Monthly Archives: July 2023

A Cool Summertime Recipe

We are in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer: they began when July was new, when Sirius, the Dog Star, began rising with the sun. Early astronomers thought the combination of Sirius rising with the sun made for the hottest days of the year. This annual phenomenon remains with us, as it does each year, until the Eleventh of August, when Sirius and the sun once again go their separate ways, thus ending the Dog Days of Summer once more.

It’s been unbearably hot just about everywhere this month. Here, too, the temperatures are running higher than normal: low to mid 90s, rather than the more typical 89 or so, and those few degrees make a big difference. As meals go, it is definitely a time for lighter fare, and today, on the approach to the ancient Roman festival of Neptunalia & Salacia (it falls on July 23), I’ve got the perfect meal to cool things down a bit, and today’s chapter of the Convivio Book of Days comes with a delicious recipe. It’s a Florida recipe that’s born somewhat out of necessity: an attempt to use up some of the local mangoes that are everywhere here come high summer.

And I know the current madness emanating from Tallahassee has not done much for our popularity (I’m with you on that), but let it be known that Florida has delivered some incredible contributions to the national cuisine: We’ve brought you hushpuppies, fried up from cornmeal and chopped onions and beer. We’ve brought you key lime pie, of course. And we’ve even brought you the half & half you pour into your coffee each morning (it was invented right here in Lake Worth at Boutwell Dairy in the early 20th century). Today’s recipe is one you can add to that list. It’s a recipe I adapted from one I picked up from my neighbor Margaret. It’s the perfect accompaniment to fish or chicken, though in this house, it’s always fish, and as such, it is perfect for Neptunalia & Salacia, when the Romans celebrated Neptune, the sea god, and his wife Salacia, goddess of the salty sea. It’s also perfect for any time you need a cooling light supper on an oppressively hot day.

M A N G O   W A T E R M E L O N   S A L S A
Best served over fish (we like haddock or mahi-mahi or snapper best). Measurements are approximate. The chopping takes some time, but if you make the salsa early in the day, the actual meal comes together at dinnertime in just a few minutes––just as long as it takes for the fish and the rice to cook.

4 mangoes, peeled and pitted
1/2 small round watermelon, preferably seedless
1 small red onion, peeled
2 jalapeño or poblano peppers
fresh cilantro
salt & pepper

Chop, into a small dice, the mangoes, the watermelon, the red onion, and the peppers and combine together in a large bowl. Take care to remove any stray watermelon seeds. I prefer a salsa that is mostly watermelon with almost as much mango, while the red onion and green peppers add their particular colors to the mix in a smaller proportion. Add chopped fresh cilantro to taste, and season with salt and pepper. Chill for at least a few hours, or overnight. Mango Watermelon Salsa will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 or 4 days. Serve over fish that’s been baked or grilled or pan-fried. Basmati rice makes a nice accompaniment to the fish and salsa. Works equally well over chicken, and perhaps even grilled pork tenderloin.

If you have the luxury of choice, as we do here in Lake Worth, my favorite mangoes for this recipe are Haden mangoes, which we grow here, or Jewel mangoes, which grow at my family’s home nearby. There are some mangoes that have a distinct turpentine taste; I do not like those for this recipe.

Mango season here is quickly coming to a close. Our tree has completed its run for the year, as has Mom’s tree. I’ve heard it said that if you live here in South Florida and you find yourself buying mangoes from the market in summer, then you need to seriously reconsider who you call “friend.” There are so many mango trees here, almost everyone knows someone who has a glut of the fruit in July. They’re delicious, but let’s face it: you can only eat so many. Mango Watermelon Salsa is a most delicious way to get through four of them. Enjoy the meal, as you raise your glasses to each other on Neptunalia & Salacia and every summertime meal.


Enjoy $5 off your order of $35 or more when you use discount code HIGH5 at checkout. Take it to $75 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too. Use the deal on Millie’s Tea Towels or on anything else in the shop. Click here to shop! And if you love mangoes, you may equally love our limited edition handmade book, Putting Up Mangoes. It’s a tale I wrote about overwhelming subtropical abundance. You can even use the HIGH5 discount code for $5 off the book!




St. Swithin & Our Lady of Mount Carmel

I heard my first cicada song early Tuesday morning: one sole insect, somewhere in the stands of bamboo in the yard, making that raspy sound that cicadas make. It’s mid-July. The days here in Lake Worth are hot and languid; the nights are, too, and the cicadas will grow in number these next few weeks and their chorus will grow louder and louder. This is high summer in Florida, and if the season had backing music and a soundtrack, the cicadas would be the orchestra performing it.

We’ve been in the midst of a relentless heat wave, with highs each day in the 90s, and let me tell you: there is a big difference between 89˚ and 93˚. One is bearable; the other, much less so. But it’s also our rainy season, and an evening thunderstorm rolling through will make for a rain-cooled night and that can make life so much lighter here.

A bit of rain is generally a daily constant here this time of year. And now it is the Fifteenth of July, which brings a traditional weather marker that you’d think originated here in this dripping green land, but no, it’s from England. It’s St. Swithin’s Day, and this is how the story goes: St. Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain, For forty days it will remain; St. Swithin’s Day if thou be fair, For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

St. Swithin is known as the weeping saint. He was a 9th century Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester. The source of his weeping comes from after his earthly life, for it was the good bishop’s wish to be buried in the churchyard and not in the chancel of the church, as was the custom for bishops. His wishes were followed when he died, but upon his canonization, the monks there decided the open churchyard was a rather disgraceful place for a saint to be buried, and so on the 15th of July in 971, they planned to move the relics of St. Swithin indoors to the choir, in a solemn procession. A great downpour began during the procession, though, and continued for forty days. The monks took this is a sign from St. Swithin himself, and so they let him be there in the churchyard, although they did eventually erect a chapel over his grave.

It’s not necessarily forty days of constant rain that one might expect. Poor Robin’s Almanack, in July 1697, tells us:

In this month is St Swithin’s Day;
On which, if that it rain, they say
Full forty days after it will,
Or more or less, some rain distill.

Which sounds very much like our South Florida weather this time of year, with our more-or-less daily dose of thunderstorms. John Gay, too, in his poem “Trivia,”  gives mention to the saint and legend:

How, if on Swithin’s Feast the welkin hours,
And every penthouse streams with hasty showers,
Twice twenty days shall clouds their fleeces drain,
And wash the pavements with incessant rain.

And those who grow apples love St. Swithin, too, for, they say, he blesses their crops with his tears. And just as St. Swithin fits nicely into our local weather patterns here in Florida, there is some truth, it is said, to the weather lore in the UK for St. Swithin’s Day, too, for the jet stream over Britain tends to follow a regular pattern at this time of year, dictating the weather patterns for the next five to six weeks. Should the jet stream lie north of Britain, the weather will typically be clear and mild. Should the jet stream lie across or south of Britain, stormy weather may be expected as rain moves in from the Atlantic. Five or six weeks of the latter pattern would easily measure out to forty days of “some rain distill”––not nearly as poetic as “wash the pavements with incessant rain,” but lovely all the same (if you, too, are fond of rainy days).

The following day, July 16, will bring the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The day is sacred to Chile. It is my mother’s name day, her onomastico, as we say in Italian. My grandparents gave her the name Carmela, in honor of her grandmother, Maria Carmela Giuseppa Esposito, who in turn was named for her own grandmother, who was not a blood relative, but simply the kind woman who, in 1834, found and adopted an abandoned infant boy. That Maria Esposito raised the boy as her own, and called him Moses, for she found him in a basket, covered in leaves and rags, just as the Moses in the Old Testament was found in a basket by Pharaoh’s daughter. But now I’m getting really off course in my storytelling. You know my mother as Millie: she is the Millie who hand-embroiders Millie’s Tea Towels. What Mom remembers most about her name day is the feast in her old Brooklyn neighborhood: a feast that went on for many days each mid-July in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and still does to this day. Sausage & onion sandwiches, fried zeppole, elaborate towers carried on the shoulders of strong men… mostly Mom remembers admiring the cute boys in the bands who played the old Italian songs.

That’s Mom there in the fishing boat, inviting you to our simple summer sale: Enjoy $5 off your order of $35 or more when you use discount code HIGH5 at checkout. Take it to $75 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too. Use the deal on Millie’s Tea Towels or on anything else in the shop. Click here to shop!

Enjoy your summer!

Top image: “Rain” by Vincent Van Gogh. Oil on canvas, 1889. Philadelphia Museum of Art. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Bottom image: My mom, Millie, in a fishing boat on a lake in Brooklyn, circa 1950.


To the Sea, or Your July Book of Days

I made the realization this past week that once Midsummer is past, I am pretty much done with summer. I live near the 26th parallel north, and this may have something to do with it. It gets hot here in summer. I also just discovered that the 26th parallel north is the most populous circle of latitude on Earth. Not only does it cross Florida and Mexico, it also crosses Southern China and the Indian subcontinent and straight though Northern Africa, too. All very warm places. And I can imagine most everyone along this parallel thinking, once Midsummer passes, in their own native language, the very same thing I am thinking, which is this: Summer is just now digging in its heels. We still have three months of this to go.

Why do so many of us live in such warm places? I don’t understand it, until it’s January and my teeth are chattering when the temperature dips into the 40s. In July, though, it is easy to despair here over the heat and the humidity. In fact, the Dog Days of Summer just begin now, on the Third of July, as Sirius, the Dog Star, begins its annual rising with the sun each morning. Our ancestors believed the two stars rising together intensified the heat, and though that’s not exactly how it works, it sure feels right. These Dog Days will continue through the 11th of August, at which point Sirius and the sun separate again until next year.

The good news for us here in Lake Worth is that the Atlantic Ocean is just a quick trip across the lagoon, and a day at the seaside is a welcome one when it is this hot. That is the theme of your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for July, featuring a seaside painting by American painter Walt Kuhn. The calendar is, as usual, a printable PDF and a fine companion to this blog. Click here to get yours.

The theme is fitting considering July brings the celebration of Neptunalia & Salacia on the 23rd. This festival of Ancient Rome honored Neptune, the sea god, and his wife Salacia, goddess of the salty sea. July also brings a string of national celebrations: Canada Day on the First, Independence Day here in the States on the Fourth, and Bastille Day in France on the 14th. There are many saints’ days to mark; the most famous of them perhaps being the old weather maker of St. Swithin’s Day on the 15th. It is the month, too, of Tanabata, the lovely Star Festival of Japan, when wishes are written on paper and tied to the trees.

Come month’s end it will be Lammas Eve, and Lammas, the First Harvest festival on the First of August, brings our annual acknowledgment that summer is ripening and autumn is not far behind. Unless you happen to live along the 26th parallel. If you do, summer is that house guest that’s not going anywhere for a long long time. You may as well get used to its presence.


Here’s a “lighter fare” sale for summer: Enjoy a quick & easy $5 off your purchase of $35 on everything in the store with discount code HIGH5 at checkout. Plus domestic orders of $75 or more ship free! CLICK HERE to shop (and to see a photo of my mom, circa 1950, fishing pole in hand, wearing cool shades and plaid in a row boat).


Image: “Bathers on a Beach” by Walt Kuhn. Oil on canvas, 1915. Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.