THE EATER: Think Cool Thoughts

by Kirk Ross
As I’ve repeated probably all too often over the years, I don’t say the word “hot” until August. This edition of MILL comes out July 28, and since it is the August issue and the filing date for this column was on a 100-degree day with a heat index of 115, let me say without equivocation that it is hot. Really hot.

Too hot, in fact, to grill.

Having grown soft, The Eater doesn’t grill on triple-digit days. This is unfortunate because grilling is the best way to keep the summer heat outside where it belongs and not in the house.
So what do you do when the heat chases you out of the summer kitchen? Well, you can always grill meats and veggies ahead of time in a cooler part of the day or the evening before and serve them cold. And there’s no better time to expand your salad repertoire.

If you’re looking for salad and cold-food inspiration, The Eater suggests spending a little time perusing the display case at Mediterranean Deli. A lot of what you’ll see is from their extensive catering menu, which is jam-packed with light, warm-weather fare. One favorite is the apple orzo salad, an easy to make mash-up open to wild experimentation. (Cashews, sundried tomatoes and Greek yogurt found their way into mine.)

Say cheese
A hat tip to Durham food writer Emily Wallace for being the go-to person for what Bon Appetit recently mused is the Year of Pimento Cheese.

Wallace got her master’s in folklore at UNC in 2010 for scholarship in Southern foodways and has written extensively of late on the origins and evolution of pimento cheese.

Small wonder why folks are turning to her for some thoughts as the rest of the country rediscovers this cheesy Southern delicacy. While at Carolina, she penned an 80-page thesis titled “’It was there for work’: Pimento Cheese in the Carolina Piedmont,” which detailed the work-food origins of the pimento cheese sandwich in the Piedmont textile mills. The excerpts out on the Internets are fascinating.

Here’s hoping somebody puts the whole thing online soon.

Abundance fatigue
This is also the time of year when many home gardeners are reflecting on the bounty afforded by their efforts, wondering what they were thinking when they planted all those — you name it — tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and so on. Reports from around town are that this has been a pretty good year for home gardens due to at least a bit of rain and, until last week when the furnace kicked in, tolerable temps. Consequently, there are a lot of vegetables floating around. Your neighborhood listserv is your friend.

Tough ground to plow
Several mega supermarket chains announced plans in late July to join First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to improve access to healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, by agreeing to build more grocery stores in the country’s “food deserts” – typically, low-income neighborhoods where groceries are scarce and fast food dominates.

The positives about the announcement were tempered by a new study by researchers at Carolina published this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study found that access to better food does not necessarily translate into a better diet.

In several reports on the study, Barry Popkin, director of UNC’s Nutrition Transition Program and the study’s lead author, said factors such as cooking skills, food cost and nutrition education play important roles in individuals’ food choices.

We may know more about the health effects of a better diet, but the study underlines just how difficult it’s going to be to get people to make the right decisions about their diet even when they have a healthier choice.

Improving access is a good start, but getting Americans to eat their vegetables … well, ask your mother about that one.