Jessie Raymond: Summertime, and the eating is lazy
It’s only the beginning of June, and already the framework around which I arrange my daily life — dinnertime — is shot.
In the colder, darker months, I generally take a few minutes on Sunday to plan the week’s meals. Yes, I’m a boring, nonspontaneous old biddy. But more specifically, I’m a boring, nonspontaneous old biddy who wants to make sure that if we want burritos later in the week we have tortillas on hand.
Meal planning is like solving a puzzle. If I roast a chicken on a Sunday, for example, I have to anticipate how I’ll use the leftovers on Tuesday night. Casserole? Soup? The possibilities are intriguing. Sometimes — if I’m feeling racy — I might even save the leftovers for Wednesday.
Since we rarely leave the house between November and April, this routine serves us well. I like knowing when I get up in the morning what we’ll be having for dinner that night. When I plan meals, the world makes sense.
But as the weather warms up and the days grow longer, things change. Life turns into a free-for-all, where anything goes and sometimes we find ourselves having creemees at 5 p.m. It’s madness.
I’d like to transform my orderly, homebound winter self — picture Emily Dickinson, but in layers — into a devil-may-care summer self along the lines of Zelda Fitzgerald, who probably never got anxious about her just-picked tomatoes rotting because she was never home at dinnertime to use them. But it goes against my nature.
Like it or not, meal planning suffers in the summer, for several reasons:
Late sunsets. While technically there are the same number of hours in a day in December as in June, I can’t remember ever slipping into my PJs at 6 p.m. in June. Every day in the summer feels like some sort of extended vacation — in a way that makes me uncomfortable — where schedules are lax and time doesn’t matter.
The heat. Summer is often hot, especially in our poorly ventilated, fan-cooled house. The thought of turning on the stove at all makes me break into a sweat on top of the actual sweat I’m usually in. While I could plan ahead for such days by stocking up on sandwich ingredients, I find lying on the floor complaining about the heat takes up much of my free time and mental energy. Cereal it is.
Golf. Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but many of you could just replace this with “AAU/summer sports for the kids” for a similar dinner challenge. If the weather is clear, Mark and I like to head up to the golf course after work to spend a couple of hours hitting balls into the woods and then crawling around looking for them. As a result, “dinner” is most often an energy bar on the sixth hole, followed by popcorn when we get home. It’s shameful.
Social events. Starting with Memorial Day and running straight through Labor Day, the weekends overflow with graduations, weddings and any excuse for a cookout. (“Josh got a new riding mower. Help us celebrate with a BBQ on Saturday!”) And now that families mark the end of not only college and high school but also middle school, grade school, preschool and their dogs’ obedience classes, June has become an endless series of graduation parties.
None of these things are inherently bad. Some people would even argue that nothing beats laidback evenings, outdoor hobbies and large family gatherings. But life without limits doesn’t come easy to me.
I’ve tried countering the unpredictability of summer with even stricter dinner planning, but too often it means that a scheduled meal gets preempted by some last-minute inconvenience, like having to go out on a friend’s boat to watch Fourth of July fireworks.
I’m starting to think that my insistence on routine meals may be detrimental to my enjoyment of summer. So this year I’m trying to let things go.
Now when we’re out and about at dusk and someone asks what we’re doing for dinner, I don’t complain that it’s too late for a real meal. Instead, with a practiced nonchalant wave of the hand, I just say, “Oh, we’re playing it by ear” (code for “We’re having Ben & Jerry’s”).
It feels wrong, but I just take a deep breath and tell myself it’s what Zelda Fitzgerald would do.
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