6 Perfect-for-Summer Recipes from Entertaining Guru Jenny Rosenstrach
The Post-Beach Lunch
My husband has a theory that he reminds us of every time we eat lunch on the screened porch of his family's Kiawah Island, South Carolina, beach cottage—where he's been vacationing since Van Halen's 1984 days. "Everything tastes better on vacation," he'll say, cradling a tall glass of Coke and biting into a sandwich that nine times out of 10 involves melted cheese on buttery toast.
He swears by the combination, and after so many years, we have no choice but to swear by it, as well. I think it has to do with that special brand of hunger that you can only develop after boogie-boarding, kadima-thwacking, and breathing in the briny morning sea air. We look forward to it all year long.
The New England Road Trip
The Recipe: Lobster Roll
My husband and I met in Amherst, Massachusetts. Our daughters go to summer camps in Massachusetts. And we have friends up and down the Northeastern coast. Which means there are few things we enjoy more than a quick summer road trip to a postcard-ready New England town. On the checklist: an independent bookstore, a hike (preferably along a body of water), and, most important, a lobster roll. A simple, never fancy, not overly mayo'd lobster roll.
We found our most recent favorite at Spinney's, a prototypical seafood shack near Maine's Popham Beach State Park with a weathered-shingle exterior, an ocean view from every window, Old Soaker blueberry sodas on the menu, and picnic tables out back. Our daughters love this ritual, too, especially when it comes with French fries. This recipe is an homage to Spinney's and makes one lobster roll, but can be multiplied accordingly.
The Seafood Feast
The Recipe: Spaghetti and Clams with Extras
Here's a list of some of the most memorable meals we've made on our summer vacations: spaghetti tossed with littleneck clams that had been in the water off Hampton Bays, Long Island, only hours before; grilled sea trout in South Carolina that was so fresh we didn't dare add anything to it but olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper; chilled shrimp cocktail on the porch in Kiawah, chased down with gin-and-tonics.
These were memorable not only for being delicious, but also because our seafood meals didn't involve taking a customer number in a fluorescent-lighted supermarket. When we are vacationing so close to water, we feel we have no excuse but to hunt down the best seafood possible. That sea trout? We caught it in the Edisto River on a family fishing trip. And the clams? We pick them up at the Hampton Bays branch of Cor-J Seafood, where you watch the fishmongers scale and fillet just-caught flounder and striped bass while you wait. It's enough of an event that our whole family makes a point to go together to pick out dinner. And that dinner is usually this.
The Plan-Ahead Dinner
The Recipe: Grilled Soy-Glazed Pork Chops
Before we head to the beach, go on a bike ride, or set any schedule for the day, we make sure of one thing: We know exactly what's on the dinner menu. Why? Because we don't want to expend any psychic energy on the what's-for-dinner conundrum when there are so many better things on the horizon (the daydreams I have while napping on the screened porch, for instance).
No matter where we are on vacation, we do whatever shopping has to be done, and prep or thaw everything in advance. Then we go out and enjoy our day. And when the sun is over the yardarm, we sit on the porch, gin-and-tonics in hand, watching blue herons swoop from one lagoon to the next. That's the real ritual, and we do not mess with it. Here's a menu that not only takes very little time to organize, but also adheres to another important vacation mantra in our family: Never turn on the oven.
The Patriotic Dessert
The Recipe: Red, White, and Blue Berry Cake
When my daughters and their cousins were little—before they were retreating to summer jobs and sleepaway camps—we spent every Fourth of July at my sister's beach house in Quogue, on the Atlantic side of Long Island. It was one of the few times during the year when our entire family came together, an event we eagerly looked forward to despite the inevitable mayhem that would erupt with six kids sleeping under the same roof. Unlike their orderly, scheduled lives back home, Fourth of July weekend was truly an Independence Day, when the parents worried about more important things, like conceptualizing red-white-and-blue themed desserts.
We've made dramatic pavlovas, berry parfaits, and the old standby flag cake. One misguided year I even assembled blueberry, strawberry, and jicama skewers. (Note to self: baked goods always trump festive themes when it comes to dessert.) But my favorite was this easy berry cake, something I threw together because I didn't have time to go shopping. (OK, fine. I didn't want to go shopping.) It's basically a version of Marian Burros's famous torte, with berries in place of plums. P.S. Sparkling candles aren't necessary, but are certainly a showstopper.
The Restaurant Lunch
The Recipe: Hominy Grill Sausage Gravy & Biscuits
Long before Husk restaurant arrived in Charleston—and before the subsequent Southern food revolution that popped up in chef Sean Brock's wake—there was Hominy Grill, our family's favorite place to score an authentic Lowcountry lunch. It's where my youngest cultivated her great passion for "real" macaroni and cheese (i.e. not from a box), where we all shovel the complimentary boiled peanuts into our greedy mouths as fast as we can shell them, and where we justify the not-quite-cardiologist-approved fare.
Besides the peanuts and the mac-and-cheese, there are a few things that must be consumed if we are to call the vacation a success: the fried-green-tomato BLT, the picnic sampler (with pimiento cheese, shaved country ham, pickled eggs, and okra pickles); shrimp-and-grits (of course), and anything on a biscuit. Whether it's a biscuit topped with fried chicken, smothered in sausage gravy, dripping with eggs and cheese, or, heck, all of the above, remember: It's vacation.