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fishnetWhen one arrives at their summer rental home, the sandy carpets, wood paneling and fishnet curtains can be largely ignored. You’re there for the beach, not for the house.

But when a foodie arrives in their temporary accommodations, the heart sinks upon discovering a less-than-accommodating kitchen.

Preparing for our annual excursion to the Jersey shore, I packed the extra virgin olive oil, garlic, ginger and jars of spices. I collected basil, chives, parsley, cilantro and mint from my garden. Yet I didn’t bring my trusted chopping knife, so I’m forced to mince and julienne with a butter knife. What I wouldn’t give for a serrated edge.

The hutch stores silverware for 50 people and wine glasses for 75, but not a single can opener that works. I must remind myself to buy dried beans next year.

Paper-thin pans burn their sizzling contents even on the lowest heat, so I’ve adapted a cooking method of removing them from the stove every few seconds. On, off. On, off. The scrambled eggs cannot brown, or else the kids will deem them “dirty.”

The first few days were filled with frustration. I cursed the dull peelers, all seven of them. I laughed at the bevy of bottle openers. If two dozen people wanted to open their Coronas in unison, no problem. There’s an entire shelf of serving platters, but not a single baking dish.

But now I’ve settled into the groove of my poorly stocked summer kitchen. Forced into a culinary simplicity, I plan our meals accordingly. Grilled chicken with roasted tomatoes. Pasta with grated cheese and torn herbs. Sole with browned butter sauce (I knew those pans were good for something). Cutting shortening into flour for biscuits works just as well with two forks as a pastry blender.

When I’m forced to do without, doing with seems complicated. For instance, my cupboard at home features the fruits of a ridiculous Nordicware Bundt pan fixation. But the shape has nothing to do with taste. Baking on an island with inferior cookware feels like a greater accomplishment than serving a cake that resembles a castle. Those pans allow me to cheat. What epicurean expertise can I claim if I own every tool of convenience?

So I’m learning to love my summer kitchen and the skills of culinary compromise it’s teaching me. Now if I could just rip that fishnet off the window, this house might be perfect.

Yes, I’m on vacation and this blog is quiet. Can you guess today is rainy? I will return to kidlit upon returning home. I hope you’re having a fun and relaxing summer!

No, that’s not the title of my latest book. It’s a bonafide neighborhood mystery.

Although we live in the Garden State, our community is not known for its plots of open land. We’re right on top of one another. We therefore get creative when it comes to gardening. I have an herb garden in three containers on my deck–sweet basil, chives, parsley, dill, oregano, mint, and sad, sad cilantro which browned over within two weeks of planting. I never claimed to have a green thumb.

My Asian neighbor, on the other hand, has a thick, prodigious vine with enormous leaves and bright yellow-orange blooms. At first, I thought it might be pumpkin, not only for its appearance, but for its location, growing along the side of the house amongst a hedge. Some kid might have dumped a rotting jack-o-lantern there last fall.

The vine has consumed the hedge and jumped onto a neighboring cherry tree, wrapping around the branches and soaring ever higher. And there, hanging down for all to admire, a lonely, giant green squash.

It’s shape reminds me of a bowling pin, thinner at the top, heavy at the bottom. It has a dark green color and no discernible pattern.

Just what is it?

And when will they pick it?

The “squash stroll” is our evening entertainment. We hurry along the sidewalk to the tree, to see if the giant vegetable still remains. And each day, it hangs there, fueling our curiousity. The Asian neighbors are not to be found.

Today my toddler and I found a second squash lying across the thickest branches of the hedge, as if it were taking a nap. It has grown quietly while its sibling hangs proudly for all the neighborhood to see.

So, please tell me, what is it? What kind of vegetable? How do you prepare it? What does it taste like?

Perhaps I should ring the doorbell and ask. But sometimes figuring out a mystery is so much more fun.

(Update! Today I met the young Chinese girl who lives at the house. She did call the vegetable a squash, but she could not recall the English word for it. She says it tastes like pumpkin. I would still like to find out the name! And I neglected to ask her when it would be harvested!)

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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