As Houston's summer weather goes, this last week of June isn't too terrible. Low humidity, highs under 100 degrees. But looking ahead to the rest of an increasingly humid, increasingly hot summer gets more like looking down an endless gravel highway, shimmering and waving in the brutal heat. It just ain't pretty.
In this, my thirtieth Houston summer, it's becoming increasingly difficult to motivate myself to cook in the evenings. Even with the A/C cranked down, the oven and the stove heat up my small apartment to the same temperatures outside.
Instead, I increasingly find myself eating fruit, cheese and crackers, or salads -- even salads in the roughest sense of the word, as in "Here are a bunch of cold things I found in my refrigerator and will now toss in a bowl with vinegar."
Interested in how our readers cope with the warm weather, I took to the Internet to crowdsource for answers.
"I generally nibble on things like Greek yogurt, berries and almonds," says Jody Stevens, local baker and owner of Jodycakes. "Who wants heavy, hot stuff on 100-plus degree days?"
Steph Stradley, Texans blogger for the Houston Chronicle, agrees, listing a refreshingly cold soup as her summer go-to: "Gazpacho. Pretty much year-round food in Houston."
Many people turn to smaller plates of antipasto-style nibbles in addition to those cold soups. "Tomato salads, cold raw vegetable soups, fruit salads, cheese and wine, sandwiches, pizza on the grill, charcuterie with pickled veggies, and ice cream" make up food blogger Dragana Harris's preferred summer items. Chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio, most recently of Greatfull Taco, mirrors Harris's list and adds a few important considerations of his own: "Olives, cheese, crusty bread and wine, wine, oh yeah, and wine."
Of course, there are other alternatives to cooking at home that don't involve turning on the oven. "I'm surprised I didn't see anyone mention a microwave / convection oven combo," says Brian Truax of Houston's Fresh Arts Coalition. "We can bake up pretty much anything in our microwave and it doesn't heat up the apartment at all."
And no longer are slow cookers seen as the wintertime items. "Crock pot soups," says food blogger Lynn Ghose Cabrera, when asked about her summer cooking routine. "Last week was split pea; this week, Cuban style black bean. Usually with a side of sliced tomatoes, olives, salami."
But while just as many people are making their own summer picnics at home, the restaurant industry -- which traditionally sees summer as some of its slowest months -- is picking up, too, as more and more people choose to eat out instead of heating up the house, crowding around a table and working up a sweat doing dishes later on.
"We're well ahead of where we were last year," said Georgia's Farm to Market, whose popular buffet has seen an increase in traffic this summer thanks in part to a healthy array of fresh produce that comes from the market side of its all-in-one store.
They also noted, however, that the increase in business was also related to a lack of travel among its regular clientele. "A lot of our families are still here and not vacationing," they said. Higher gas prices might be bad for other cities' tourism rates, but it bodes well for Houstonians in a sense, who seem willing and eager enough to continue filling up the cars to eat out.
It shouldn't come as that big of a surprise, as Houston has historically been the dining-out capital of the nation, with our residents eating out a third more times per week than the national average.
Jenni's Noodle House, too, has seen an increase in diners this summer. Hannah Siegel-Gardner, their PR contact, said that she thinks it's due to a couple of factors: "They have been talking a lot about things that you can order cold," she says, such as the restaurant's cold soba noodles and its limeade-like Jenni's Juice.
"The other things is that they present themselves as a healthy option," she says, adding with a laugh: "People in the summer want to have bikini bodies."
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And those in bikinis (or board shorts) can always take advantage of Houston's most popular summertime cooking option: "Throw some stuff on the grill then jump in the pool!" says reader Matt Paxson.
And even if you don't have a pool handy, try reader Angela Dawn's tip (which should work in nearly every situation): "Tonight I'm fixing barbecue chicken out on the grill along with corn on the cob. It beats heating up the house! I can run in under the fan to cool off between flipping food."