Tag Archives: Dog Days of Summer

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!




Mid-August Magic


And here we are at mid-August. The Dog Days are over: Sirius, the Dog Star, which had been rising with the sun since early July, now rises on its own. It’s another of the old stories that return year after year. Early astronomers observed the two stars rising together each summer and thought for sure this contributed to making our days hotter. We know better now, but the term Dog Days persists, and I’m glad it does, for if it didn’t, I wouldn’t have that great song by Florence + the Machine popping into my head each mid-August.

It is Obon weekend, and so Florence is sharing space in my head with taiko drummers and the music of Bon Odori dancing, the community centerpiece of the festival of Japan that welcomes the dead home again for a summer visit. Growing up here in South Florida, in the presence of the Morikami, Obon was long an important part of August and summer. Some years I’d go with my family, some years on my own, some years with my little nephews in tow. I remember the heat and humidity, the summer thunderstorms that often accompanied the festival, the smell of pennyroyal in the air, which we would apply to ourselves in an effort to ward off mosquitos. But mostly I remember the colors, especially as the afternoon darkened into night, electric lanterns strung through the pines, glowing red and green and blue, festival vendors, and then the central pavilion –– the yagura –– painted in red and white stripes. There on the yagura were the taiko drummers and flutists, and the dancers, making their way around and around the yagura in mysterious movement. These, to me, were some of the most magical things I’ve experienced, and how serendipitous that I got to experience it here, in this strange green land that gets stranger and stranger and yet is filled with so much beauty and emotion that it sometimes sucks all the breath out of me.

And then, of course, the illuminated lanterns, set sail on the water: Transportation for the souls who were visiting, bringing them back to their distant shore.

For my family, of course, we remember my grandmother, Assunta, who was named for the Feast of the Assumption. She was born the Fifteenth of August, 1898, and so her parents chose her name in honor of the day. The feast is a holiday throughout Italy and most of Europe, though in Italy it is also memorable as the start of Ferragosto, when many Italians close up shop and head to the sea or to the mountains for a week away from the ordinary.

For her birthday, Grandma always fixed a simple Ferragosto supper of cucuzza longa simmered with eggs. And though she is gone these 35 years now, still we prepare this same dinner for the Fifteenth of August. It is hearty peasant fare that is quick and easy to prepare, which makes it the perfect sustenance for a hot evening in late summer, especially when it is paired with a crusty loaf and some wine––perhaps a sparkling white or a rosé, or maybe, if you have someone like Grandpa in your life, a pitcher full of the finest summer peaches, sliced, with red wine poured over them and set in the refrigerator for just a few minutes before dinner is served. It’s so easy to make, and so delicious. I invite you to join us.

You’ll need to first get hold of cucuzza longa. This translates to “long squash” and you may find them labeled that way at your local market. They are not a squash at all, but actually an edible gourd, which, left to their own devices, will grow to two or three feet in length and might end up straight as pins or as fascinating coiled shapes, like serpents. In markets, though, where uniformity is prized, chances are you’ll find them looking just like the ones in the photo above. This year, I’ve been to three local markets –– one a farmers’ market, the others Italian markets –– and I’ve had no luck finding my beloved cucuzzi. In a pinch, you can substitute zucchini… but the cucuzza is different and so much better. This year, we’ll be going with zucchini.

Here’s Mom’s recipe to prepare your traditional Ferragosto dinner. She learnt it from Grandma, who learnt it from Mom’s Great Grandma, and so on and so on… which is what I love about a meal like this: It’s not just dinner; it is, as well, a communion with others across time and space. Much like Obon, and much like Dia de Los Muertos and I Morti, the holidays honoring the dead that will come this fall. I think there is powerful magic in all of these things, and yet they are rooted in the simple act of preparing food and sitting at the table.

F E R R A G O S T O   S U P P E R
3 cucuzza longa (or zucchini)
1 large onion
olive oil
1 can crushed tomatoes
8 to 12 eggs
1/2 cup (or more) grated cheese: Romano or Locatelli or Parmigiano-Reggiano
flat leaf parsley, leaves removed from stems
fresh basil
salt & pepper

Wash and peel the cucuzza using a knife or a vegetable peeler (no need to peel if you are using zucchini), then cut into thick slices, each slice about 3″ long (you’re cutting lengthwise with the cucuzza, as opposed to slicing rounds). Chop the onion roughly and in a large pot, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the crushed tomatoes to the cooked onion. Let simmer about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk, then add the parsley and grated cheese. (A note here about measurements: recipes like these, handed down from generation to generation, don’t come with precise measurements. You put a handful of this, a pinch of that. As Grandma would say (though she would say it in her Lucerine dialect): The more you put, the more you find.) Once the tomato/onion mixture has simmered, add about one quarter of the sliced cucuzza, followed by about one quarter of the egg and cheese mixture. Continue layering cucuzza and the egg mixture until everything is in the pot. Add a handful of fresh basil leaves; season with salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, without disturbing, until the egg is set and the cucuzza is tender (about an hour, maybe less).

All the ingredients, in the pot, about to be simmered.

This one-pot summer meal will serve 6 to 8, especially if it’s served alongside warm, crusty bread, and perhaps a simple salad of escarole dressed with olive oil, wine vinegar, and salt. It’s delicious. And it was on our table pretty much each and every one of Grandma’s birthdays. Grandpa certainly loved it. He would have eaten his Ferragosto supper and then made a simple hand gesture, his finger pushed into his cheek with a forward twisting motion, proclaiming it Saporite!



Dog Days are Over

One of the best things about summer, if you ask me, is that it comes with an automatic soundtrack––it does in my head, at least. It has its beginnings with Kate Bush dancing through my head and singing “The Sensual World” on Bloomsday, June 14, and soon progresses to Felix Mendelssohn’s music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on St. John’s Eve and St. John’s Day (June 23 & 24). On the Fourth of July the song by the same name by X pops into my head, along with John Philip Sousa and the bit of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture that includes the cannon. And then any number of old Shaker spirituals come to me on the Sixth of August as we celebrate the Arrival of the Shakers in America.

And now, on August 11, Sirius, the Dog Star, ends its annual period of rising and setting with the sun. This heliacal rising and setting has been going on since the Third of July. The Ancient Greeks, watchers of the sky and namers of the constellations, observed this and deduced that Sirius, shining as brightly as it does, was amplifying and contributing to the heat of the sun, making these days the hottest of the year. We know now that Sirius has nothing to do with that heat, but legends have long legs, don’t they?

What does this have to do with summer soundtracks, then? Well, in London in the summer of 1998, a woman named Florence Welch rode her bicycle each day past an enormous illuminated sculpture installed at London’s South Bank. The sculpture, an arc of giant illuminated perspex and aluminum letters, was by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. It’s message: Dog Days are Over.

Florence Welch would go on to form a band called Florence + the Machine, and eventually they would record a song called, you guessed it: Dog Days are Over. You probably know it. The song was inspired by the sculpture. Florence is quoted as saying, “It’s a reference to the dog star, Sirius. When it was closest to the Earth, all the animals would get languid and sleepy. When it moved away, they’d wake up.” She may not have the details quite right, but she’s got the gist of the matter… and I rather like the vision of sentient beings being languid and sleepy for 40 days or so each summer, then suddenly awakening.

All to say that this is how Dog Days are Over by Florence + the Machine fits into the soundtrack of summer that lives in my head. I share it with you each year around this time… and now you know why. I picture happiness hitting me like a train on a track and I picture those very blue women beside me as I sing the song each summer. One of those blue women reminds me of our cat Haden’s veterinarian… and then I picture Dr. Irma Morales as a back up singer for Florence Welch, clapping her hands: one-two/three.

What can I say? My mind drifts and wanders. It has always done this, since I was a boy. But this same mind fills my summers with music––even beyond the constant and deafening mid-August buzzing of Florida cicada song––and that’s not so bad, is it?

Please save an upcoming date with me!
August 24 brings a great celebration with an odd name: it’s the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, and I’ll be hosting the online, virtual Library Wayzgoose Festival for the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries. It’s a video event full of good stories and great music. The Bartlemas Wayzgoose is an old printers’ celebration that comes about every 24th of August with the waning summer. My featured guest is activist letterpress printer Ben Blount of Evanston, Illinois, with a special Wayzgoose Concert by the wonderful Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, the Grammy Award winning musicians famous for their song “Ashokan Farewell” from the Ken Buns documentary The Civil War. Perhaps we can add that to the soundtrack of summer, too. Lots of great Wayzgoose fun is in store for you. The video premiere will be at www.jaffecollection.org and at the Jaffe Center’s Vimeo Channel, too, and at the Facebook pages of Convivio Bookworks and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts (essentially, we’re making it really hard for you to miss). The premiere is on Bartlemas night, Tuesday August 24th, at 7 PM Eastern Daylight Time, with video available anytime after that, from wherever you are in the world. I think you’ll really love it. I’ll be posting more about it as Bartlemas approaches, so watch the blog and our social media pages at Instagram and Facebook (@conviviobookworks).

Summer Sale!
At our online shop, our Summer High Five Sale continues: All summer long, use discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your purchase of $35 on everything in the shop. Take it to $50 and earn free domestic shipping, too. Click here to shop! Our favorite new thing in the shop? Millie’s Tea Towels, embroidered by hand by my mom Millie, under our new Linens & Textiles category.


Image: Dog Days are Over by Ugo Rondinone. Perspex, neon, translucent film, and aluminum, 1998. For context as to what Florence Welch saw each day as she bicycled past, Rondinone’s illuminated sculpture is about 25 feet wide x 11 feet tall.