for when nature gets on rampage. A woman walking along a beach in Florida with clouds far off in the distance was struck and killed by lightning over the weekend. The rule according to experts is if you hear thunder, lightning is most likely lingering behind the curtain. I’ve read of people being struck through a window while washing dishes. Some people have been distinguished for being hit multiple times, with one park ranger holding the record for being struck by lightning seven times during his lifetime. Whew. Wonder if is friends enjoyed his company from a safe distance?
While living in the south and on several long stays in West Virginia I have been treated to some spectacular light shows when extreme storms passed my way. I can remember one in St. Albans, West Virgina. The lightning was forking all around us and the clouds moved along overhead as if Mother Nature had adjusted the speed to fast forward. Being young and basically clueless a group of us enjoying a summer party stood beneath an overhang watching the display. All we needed was an arrow directed at our pointy heads saying “we are here”. What is the expression, “God takes care of drunks and fools”? Being covered on both points was probably the only thing keeping us safe during that situation.
Undoubtedly the most spectacular storm I’ve ever seen was in the midst of a move to Arkansas. Our route had taken us across Nevada on Highway 50 (the loneliest road in the U.S. – aptly named BTW). The general lack of scenery across 50 was superceeded by the total desolation of the area surrounding the Utah Salt Flats. Our second blowout of the trip occurred on our approach to the bleached landscape. The dessert floor temperature we were told later by a local probably hit around 130 midday. I don’t ever remember being that hot. At one point I became so disoriented I was flagging down the occasional passing car. My husband at the time kept one hand hooked on my belt loop to keep me from getting into any air-conditioned interior and escaping. We had two cars with us, well one car plus a fully loaded pickup truck. Being from Texas he reminded me regularly a man’s truck is never reduced to being called a car unless you had your fighting face on or a bullet in the chamber. In the car, which I drove, I was accompanied by a rather ornery old cat answering to the name Kitty, and my Shih Tzu, Sushi. As the car got warmer they began to pant and I worried about their well being. After giving them water, I took one of the several bags of ice out of the cooler and covered it with wet towels making them an ice bed. Normally adversarial, both animals climbed on board and laid next to one another in a temporary heat induced de tante. Had there been room I would have gotten up there with them. Instead, I tucked a handful of ice under my hat. So hot was it, rivulets of water immediately began to run down my face and shirt giving me a look as if I was melting onto the road. The Wicked Witch of the East comes to mind. Looking back it would have been a fairly accurate description.
Finally back on the road the blessed cool air blowing across my red face, I found myself thanking the mother of Willis Carrier, inventor of air conditioning, for conceiving him undoubtedly on a sweltering hot day. According to what I’ve read the original concept of cooling air came from the Egyptians who hung reeds in the windows moistened with water. From what Rick has told me about the temperatures achieved in that area I am not surprised they came up with something first.
Passing the stark white desolation of the salt flats I viewed them with a mixture of fascination combined with a hint of fear. After our ordeal, being surrounded by humans and stores with humming air conditioners was comforting once we arrived at the nearest city. Gassing up both vehicles and washing our faces in the restroom, we ate at a truck stop late in the afternoon. Over dinner we discussed a plan to drive for two hours more across the valley floor indicated on the map and then stop for the night. Pulling onto the highway my my eyes caught a sign reading “no services for the next 125 miles”. Clouds moved in as we descended onto the valley floor. A row of lightning hung in the distance like an electrified curtain beneath the increasingly menacing looking sky. Sushi cuddled close to me on the seat, with Kitty choosing to retreat under a blanket on the floor. “Into the Valley of Death rode the 600” kept repeating in my mind as I turned the car in the direction of the storm. “Mommy”.
Rain, beginning slowly, soon taxed the rapidly moving wipers. Visibility was reduced to a small window. Lightning was all around me and it became nearly impossible to see my husband’s truck in front of me. A huge splash of mud thrown by a passing truck had me pulling to the side of the road. The wipers smeared the goo across my windshield. No choice but to get out and wipe the glass, I grabbed a pair of shorts from a pile of clothes on the seat and stepped out into the storm. Ozone assaulted my nostrils. As I wiped the window a huge flash to my right had me literally richocheting back into my car. Both animals were now under the blanket probably holding paws. Adjusting the rear view mirror I realized my hair was standing straight on end and a slight burning smell filled the car. Swell, fried brain.
My husband backtracked to find me. Never was I so glad to see that old beater truck in my headlights, except when we saw a road exit two hours later with a hotel and food sign attached. Never underestimate the weather. Nature will always have the home field advantage.
The heat being what it is we’re cooking on the grill more often than not. This eggplant sandwich was a treat and easy to pull together.
Grilled Eggplant and Roma Tomato Pocket Sandwich
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
12 slices eggplant
12 slices mozzarella cheese
Mix together marinade ingredients. Place eggplant in single layer in shallow dish. Cover with marinade for 4 hours, turning once. Place on preheated hot grill sprayed with cooking spray for 3-4 mins. per side adding cheese for the last 2 mins. of cooking.
Tomatoes and Onions
4 Roma tomatoes
4 1/2″ thick slices of red onion
2 Tbps. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground basil
Halve tomatoes and place in resealable bag with olive oil and basil. Toss to coat. Allow to marinate for 1 hour. Add onions just before cooking and turn to coat. Place directly on hot grill or in vegetable grill pan (spray with cooking spray) for about 4 mins. per side or until tomatoes are slightly charred and onions tender. Keep warm.
For the sandwich
4 slices Pita bread
1 cup fresh spinach washed and trimmed
1 container prepared pesto
4 1/2″ slices fresh mozzarella
Place pita bread on grill until heated. Cut in half and open pockets. Spread pesto on inside of each pocket. Add spinach, tomato, onion and eggplant.