Houston summers are a hot, sweaty, delicious mess.
I managed to cheat my first few by eloping to college camp and doing some related scholastic travel to nurture my dork-like overachieving self in a quest for enlightenment. At the time, Lisa Simpson was my heroine. She was a vegetarian, the moral center of her family, hungry for knowledge and discovered one could loose weight through subliminal learning.
I experienced a whiff of summer’s steamy wrath: A little heat at the exposition, then some humidity at the coda. With a Rice post-graduate classical music smarty-pants attitude, it only took me a short time to assert I was an expert in Houston weather, and of course, in everything. After all, I had experienced Tropical Storm Allison, the Christmas Eve snowstorm of 2004, some hail, and quintessential fall and spring weather. Could there possibly be more?
I had no idea.
A decade later after having found the perfect antiperspirant, I am somewhat adjusted, although I must admit that every year I am in denial of my heat index tolerance. I try to vegan man up and pretend I am one cool dude. The truth is I smile and pretend my dash of Peruvian blood gives me superpowers as I assert to everyone who kvetches about the weather “I just love summer.”
I am such a liar.
I don’t love it. But I do not detest it either. For some, summer means having a nervous break down over fitting into that little two-piece yellow polka dot bikini and dreading the impending Brazilian wax. For me, summer is a time for soy ice-cream, ice cold beer in matching branded frosty mugs and big tofu bacon double rice cheese black bean burgers on an Ezekiel sprouted whole grain flourless bun.
Feel cooled off?
Not quite. Many of our preferred summer foods actually do the opposite. Let’s break it down.
Ice cream may feel like it has a cooling effect as it comes in contact with you know, your insides. But after 20 minutes, your body temperature will increase when it begins to work diligently to digest it and store the calories and perhaps convert the ice cream into fat.
Ice-cold beer is not a great choice either as alcohol dehydrates you inside out. No amount of moisturizer will help. In addition, the energy needed to metabolize beer uses water and body temperature — the two things which are directly related by how well you keep yourself hydrated. Your digestive system also loves things slightly on the warmer side and a system temperature shock will slow you down.
Anything that is heavy and difficult to digest will thrust your body temperature as it begins to digest. A meat burger falls into that category and will heat you up like a sauna. Add the bun made with fiber-less white flour deprived of any nutritional value won’t help either. Skip the cheese, and let’s not even talk about the sodium content in the bacon.
So what is left?
Tip 1: Be fruity
Eat lots of fruits with high water content and you will also benefit from tons of essential nutrients and antioxidants while keeping your bod in tip-top shape to work its built-in cooling mechanism. These would include grapes, apples, pears, peaches, berries and especially watermelon, cantaloupe and melon. Try tossing more fruit into your salads with a simple citrus vinaigrette. Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes chill you down, aid in digestion and energize your body.
Tip 2: Veg-out
Veggies that crunch also have a high water content including cucumbers, celery, radishes, bean sprouts, lettuce and leafy greens like kale and spinach. Although scientifically, tomatoes are fruits, we tend to think of them more as a vegetable when assembling our menu. Summer tomatoes are juicy, sweet and diverse. The heirloom varieties can inspire artful creations.
Tip 3: Be spicy
Tropical cuisine tend to be rather piquant. Hot peppers, fresh ginger, horseradish, black pepper, cayenne, chilies and paprika incite you to perspire, activating and boosting your cooling mechanism.
Tip 4: Go raw
Increase your consumption of raw foods and ease up on dishes that require long cooking techniques like roasting, braising and baking. When you do cook, opt for the quick stir-fry or grill at high temperatures. Stock up on your favorite veggies and choose locally grown produce for maximum freshness and taste. Pre-chop and store them so they are ready to sizzle when you are.
Tip 5: Eat less more often
A sensible approach to meal planning is to eat smaller portions. Preventing your digestive system from work overload is a sure way to stay cool and energized.
Tip 6: Toast to water
Raise a glass to water with lime, lemon, orange or your favorite fruit additions. Keeping hydrated is key to keeping your internal AC running robustly. Skip the ice to avoid shocking your system with an extreme temperature change. Avoid sugary soft drinks, juices loaded with high fructose corn syrup, and of course, be conscious of alcohol consumption. Be watchful of your caffeine intake.
Ice-coffee is great, but dehydrated overly anxious, nervous and shaky behavior is just plain uncivilized.
OK, so what do we do with all that? We need a dish that combines juicy fruit, crunchy veggies, has a kick, is raw and won’t make you feel bloated. Here is one idea:
Gazpacho. It’s juicy, crispy, spicy, raw, refreshing and thus cooling. I make mine a little naughty with a splash (not too much) of sake. After all, it is summer and I am not expected to behave myself all the time.
What’s your favorite summer culinary masterpiece?