As the weather gets a bit warmer and steamier this week, I’ve been turning my attention more to foods that leave us feeling a bit lighter and healthier. Fortunately, we’re headed into that perfect time of the year when the Creole tomatoes and similar fare will be very affordable and readily available.
One of the great things about late spring/early summer in New Orleans is the convergence of several great culinary and libationary events. Not only is our local produce becoming ripe, but we’re presented with the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience in just a few weeks. After Memorial Day, many restaurants try to drum up summer business with three-course meals for a set price. Then, like a bridge to get us across the summer and toward Labor Day, Ann Tuennerman cranks up Tales of the Cocktail the third week of July.
Sure, New Orleans gets hot and sticky during the summer (not to mention the tropical weather threat) — but it’s easier to manage when we have events to anticipate and the right cooling drink in our hand. The crowds are a thinner (if they exist at all) and the evenings seem to be longer, since the sun doesn’t set until later.
Even staying at home brings its own delights. Much after about 3pm, shade envelops the entire front sidewalk of our Irish Channel house. This makes it a delightful spot after about 5pm, and you’ll usually find me parked in a folding chair and observing the neighborhood. Sometimes, friends and neighbors pull up their own chairs and, by dark, we’ve been carrying on a lively conversation for quite awhile.
I’ve made it a habit lately to ensure my evening meal is much lighter and more Mediterranean. Not only is this a healthy option, but it definitely matches the weather. A simple Caesar salad, a few olives, maybe some hummus and some wine are in order. Or a Caprese salad with Creole tomato.
My go-to cocktail in the summer are the Pimm’s Cup and a French 75 (a drink with some delightful variations around town). But I’m also partial to the house margarita at El Gato Negro and the La Reve – a gin/chartreuse/lime concoction over at Coquette. Early summer also brings the return of the Hurricane Saison from our own NOLA Brewing and an array of delightful summer beers from various breweries around the country. Try one from a brewery that’s located someplace with four distinct seasons (Sam Adams, Harpoon, Brooklyn) and you’ll know quickly why arrival of summer beer is such an anticipated event.
On the wine front, I have a hot-weather weakness for a sauvignon blanc or, for a change, an albarino from northwestern Spain. This chalky white wine is a tremendous pairing with pretty much any lighter Mediterranean-style fare, but it can also hold its own with the last of the crawfish.
So, while we’re all glad we live in the age of air-conditioning, it’s also good to get outside and sweat just a little as the sun goes down. Your basic steak or burgers on the grill are always delightful and, after all, it’s the good conversation and being with friends and family that make it special.
You’ll find me out front most evenings, observing the neighborhood. Bring a folding chair and we’ll talk!
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.