The joys of summer dining

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Summertime dining means lots of fresh produce and menu favorites. Lisa Boykin Batts | Times
Summertime dining means lots of fresh produce and menu favorites. Lisa Boykin Batts | Times

There are so many things I love about summer: long days with sunlight until late in the evening, hydrangeas, my backyard day lilies that surprise me each morning with new blooms, and moon flowers that surprise me each night with new blooms.

I love riding through the countryside watching the progress of the season’s crop and driving to the beach for long walks in the sand and fresh seafood at our favorite restaurants.

I love cantaloupes so fragrant that my mouth waters before I even cut into them, sweet watermelon cut and stored in my refrigerator for afternoon snacks, and peaches so juicy that I eat them over the sink.

This time of year, I crave juicy tomatoes, tender yellow squash, corn that pops when you bite it.

String beans are another favorite at my house. When I’m at a farmer’s markets this time of year, I always look for new string beans — or snap beans or green beans, whichever name you prefer.

On Saturday, my husband and I spent the day with our children and visited a farmer’s market in Pitt County we had never been to before. Right away, I spotted string beans in several vendor booths and bought a bagful before we left. I also picked out several ears of local white corn.

Fresh string beans are a treat for Reggie and me. We both grew up eating chopped string beans served with a side of fresh cucumbers swimming in vinegar and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. We often eat the green beans with new potatoes, pork cutlets and maybe some cornbread. I made a few changes to this menu Sunday night. With the string beans and cucumbers, we ate corn on the cob, grilled chicken breasts marinated with a little barbecue sauce and my favorite baked macaroni and cheese.

Oh my, that was some good eating. The only thing that would have made it better would have been a blueberry cobbler hot from the oven.

I remember helping Mama “snap” the ends off the string beans when I was young. Sometimes the beans would be “buggy” and we’d snap off the part of the bean with little black holes or just toss it. She cooked the green beans with a little bit of pork or bacon drippings. I use a small amount of bacon drippings — maybe half a teaspoon — for a pot of string beans. Once or twice, I’ve thrown in a piece of microwave bacon to the boiling pot of beans.

After the beans boiled and were fork tender, Mama would drain them, add salt and chop them with her vegetable chopper. I do the same thing.

We always make extra at our house so we can have leftovers the next day.

I’m looking forward to all the fresh produce that will be so plentiful in coming weeks and will continue to make regular stops at local farms and the Wilson Farmers and Artisan Market.

I’m especially eager for my first ears of Wilson County corn and Dixie Lee peas. I haven’t made a squash casserole yet; that will be coming soon.

And I will be making that blueberry cobbler.

Yes, I love this time of year and intend to savor every moment and every mouthful.

Mueller’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese

This recipe is pure comfort food to me and is so good with a meal of string beans. I love adding the cubed bread on top for toasted croutons.

8 ounces elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 cup of all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 1/2 cups of milk

2 cups grated Cheddar cheese (I’ve used a Cheddar Jack mix also)

1 slice of bread cut in to cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta for 6 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In medium saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour, mustard, salt and pepper.

Gradually add milk and cook over medium heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly, stirring constantly. Be careful; it burns and sticks easily. Once it boils, turn heat to low and simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually mix in cheese and stir until cheese is melted.

Add pasta; mix lightly. Pour into 2-quart casserole. Top with cubes of bread. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.

Adapted from Mueller’s