Ten iconic foods of summer, and where to find them

favorite summer foodsAah, summer. A time for the beach, pool parties, lazy days…and sheep cheese? While many foods are undeniably the essence of summer–watermelon, peaches, and anything grilled come to mind–there are plenty of edibles not identified as seasonal foods.

Most of my favorite things to eat just happen to peak in summer, so I decided to compile a list of both the obvious and not-so. Even the most dedicated city-dweller can find these foods with minimal effort. Farmers markets abound in major metropolitan areas, as do specialty food shops and local produce-focused grocery stores and food co-ops. Just look for the most local product where things like tomatoes or corn are concerned; they degrade quickly, and summer produce is all about freshness.

1. Cherries
I used to work for an organic peach and cherry farmer at several Bay Area farmers markets. Each year around this time, customers would start getting antsy, wanting to know when the first cherries of the season were coming in.

I understood. I also eagerly await their all-too brief appearance. Sweet cherries have a wide growing range, from the Pacific Northwest and Southwest to the Rockies. But Traverse City, Michigan, gets the title of Cherry Capital of the World. Their famous National Cherry Festival is July 2-9th, but should you miss out, there are U-picks pretty much everywhere cherries are grown. FYI: Most tart (“pie”) cherries are grown in Michigan.

[Photo credit: Flickr user dr_knox]favorite summer foods2. Copper River Salmon
The first shipment of this Alaskan treasure hit the tarmac at Seattle-Tacoma Airport on May 17th. While season and availability depend upon how stable the fishery is during a given year, May 15th to mid-June is when you can usually find this succulent, deeply-flavored species on menus and in the marketplace. If you’re feeling really motivated, take an Alaskan fishing expedition. However you procure it, treat it gently and prepare simply, so you can best enjoy this most fleeting and precious of wild ingredients.

3. Corn
“Knee-high by the Fourth of July.” The first time I heard that old-timey phrase, I was driving with a chef through the verdant farmland of Southern Wisconsin. As with cherries, people get really amped up over the imminent arrival of sweet corn. U-picks and farm stands are a way of life in Cape Cod and other parts of the Northeast (how can you have a clam bake without fresh corn?). And “fresh” is key. Corn starts to lose its delicate, milky sweetness the moment it’s picked; refrigeration converts the natural sugars into starch. Resist purchasing until the day you need it, and don’t shuck it prior (avoid purchasing pre-shucked ears, or those with dry, brown, or slimy tassels). For a real down-home corn hoe-down, check out the Olathe Corn Festival on Colorado’s Western Slope.
favorite summer foods
4. Blue crabs
A few years ago, I went crabbing for the first time in an estuary on the Florida Panhandle’s “Forgotten Coast.” Those blues tasted all the sweeter because I’d caught them myself (Equipment check list: string, bait, and a net. Go to this site to see what state permits are required, and double-check with local authorities). Alas, BP has utterly screwed the marine and estuary life and livelihood of the fishermen on parts of the Gulf Coast (word is the Apalachicola/Forgotten Coast was spared). An alternative are Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. While commercial harvests are in decline due to habitat loss, it’s still considered a “good alternative,” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Just don’t be greedy.

5. Santa Barbara Spot Prawns
Spot prawns–actually a species of large shrimp– can be found throughout the North Pacific, but this fishery has a rep for being one of the most sustainable, due to it’s strict regulations, catch-method (traps), and the fact that the small fleet are all small, family-run vessels. Because the cold, deep waters of the nearby Channel Islands are so clean and nutrient-rich , SB spot prawns are revered for their sweet, lobster-like flesh. Supplies are limited, however, due to loss of habitat (if you need to purchase a large quantity, opt for British Columbia spot prawns). While technically available yearround if the fishery is stable, spot prawns are an iconic Santa Barbara summertime treat, especially grilled. You can purchase them from the fishermen at the farmer’s market; at the Santa Barbara Fish Market (live and frozen) or straight off the boat at the adjacent Saturday morning Fish Market at the Harbor (7-11am).
favorite summer foods
6. Wild mushrooms
The Rocky Mountains explode with edible fungi such as morels, chanterelles, and boletes (porcini) come early August, which is monsoon season. If you’re not an experienced forager, be sure to go with someone who is, or see if your local mycological society offers forages. Never eat a mushroom you’ve collected without having it identified by an expert, first. If you live in mushroom country, which also includes the Pacific Northwest, and parts of the South and Midwest, you’ll likely find foraged mushrooms at the farmers market. If you want to really geek-out, don’t miss the Telluride Mushroom Festival, August 18-21st. Seminars, forages, special dinners, and a truly, uh, trippy parade are the highlights.

7. Tomatoes
Sun-ripened. Just picked and still warm–preferably from your own garden or container planter. Or just check local farmers markets, farm stands, specialty food stores, and co-ops for local, sustainably-grown heirlooms or hybrids such as Early Girl. Tomato-lovers understand that there ain’t nothing like the real thing.

8. Watermelon
Few can resist a slice or three of icy-cold watermelon, followed by a long nap on a sweltering summer afternoon. Cordele, Georgia, declares itself the Watermelon Capital of the World (Watermelon Days Festival ion June 3rd!), but Arizona, Florida, and California’s Imperial and Riverside Counties are the other major growing regions. My personal favorites come from Northern California’s pastoral Capay Valley, located between Davis and Sacramento. The Valley’s dry, intense heat produces melons with a syrupy sweetness and perfume balanced by fine-textured flesh. Bonus: most of the farms in the area are small, organic or sustainable family operations; look for Capay or North Valley/Sacramento Delta melons at Bay Area farmers markets.

9. Honey
Most folks don’t realize honey is a seasonal food. But during the chilly, wet winter months, bees hunker down in the hive, feeding on honey. Come mid-to-late spring, they again venture out in search of pollen. Seasonal harvests depend upon location, climate, and food source (pollens) but on average, a beekeeper can expect two to four hauls between late spring and late summer/early fall.
favorite summer foods
If you’ve never tried local, raw (unheated; pasteurizing or heating destroys flavor compounds as well as health benefits), unfiltered honey, you’re in a for a big treat. Honey has proven anti-microbial properties, and studies show consuming local honey helps prevent seasonal allergies (by ingesting it, you’ll build up a tolerance to the allergens). The flavor complexities and textures in local honey are specific to microclimate, and what the bees are eating. Where I live, in Seattle, blackberry honey is treasured. But you can find great local honey anywhere: whenever I’m in New Mexico, for example, I’ll puchase a jar from a roadside stand.

10. Fresh goat and sheep’s milk cheeses
As with honey, our urban-dwelling culture has mostly lost touch with the concept of seasonality, especially as it pertains to certain crops and food products. Cheese is of an entirely seasonal nature, especially at the “artisan” level. A small-scale cheesemaker creates product as the milk supply waxes and wanes throughout the season(s). The flavor and chemical composition of the milk also changes, depending upon how lush the pasture, if the animal’s feed is supplemented by hay or grain, and what plants are indigenous to the region.

While cows produce milk for about 10 months of the year, sheep and goats lactate only during the spring, summer, and sometimes early fall months. That makes cheeses produced from sheep and goat’s milk a seasonal specialty, especially when they’re fresh varieties such as tangy chevre or fromage blanc, or sweet, milky ricotta. I know summer has arrived when the first deliveries of cloud-like sheep’s curd arrive at the cheese shop I work at.

We live in a time when we can get whatever ingredient or food product we want, when we want it (usually at the expense of massive fossil fuel consumption, environmental degradation, and pesticide use that affects the health of both consumer and farmworker). Some things are just worth waiting for.

What’s your favorite seasonal food of summer? We’d like to hear from you!

[Photo credits: corn, Flickr user agrilifetoday; all remaining photos, Laurel Miller]

How to Grow Tomatoes on Your Patio

Condor airline to offer service from Frankfurt to Seattle

German budget airlines Condor is set to open a route between Frankfurt and SeattleCondor, a German based budget airline, has announced that it will begin offering service between Frankfurt and Seattle starting in June, with twice weekly flights that will give travelers more affordable options for visiting Europe this year. The new service is expected to begin on June 23, with flights taking place on Monday and Thursday of each week, running through October. This new route is in addition to Condor’s other North American flights, which which includes regular service to Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale in the U.S., as well as Calgary, Vancouver, and Whitehorse in Canada.

The addition of Condor to the Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) airport brings a 23% overall increase in seat capacity between that region and Europe. That boost will come just in time for the summer and fall travel season, which is expected to be a busy one once again this year. In the summer of 2010, airlines operating between Sea-Tac and Europe filled 90% of their seats, and traffic is only expected to grow in 2011.

Condor is well known for offering very affordable flights throughout Europe and for running unique promotions. For instance, they’ll regularly offer cheap airfares from German airports to a surprise destination that isn’t revealed until after travelers book their flight. Those flights can cost as little as 49 euros ($66) each way for cities in Europe or 199 euros ($268) both directions for destinations further abroad. As for flights between Seattle and Frankfurt, bookings in July are currently running about $1200, which is roughly $450 cheaper than flying the same route with Lufthansa.

Right now, there are no plans to continue operations after October, but that could change in 2012 as Condor continues to upgrade and expand its international fleet to cover more destinations and carry more passengers. Either way, it is nice to have more options for air travel, and competition is certainly a good thing for consumers.

[Photo credit: Makaristos via WikiMedia]


Layover: Seattle

Despite being the largest airport in the Pacific Northwest and serving as the hub for Alaska Airlines,(and its subsidiary, Horizon Air) Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport is surprisingly easy to navigate. Airport Revenue News honored it with the Best Overall Concessions award, and it does offer some great restaurants and shopping to keep you busy on a short layover.

If your plane isn’t delayed on arrival (as is often the case due to heavy cloud cover) and you have a longer layover, you can hop a 30-minute bus from the airport to downtown and spend your time exploring the “Emerald City”. You can even store your carry-on luggage at the airport.

Short Layover (2 hours)
You’re pretty much confined to the airport with a short layover, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to spending your time face-down in a mug of beer at the airport bar…unless of course you want to be. If that’s the case, there are choices in every concourse, from beer at the Seattle Taproom to wine at Vintage Washington to margaritas at Case del Agave. You’ve got plenty of options for food too – full-service, casual, or to-go. Anthony’s Restaurant and Ivar’s Seafood Bar, downtown Seattle favorites, both have outposts at the airport and local celebrity chef Kathy Casey offers fresh-made sandwiches and salads with local ingredients at Dish D’Lish.

If shopping is more your thing, there are a few stores worth checking out. In addition to browsing the standard Borders Books and Hudson News, you can wander over to the Made in Washington store for last-minute Seattle souvenirs and Pacific Northwest food products or pop into Discovery Channel to play with educational games and toys.

Got work to do? Charge your cell phone for $3, or get online for $7.95 (for a 24-hour pass). If you’re too stressed out, you can relax with a massage, manicure or pedicure for very reasonable rates.

Longer layovers (4 or more hours)
With a little more time, you can spend your layover in downtown Seattle. The express bus, #194, departs from the airport every 15 minutes or so and takes about half an hour to reach downtown. If your layover is on the short end, it’s best to stick close to the bus stop and limit your exploration to a stroll through Pike Place Market, but if you have more time, you can see most of the major sites in the city in one afternoon. Here are some of the highlights.

Pike Place Market
Combine lunch and sight-seeing with a visit to Pike Place Market. This hundred-year old farmer’s market sells plentiful fresh produce and cheap, colorful flower arrangements, but there’s so much more to it than that. In a matter of minutes you’ll pass by countless stalls of fruit and vegetables, handmade jewelry, organic soaps, local honey, and fresh seafood. And that’s just in the main market. Wander down to the arcade and you’ll see antiques, comics, and magic supplies, and across the street you’ll find an olive-oil boutique, jerky shop, a Piroshky seller, wine shop, French bakery, truffle cafe, crumpet shop, and cheese-maker. The Market is also home to the original Starbucks and the Pike Place Fish Market, where the fishmongers famously throw fish around whenever an order is placed.

Pioneer Square
The oldest part of Seattle, Pioneer Square is an historic district with lots of art galleries, and plenty of vagrants. The square is part of the downtown “Ride Free” zone where buses are free, and it’s just a short ride from the rest of downtown. The big attractions here are the Smith Tower (which is much shorter than the Space Needle, but costs less and provides a different view), and the Underground Tour, a fascinating hour-long tour of the city-beneath-the-city. When the majority of Seattle was burned in 1889, a new city was built of stone and brick on top. The tour, which nearly always sells out in high-season, takes visitors underground and gives them a unique look at Seattle history.

Waterfront
Seattle’s waterfront is admittedly kitschy. It’s from here that sightseeing cruises depart and there are always tons of tourists milling about, coming and going from the Aquarium and Waterfront Arcade, and browsing in souvenir shops. But the views of Puget Sound really are something to see, and there are some great restaurants scattered further north towards Pier 70 (which was the pier the Real World kids lived on way back when and now houses the Waterfront Seafood Grill). A trolley runs the length of the waterfront, up to the new Olympic Sculpture Park.

Monorail, Seattle Center, and Space Needle
From downtown, you can take a bus or the waterfront trolley (or even walk about 20 minutes) to the Seattle Center, but for a more memorable ride, try the Monorail. The Monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and, when it’s not being repaired after another crash or break-down, it ferries passengers on a 1-mile ride from Westlake Mall to the Center. The Seattle Center, the downtown area’s main park, is home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet, several theaters, the Children’s Museum, Pacific Science Center, and the Space Needle. To see the 360-degree views of Seattle, Puget Sound and its islands, the Olympic Mountains, and Lake Union, you’ll need to pay $16 for adults. But if you have the time and money, you can enjoy a meal in the revolving restaurant, Sky City. Like most observation-deck dining establishments, it’s expensive and the food is just a touch above average, but the views are spectacular.

Budget Travel: Seattle


Summary:

Mention “Seattle” and what’s likely to come to mind are coffee, microbrews, and weather. But look a little closer at the local’s city, and you’ll find a place appreciated for the arts and green space. Defined and inspired by its waterways, evergreen forests, seven hills, and mountains on either side, the Emerald City is a place that begs to be explored by land and sea. It may have a reputation for having the most literate population in the US, but the city is just as unpretentious as it is metropolitan. It has a reputation for its weather, but Seattleites will tell you that it’s not really as rainy as you might expect. Just the same, it’s a city that’s not as expensive as you might expect–Seattle can be a budget destination after all.


Getting In:
You can fly into the Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) on a number of major airlines, including American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United, but you’re most likely to find a deal on Alaska Airlines/Horizon or Southwest.

Amtrak trains offer another option–they’ll drop you off at King Street Station in the International district.

Rather than take a taxi from the airport, get dropped off downtown by the Gray Line Downtown Airporter, which departs every 30 minutes (between 5:30 a.m.–11 p.m.). You’ll only pay $11 one-way, or $18 round-trip. Those with a more adventuresome spirit (and a slimmer wallet) can catch the Metro bus ($1.50 off-peak/$2.25 peak hours)–near door 6 of the baggage-claim area.

Once you reach downtown, you’ll definitely want to make friends with the bus. Sure, you could hoof it, but why bother when buses are free within the Free-Ride Area, anytime from 6:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.

Where to Stay:
The only hostel downtown is Green Tortoise, but what a great location it has–right across from Pike Place Market. Their recent relocation has made a huge improvement in facilities and cleanliness, and they offer free breakfast daily (with waffles and eggs), and free dinner three times a week. Dorms come in at $25–36, and rooms are $77–90. Check out their current special: save $4 on the fourth night in a dorm room.

For another reasonable option, head to the College Inn Seattle in the University district. The historic building that dates back to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Exposition is big on atmosphere. You may have to share a bathroom, but that’s what brings the rates down to $55–90.

What to See:
Here’s a newsflash: there’s more than one viewing tower in town. Everyone knows about the Space Needle ($16), but for half the price you can get a tip-top view of the city from Smith Tower ($7.50). The view from the 35th floor observation deck may showcase more of downtown than the Queen Anne district, but the price is right. Check the calendar in advance to make sure that it’s open.

Spend a weekend morning browsing one of the area’s farmer’s markets–especially the University (year-round on Saturdays) and Fremont districts (year-round on Sundays), where music and crafts are as much of the experience as the fruit-sampling. And of course, there’s the most famous market in town: Pike Place–theatrics and tourists aside, it’s a lively place to find everything from produce and seafood to flowers and crafts.

Pick a day of the week, and you’re likely to find an art walk. Tour the different neighborhoods while you tour the art:

First Thursday: Pioneer Square
First Friday: Fremont
Second Tuesday: Capitol Hill
Second Thursday: West Seattle
Second Friday: Belltown
Second Saturday: Ballard
Third Thursday: Upper Queen Anne

Local museums also help you save a few dollars, but you have to know when to find their free days. The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is free on the first Thursday of the month (and to seniors aged 62+ on the first Friday, and to teens aged 13–19 from 5:00–9:00 p.m. on the second Friday). The Seattle Asian Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of the month (and to seniors aged 62+ on the first Friday, and to families on the first Saturday). The first Thursday of the month (5:00-8:00 p.m.) is the best time to visit the Gehry-designed Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum. Frye Art Museum is always free–every day.

Grunge may be dead–even here in its birthplace–but Seattle still loves its music; and it shows in the music festivals–several of which are amazingly free. Northwest Folklife Festival, which will celebrate its 100 anniversary in 2009, runs every Memorial Day weekend and showcases ethnic, folk, and traditional arts. If you’re in town in June, you’ll want to join the Fremont Fair, which rings in the Summer Solstice with a parade, crafts, music, and food. The popular Bumbershoot–every Labor Day weekend–may not be free, but $80 is well worth the range of bands that you can take in with the 3-day pass.

Fresh air is free and boating options are abundant in outdoorsy Seattle. The easiest way out on the water is by taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island ($6.70 round-trip), where a front-row view of the city skyline is guaranteed. Bring your bike with you for an extra dollar, or rent one on the island. Or else, propel yourself on the water. Combine a trip to the Washington Park Arboretum or Gas Works Park with a kayak rental through Agua Verde Paddle Club (single $15/1 hr; $25/2 hrs; double $18/$30) or a canoe/rowboat rental through UW Waterfront Activities Center ($7.50/hr; closed November–January). For a free alternative, set sail on a classic wooden boat through the Center for Wooden Boats–half-hour rides are free from 2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. every Sunday.

If you’re in the military you can drive a van onto a runway. At least at Sea-Tac.

Last week in Seattle, retired Army lieutenant colonel Greg Alderete drove a van onto a runway tarmac at Sea-Tac airport. Alderete was supposed to be on the runway — he was picking up a general flying in from Portland — but what shocked him was that no one stopped to ask his name, check his ID, or search his vehicle. And you can’t make the excuse that he was dressed as a military officer; Alderete was in civilian clothes.

“We were sitting there, the engine idling, nobody around, when all of a sudden I realized: We’re out on the goddamn runway,” Alderete said. No inspection, no attention, and no screening made Alderete feel like there was a definite problem with the airport’s security, “with a van full of weapons we could have shut down the entire aviation system.”

Granted the colonel was picking up the general in the corporate jet area, where businessmen and government officials fly in and out of, but still, it makes you wonder just how tight airport security really is.


That was one crazy runway story. Check out these crazy airplane stories!

[Story via Boing Boing; image courtesy frischmilch]