Every year I go into the summer with grand plans: Gourmet family picnics! Service Projects! Homemade gelato! And then when I blink my eyes and school is starting again, I realize things didn’t exactly go as planned. We didn’t quite get through our entire summer reading lists, we squabbled a little more than we’d like to admit, and our “service project” never got off the ground (although we did make some incredible homemade gelato).
Still, I love the feeling of anticipation that comes with summer vacation and want to make the most of the seemingly endless possibilities (even if that means dragging myself out of bed to work at 5 a.m.). Who knows what we’ll do (besides tennis practice, baseball, and, yes, those reading lists), but I’m sure it will be an adventure. Just in case you’re still casting about for some fun and worthwhile things to do this summer, here are some of my grand ideas (notice how I didn’t say “plans”).
Preserve strawberries: Beautiful, fresh berries are one of my favorite things about summer, and this is an easy way to keep them around a little longer. The only thing I changed was I used less sugar (just barely 1/2 cup). I served the preserved berries on toasted sliced baguettes with prosciutto and a couple drops of balsamic vinegar. It makes an unexpected and delicious snack or appetizer.
Grow some herbs: Because when you encounter a recipe (like the cocktail below) that calls for a sprig of thyme or a few mint leaves, it’s annoying to have to buy an entire bunch at the store. The plants costs less than the packaged herbs and keep on giving. Plus they smell amazing when you’re sitting next to them reading a book.
Visit a goat dairy: I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple years because a) I love farm animals, especially goats, b) I love goat cheese, and c) any chance to show the kids a thing or two about where their food comes from is a good thing. So one Wednesday or Friday this summer, we’re heading up to Jumping Good Goats. Maybe we’ll fit in a hike while we’re at it.
Switch to a natural sunscreen that works. I get asked about this often because people (rightly) assume that since I try to avoid chemicals in my food, I also avoid them in the things I put on my and my kids’ skin. But, although I’ve tried just about everything and have some strong opinions, I am no natural skincare expert. Luckily, however, I happen to know one of those: Kristen Arnett is a makeup artist who specializes in green beauty, and her website, GreenBeautyTeam.com, is a veritable treasure trove of information on all aspects of healthy skincare and cosmetics. I asked her for a recommendation and was glad to get her seal of approval on a brand I use, Badger Balm. “It’s uber-safe and all natural,” she said. She also likes Jason and Soleil Organique.
Make apricot lemonade: Apricots are in season, and I’m always tempted to buy them because they’re so pretty and fragrant, but I don’t actually love eating them. But I love this. First, blanch 3-5 apricots in boiling water for a minute or two, then peel and chop when cool enough to touch. Make a syrup by combining 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and the apricots in a saucepan and allowing it to simmer until it thickens. In the meantime, squeeze about 6 lemons into a pitcher (about 1 cup of lemon juice). You can puree the syrup if you don’t like pulpy lemonade or just dump it into pitcher. Add water (or soda water and vodka) to fill. Serve ice cold (it’s nice with a few mint leaves).
Make some Summer Tomato Sauce: This is one of the first recipes I ever posted on this blog, and it’s still one of my favorites. It goes with just about everything, and is especially delicious with grilled summer eggplants and zucchini, grilled chicken, and of course pasta. It’s also great cold with burrata cheese. Or a spoon.
Grill peaches. When you grill them, peaches caramelize and sweeten into something satisfying and really, incredibly delicious. Plus, it’s too hot in my kitchen to bake a pie.
Cook some sausages over an open fire. Because, with all the — nitrate-free, humanely raised, even relatively healthy — choices available now (we like Applegate Farms Kielbasa), why wouldn’t you? If you don’t have access to a real campfire, you can do what we did and get a fire pit from Target and some of these.
Make a melon fairy house. So cute.
Make Fresh Herb Vinaigrette and put it on everything. If you have my free ebook, Easy Recipes from Real Food (which you should if you subscribe), you already know how much I love this dressing. It elevates potato and pasta salads, grilled meats, crudites, and just about anything else you can think of. The updated recipe here is super easy to make.
Eat some fresh Copper River Salmon. Now. No really, do this now. (The season only goes until mid-June.)
Reward reading. I know, I know: Reading is its own reward. I’ve heard this wisdom and, when it comes to parenting, I wholeheartedly disregard it. So, every summer, we make a reading list for each kid — usually books they’ve been meaning to read but couldn’t during the busy school year — and set up rewards, including a long-coveted and (so far) elusive trip to Water World, for when they accomplish their goal. Most public libraries have kids’ summer reading clubs. Ours offers cool book bags and theme park tickets, so they’re apparently on the reward bandwagon, too.
Try some giant bubbles. I thought my kids had grown out of bubbles until we made these.
Make Noosa Yoghurt pops.
Teach your kids some jump rope rhymes. It’s weird to me that my kids, especially my daughter, aren’t really into jump-roping. They think of it as something you do in PE, not recess. Well, I’m brushing up on my jump-rope songs in hope of making it fun and giving them something to do (besides kick the soccer ball into the alley) in our back yard.
Create Souvenir Jars. This is a brilliant idea (thanks Martha!) that I am super excited to do. I never know what to do with all the, um, stuff my kids collect and want to keep (tickets, acorns, trinkets, etc. etc. etc.), so this will be perfect. I’m seriously ordering the jars right now.
Visit a state or national park. Our country is pretty frigging amazing. I highly recommend Custer State Park, SD.
Make cocktails with veggies and herbs. My new fave is this refreshing Lime-Mint-Cucumber Collins: In a sturdy glass, muddle 3 freshly cut cucumber rounds, basil 5 big mint leaves, and 1/2 a lime cut into wedges. Pour into a cocktail shaker with 2 oz. gin and 1 oz. simple syrup (made from simmering 1 cup each water and sugar in a saucepan until syrupy). Shake, then pour mix over ice and top with about 5 oz. club soda.
We’re on our way to a great summer.