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So I’ve just returned from France, particularly the Southwest region, where I spent the better part of this summer and I’ve come back energized and filled with all kinds of ideas. My weeks were filled with cooking, a lot of eating, a lot of cold rosé, good friends and twice weekly market visits. One day I walked into my friend Kate’s kitchen to the most delightful smells. In the oven were pans of the beloved Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes, slowly roasting in a little bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Later, she slipped the skins off, packed them into jars and water processed them for longer storage. Just a normal everyday occurrence for her but a light bulb went off in my head. The woman is a genius.

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A few weeks ago David Lebovitz, the Paris based American born pastry chef and cookbook author, wrote a post about pork rillettes. I’m never sure how I feel about rillettes. They are essentially shredded meat of some kind, often pork or duck, slowly cooked in their own fat and pressed into a dish or ramekin to be enjoyed on a crispy baguette. I’ve encountered them countless times on my travels through France, brought home a zillion tins from the local market and I want to like them. I really do. But something about them doesn’t quite do it for me.

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Summer food is summer food for a reason. The ingredients tend to be things that are in season, many for only a short time like tomatoes and corn. The dishes typically come together quickly with a consideration given to not heating up the kitchen, utilizing techniques like grilling or a quick stovetop sauté and avoidance of the oven altogether. Full disclosure: I break this rule all the time and just sweat it out. I make what I want to make, weather be damned. Last weekend toward the end of a horrible heat wave, I was craving something cool and light and I was seriously considering sitting in a bucket of ice during every meal. Friends were coming over for Sunday Lunch and I decided to channel my inner French woman and make the ultimate summer meal I’ve enjoyed immensely during my travels – a Grand Aioli.

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Not long ago, on a hot sunny Chicago day, some friends and I were drinking Michelada’s – the beer, tomato juice, hot sauce concoctions that are perfect day drinks. They’re refreshing, tart and tangy and are what they refer to in the business as “session-able” – you can drink several without becoming a sloppy mess. All around, it was a perfect day.

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I’ve never been much of a soda drinker. The six Diet Cokes a day? Not me. Once in a while, I’ll make an exception. For example, there’s always whiskey in my Coke and I have a real soft spot for Squirt, that deliciously sweet grapefruit soda that is my go-to when I’m not feeling well. I also occasionally enjoy a spicy ginger ale and a cold cream soda. Man, I do love a cream soda.

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I love a good cold Asian noodle dish – peanut noodles, sesame noodles, cold soba noodle salad. They are perfect as the weather heats up; cool, refreshing, filling and easy to make without heating up the kitchen. But I’ve never quite gotten the recipe right on my own. The flavor is always slightly off, the mixture sticky and gloppy. I made them but I never really enjoyed them. About this time last year, I posted a Vietnamese steak and peanut noodle salad that I loved, thought I had finally nailed it. But then I tasted these noodles and realized this version is better. Dang it.

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Back in the days right out of college when I was scraping to get by, I survived on soup. It was easy to make, inexpensive and could be varied countless different ways. Meatless chilis, various vegetable concoctions and chicken-less chicken noodle were my standards. Soups were filling and they reheated beautifully in small office microwaves but more importantly, one could really stretch their dollar far with a pot or two. When you were saving any bit of extra cash to buy a few rounds of beer Friday night, this was important.

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