The last hot dog of summer has come off the grill. The last ice-cream cone licked down to the fingers. The last s'more melted over the fire. But we will not to let summer slip away so easily. We will refuse to see the first few orange leaves on the trees, refuse to buy a pot of mums for the front porch. We shiver refusing to admit the reality of the first sweater day.
The rhythms change as when the school bell starts ringing regularly. We stand on the sidelines for the first soccer game, wishing it were bleachers by the baseball field. We linger in the doorways of echoing rooms where just days ago, kids were laughing and texting and packing for college. We line up for Scout and dance class sign-ups.
And, taking a breath, we begin a round of errands that seem more urgent now that the calendar reads September. Time to buy that new iron. Weekly menus planned around supermarket specials and pushing the cart around the supermarket on Thursday afternoon take on a more urgent feeling now. So does filling lunchboxes and making snacks for the team or the carpool. The ease of summer leaks away.
But we may still wake up to find that temperatures surging over 90 degrees for a day or two. In that case, I'm glad I put a few cooked chicken breasts into the freezer earlier in the week. I marinated and cooked these on the grill, but chicken breasts are just as good broiled, or poached, or cooked in a skillet, then held in escrow. This is one of my usual early September practices so that sudden hot weather doesn't slap me upside the head. I can fill sandwiches or the last tomatoes of the season, hollowed out. I often slice the chicken and put a cold rice salad on the side. I make the rice ahead, hedging my bets on the weather, knowing the rice will last a few days.
The chicken salads here are based on ones I found in an old cookbook, "The Silver Palate Cookbook," that many people have kept on their shelves for years. I've found bargain copies at garage sales and in used book shops. The recipes are still stylish and delicious. And if the kids object to some of the vegetables, keep them on the side on a serving plate so anyone can add them as they please.
RIVIERA-STYLE CHICKEN SALAD
Makes 6 servings
This tastes even better when made a day ahead or early in the morning and saved until dinnertime. In either of those cases, keep the green beans separate and toss with the other ingredients at the last minute so they don't discolor.
3 whole cooked boneless chicken breasts, about 2-1/2 pounds, skin on
1/3 cup olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
juice of 1 lemon, 4 tablespoons
1/4 cup pitted black olives, cut in halves
2 tablespoons brined capers, drained
8 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
1/4 pound cooked green beans, cut in halves, optional
salt, and ground black pepper, to taste
Pull the skin off the chicken and discard. Cut meat into pieces, large or small as preferred. Toss in a bowl with the olive oil and oregano. Cover and allow the flavors to blend, refrigerated, for 30 to 60 minutes.
Take the bowl from the refrigerator and add the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve right away, still cool.
TARRAGON-LEMON CHICKEN SALAD
Makes 6 to 8 servings
I've started substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream in many recipes, especially if they are cold. No one seems to notice the difference.
3 whole cooked chicken breasts, about 2-1/2 pounds, skin on
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (whole, reduced fat or skim)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 celery ribs, cut into strips
1/2 cup shelled walnut pieces
1 tablespoon crumbled dried tarragon
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
lettuce leaves, hollowed-out tomato or baguette for serving
salt, fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Pull the skin off the chicken and discard. Cut into pieces, large or small, as preferred.
Whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise in a bowl and pour over the chicken pieces.
Add celery, walnuts, tarragon, lemon zest, salt and pepper, to taste. Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving on lettuce leaves, stuffed into a hollowed out tomato, or on a baguette.
RICE SALAD WITH CHILE LIME VINAIGRETTE
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Change this up by adding 3/4 cup canned black beans or corn kernels, rinsed and drained.
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
6 tablespoons lime juice
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 cups your favorite cooked rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Whisk together the cumin, cayenne, lime juice, olive oil, and salt.
Pour dressing over the cooked rice. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend. Add black beans or corn kernels or 1/4 cup of each to further round out this salad.
Linda Bassett is the author of "From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston." Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@gmail.com. Read Linda's blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.