Summertime and the living is easy -- for children at the beach, and raccoons raiding the vegetable garden, for bugs and for birds, but definitely not for cooks.
Who wants to simmer and saute when it's 90 degrees and the kitchen is a sauna? Summer is the time for simple meals and simple means of making them.
Salads are summer's best friend. If you haven't already got one, this is a good season to invest in a salad drier, those things that spin the lettuce dry and help keep it crisp. For years I resisted them, insisting that wrapping the washed lettuce in a kitchen towel and sticking it in the refrigerator was just as effective. And it is, but only if you pat dry each bit of green, a chore that could land you in September.
Mouli makes the drier that won me over. It has a little handle set in the lid which spins the basket at dizzying speed. They make a regular-sized basket and a tiny one that seems too small to be much use unless you are addicted to parsley. Prices on the larger one vary considerably (I've seen the same item priced at $8 and $15 in different stores) so check around before buying.
If you haven't got a vegetable brush, buy one. Garden produce needs a good scrubbing before it's fit for the table. I vote for the Lola, which comes with both metal and nylon bristles and costs from $1.50 to $2. Replacement heads are available when you've scrubbed the bristles flat.
When lettuce on lettuce gets boring, salads composed of vegetables are easy to prepare and as varied as you choose to make them. Green beans cooked al dente , tossed with summer savory and marinated in a vinaigrette are a summer-long standby.
To cut the cooking time, buy a machine that cuts them French-style. Little Caledonia, 1419 Wisconsin Ave. NW, has the granddaddy of bean frenchers, a cast-iron machine with a funnel to feed the beans through and a handle to propel them, for $25. More economical and just as effective in slicing the beans is the small Krisk bean slicer, $3.50 at Williams-Sonoma in the Mazza Gallerie.
Little Caledonia also carries the Moulinex herb chopper for $3.98, a handy gadget for people who grow their own herbs.
If you have a Cuisinart or similar food processor, now is the time to pick up the square-cut julienne blade. It takes just a few seconds to julienne a whole celery root or several cooked beets. Put them on a platter with the marinated green beans, fashion them into the strips of the Italian flag and serve them with crusty bread, white wine and Italian cheeses.
Williams-Sonoma has boxes of Texas hickory chunks for $5.50 or chips for $3 to add flavor to outdoor grilling. Other things to store is carrying to dress up summer include a wicker cheese tray for $20, the perfect setting for a meal of fresh fruits and goat cheese; hinged grills for broiling steak or fish over a fire ($9.50); footed grills at $9 and $11 to set over hot coals, and a wonderful selection of reasonably priced bowls and platters in heavy white restaurant china, strong enough to bounce when you trip over the garden hose on your way to the picnic table.
There are deep bowls to be piled high with potato salad or cole slaw and a large shallow bowl that is made for a cold pasta salad. The bowls range in price from $3 for the smallest to $13 for the largest.