summer lessons.

Summertime meant many things to me as a child. It meant sleeping in. It meant muggy afternoons in a lounge-style lawn chair with a stack of Seventeen magazines at my side. It meant riding my bike to Water Works for the day. It meant eating chip chop ham sandwiches with mustard and dill pickle slices for dinner at 8 p.m. It meant no AC and a teeny, tiny pink bikini that had to be tugged extra hard to keep in place.

My Summers were lazy bliss. We hardly ever went anywhere, save after dinner trips to Stoddards and Gauge Lake/Sea World.

And every Summer, my Mama canned. Our neighbors canned. My Grandma canned.
I didn't really help, mind you. I was too busy trying to establish a defining mental image to distinguish Betty from Veronica. (Of course, in the end, I made bratty Veronica slightly less beautiful and called it a day.)

As is prone to happening, at least for me, I look back now and regret that didn't stick around long enough to actually learn something. Alas, in lieu of usable knowledge, I have worrisome flashbacks of tomatoes going through the grinder. I also have one very clear and precious memory of washing peaches in a metal tub with my Grandma, Margarete when I was six. She told me how important it was to wash them well and I listened to all that she had to say, because her canned peaches were nothing short of magical. She died when I was ten, and I've missed her every day. I've had moments of quiet which afforded me the opportunity to ponder the degree of my love for canning and the like. All these years later, these farmgirl things pull at the very roots of my heart. They take me back. I want to make up for lost time. For those of you who share my urge to open a jar of home-canned spaghetti sauce in the middle of January, you know what I mean.

So, for many years I made it my job to learn more. To listen and try new things.

Sometime back in May I found myself entirely fed up with learning. I was sick to death of taking in information, not to mention processing all of it.

I felt like the whole world was bossing me around and like I was over-bossing myself, along with everyone in my near proximity.

My gift to myself and the rest of us, I decided, would be a ban on learning for the duration of this summer. Shocking no one more than myself, I displayed stunning early follow-through with an eleventh-hour opt-out of a day trip to Amish country. Next, I funneled my momentum toward trashing clutter and renewing my vows to all the old recipes languishing in the dusty corners of my culinary canon rather than dog-earing magazines like I've been known to do. Nevermind, homemade Tikka Misala! Ive got no time for your required ingredient scavenger hunts. Not this summer. This summer I. will. not. learn. I'm plum wore out.

Well, my Summer of No Learning trucked smoothly down the rails for about 16 hours, until I decided to bake the hubs his favorite lemon meringue pie for Father's Day and intriguing books kept showing up on my door. (My neighbor's son next door, "The Fed left you a package while you were gone." The Fed!)

I took one look at their smooth pages and gleaming covers and said to myself, "Nope."
Short story long, all bets are off.

I'm hopping between books like a spazzed-out toad with all the lily pads to himself.
My brain seems to want to keep learning, and I'm not just saying that because I dreamed (again!) last night that I was back in college, casually forgetting to attend classes for an entire semester.

It's summertime, and not to brag, but I keep accidentally learning things - the differences between various types of sharks, the best route to mom's appointments, how to work my GoPro, how to reboot Netflix, how to cut plastic straws into miniature, the joy of pink hair extensions, the magic of homemade strawberry jam, and the surest way to move beyond old wounds.

Since I've already ruined the plan, I might as well keep reading all of the books. As it turns out, it can't be helped.

 just sayin'.

bang bang shrimp tacos

1/2 cup vegetable oil, or more, as needed
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 large egg
1 tablespoon hot sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup Panko
12 6-inch corn tortillas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

for the slaw

2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the sauce

1/4 cup mayonnaise*
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Frank’s Hot Sauce

  1. To make the slaw, combine cabbage, sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, garlic, lime juice and salt in a large bowl; set aside.
  2. To make the sauce, whisk together mayonnaise, sweet chili sauce, honey and Frank’s Hot Sauce in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, flour, cornstarch, egg and hot sauce; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Working one at a time, dip shrimp into buttermilk mixture, then dredge in Panko, pressing to coat.
  6. Working in batches, add shrimp to the skillet and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  7. Serve immediately with tortillas and slaw, drizzled with sweet chili sauce and garnished with cilantro, if desired.


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