As the sun shines high and temperatures soar into the triple digits, July unveils a world of simple and easy pleasures. In this month’s column, I invite you to embark on a journey of summer entertainment, celebrating the joys and flavors of the season without breaking the bank. Whether it’s a gourmet picnic, a backyard barbecue, or a day at the beach, this is the month to vacation in your own backyard (quite literally).

Fruits and vegetables reign supreme during the warmer months. Farmers markets (such as the one on Wednesday at the Volusia County Fairgrounds) are bursting with an abundance of fresh, locally grown produce this time of year. I love waking up early (most vendors are set up by 6 a.m.) and taking a leisurely stroll through the market stalls. I make it a point to engage in conversation with the farmers and vendors, discovering the stories behind the food that nourishes our community. During summer, you’ll find me filling my bag with fresh herbs, plump juicy berries, vibrant tomatoes, crisp zucchini, and so much more!

If picnics had a season unto themselves, summer would be it. A wonderful way to embrace the slower pace of July is by planning one. And there is no shortage of perfect spots.

I encourage you to seek out a location where you can bask in nature’s splendor while savoring delectable homemade treats. This could be under the shade of a grand old tree, at one of the many cool springs nearby, or at the pioneer of all picnic locations — the beach. Eating a ripe mango dipped in salt water used to be one of my favorite things to do. Unfortunately, I became highly allergic to mangoes a few years ago, so I’m afraid my mango-loving days are now behind me. For those who enjoy them, give it a try — the salty water enhances their flavor. Want to re-create the same thing at home? Sprinkle a fresh mango with lime juice and a bit of salt; it’s delicious!

July is also a time to gather with friends and neighbors for casual backyard barbecues or potluck dinners. Summer is the perfect time to share laughter, stories and recipes. If you’re thinking of having folks over for an informal summer soiree, encourage each guest to bring a dish that highlights their cultural heritage or their favorite summer delicacy. In doing so, the feast becomes a tapestry of flavors. For a fun dessert idea, set up a make-your-own-sundae bar full of unique flavors and toppings.

While the days may be scorching and the evenings are still quite warm, they make for some simple and wonderfully magical moments. Take advantage of these long, warm evenings to stargaze or perhaps organize a game night under the open sky. Spread out blankets, and set up a makeshift stage in your backyard. An old-school game like charades requires no equipment and can be played anywhere.

Perhaps you’d prefer to be indoors? Why not make it a classic-movie night? This is the time of year to gather the gang and watch Jaws, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Fried Green Tomatoes or even Grease. Make it extra-special by making popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stove. Side note: Popcorn mixed with mini chocolate-covered candies is an amazing sweet and salty treat! Sometimes, I even add a couple of dashes of cayenne pepper to give it a little kick (trust me on this one)!

July is a time to revel in our small-town charm and embrace the joys that summer brings. Celebrate the abundance of local produce, gather with loved ones, and savor the tranquility of the great outdoors. Life’s most precious moments are often found in the simplest and most affordable pleasures.

Now, please excuse me while I get ready to go cool off in my inflatable pool in the backyard. For $29.99, it does the trick and has provided us with countless hours of fun this summer. Vacations don’t always have to be a destination; they can be a mindset.

And so, with these thoughts in mind, this month’s recipes are perfect for summer outings and gatherings alike. Beginning with the recipe for tomato preserves.

Tomato Preserves


• 5 cups halved tomatoes (I like using the smaller grape ones for this.)
• 4 cups sugar
• 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
• The rind of one orange, zested
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 2 tablespoons butter

Directions: Place tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, orange zest and cinnamon sticks in a large, heavy pot and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. Add butter and continue stirring and simmering until the preserves thicken, about 45 minutes. The mixture should easily coat the back of a spoon.
Pour the preserves into a clean glass jar, where it will keep in the fridge for several weeks. These preserves can also be canned using traditional canning techniques.
This goes great on anything, such as crackers, sharp cheeses and spicy sausages. My favorite way to enjoy it is on top of vanilla ice cream. It makes a great sundae!

Fried Zucchini


As I mentioned earlier, zucchini is at its prime right now. I love frying up a batch as an appetizer or a tasty side dish.

• 2-3 medium-sized zucchini
• 1 egg, lightly beaten
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1/2 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 1/4 tsp garlic powder
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• vegetable oil for frying

Directions: Slice the zucchini into coins or sticks. I prefer sticks. Dry each one with a paper towel, removing as much moisture as you can, and lay them out on a lined baking sheet. Combine the milk and egg in a small bowl. In another medium sized bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder and cayenne.
Dip the zucchini in the egg-and-milk mixture, and then dredge them in the dry mixture. Place them back on the baking sheet. Use enough oil to cover the bottom of a pan.
On medium to medium high heat, place the zucchini, taking care to not overcrowd the pan, and fry both sides until golden brown. Place fried zucchini on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil, and sprinkle with salt. I like to make a quick dipping sauce of two parts mayo to one part ketchup, with one or two pressed garlic cloves and a dash of salt and pepper.
If you should have any leftover eggs-and-flour mixture, you can use it to make onion rings, or combine the flour mixture with the egg mixture and a bit of chopped onion to make a sort of hush puppy.
A few years ago, I went down the rabbit hole of bread making and experimented making all kinds of bread. At the time, we had a wonderful rosemary bush in our yard, and I came up with this recipe for rosemary bread (see recipe below). It’s wonderful on its own, for sandwiches stuffed with Italian deli meats, or as a base for a quick pizza.

Rosemary Bread


• 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 2 1/4 cups warm water
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 6 1/4 to 6 3/4 cups allpurpose flour
•2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/4 cup of fresh chopped rosemary, minus one tablespoon

Directions: In a large bowl (I use my stand mixer for this recipe), dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water; let stand until foamy, about 7-8 minutes.
With the mixer running with a hook attachment, add 3 cups of the flour, salt and oil. Keep adding 1/2 cup of flour at a time until it forms a soft dough. Add the chopped rosemary (minus one tablespoon), and knead for about 8-10 minutes.
Place in a greased bowl. Cover with a dishcloth, and let rise in a warm place until doubled — 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide dough in thirds. Shape each into a rope of about equal
thickness. Attach the three ropes together to make one long rope. Create a large coil, and tuck the final, little piece under it. Carefully place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush it lightly with cool water. Cover very loosely with plastic wrap that you’ve sprayed with cooking spray. Let rise until doubled, about one hour.
Brush the dough with an egg wash (a beaten egg with a tablespoon of water), and sprinkle with the remaining rosemary. Bake at 375 degrees until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 minutes. Remove from the pan, and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in a sealed plastic bag.


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