No, the word is not “yakitori,” though that is what you are looking at above, and that does play a small role in this post. A delicious role, actually…all scalliony and salty and glazy. No, yakitori, as good as it is on the grill, shared with friends on a Saturday summer night, that is not the word I want to talk about today.
On Saturday morning, Abby, who had just wrapped up seventh grade the day before, said to me all forlorn and only a little sarcastically, “Mom, summer’s almost over. It’s going way too fast.” I should remind you here that this is the kid who doesn’t want her birthday to come because in her mind, its arrival means she’s that much closer to it being over. But I know what she means. I remember when I was a kid, looking at my town’s abandoned Labor Day pool — everyone squeezing in one last trip before school started — the fall breeze whipping little ripples on its surface, and longing for it to be Fourth of July instead. Did I know how good I had it on the Fourth, the whole summer stretched before me? I’d ask myself. Did I? At some point, I got used to the idea that certain things move fast, and way up on the top of that list of things was summer. By the time I was Abby’s age, I had taught myself not to take Independence Day for granted. In between bursts of fireworks, I’d ask my enlightened self: Are you paying attention? Your Labor Day self is going to be soooo jealous of your Fourth of July self. I was still filled with dread on Labor Day, but it brought a small measure of comfort to know that I’d at least had the wherewithal to recognize the moment, that I had lived that moment with…intention.
Yeah, that’s the word.
It’s come up a lot lately. Early in the month, I got an email from one of my media friends, David, the father of a 16-month-old. He had received an advance copy of How to Celebrate Everything and said to me, “This is what I need right now. The reminder to live intentionally.” My first thought: Where were you when I was subtitling my book? (A Year of Living Intentionally?….A Year of Intentional Thinking?…A Series of Intentional Events?) My second: For real? You really truly want to be more in the moment during those sleep-deprived, diaper-changing years?
I’m joking. Of course we do. (Do we?) YES, we do! Of course we do!
Then last week, I saw that KJ Dell’Antonia over at Motherlode, is running a whole series devoted to the concept of “The Intentional Summer.” Here’s a section where she describes why:
“The sense that summer fun slips through our fingers is real, and it’s reflected in how people report feelings of health and well-being over the course of a 24-day vacation: Our positive feelings increase quickly at the outset, peak about one-third of the way through and then start a downward slide toward our baseline happiness — and sadly, leave us back there about a week after we return to work.
Jessica de Bloom, the researcher on that and other studies on vacation and happiness, suggested that we take time to consider how we can maximize our summer pleasure, even when we’re not on vacation. A sense of autonomy — of making active decisions about how we spend our time — is one of the elements that helps us enjoy our free time.
“Make ordinary evenings and weekends more memorable,” she said. Do the things you normally do “a little bit differently. Take a bike instead of the bus” or car. Research also suggests that people appreciate their leisure most when it includes elements of challenge, connects us with the people we care about, or helps us to feel a sense of purpose, she said.
My first thought: My seventh-grade self was not insane. My second: Wow, that is one amazing idea for a family series. Each week for the next two months Motherlode will put forth a simple challenge. This week’s: Ride your bike or walk somewhere you’d normally drive; pick a short distance so it might turn into a summer ritual. I haven’t done that one specifically, but just the whole idea made me realize that there are a few beginning-of-summer rituals in my family — a kick-off summer BBQ with our friends Todd and Anne; an adventurous hike; a trip to Pixar’s annual June release — that needed to be actively recognized and celebrated, and then intentionally set into memory amber with tasty food, thereby maximizing the chance that my kids (and their parents) will be able to call upon the resulting summer happiness all year long.
Chicken (or Turkey) Yakitori with Basting Sauce
I intentionally picked a meal that I’ve been intending to make forever. (OK OK JENNY WE GET IT!) I first spied this in Bon Appetit‘s Grilling Book about three years ago and it has been on the short list ever since. (The book is a summer must-have btw; Here’s a highlight reel if you need convincing.) Note: Nothing wrong with throwing a few hot dogs on the Weber too, should you have any young yakitori skeptics in your house. This recipe has been adapted.
2 lb ground chicken, preferably dark meat, divided (we used a mix of ground turkey thighs and breasts)
1 cup minced scallions (about 6)
2 tablespoons red miso
2 tablespoons sesame oil
vegetable oil, for brushing
Tare (soy basting sauce, recipe follows)
Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook 2/3 pound (1 1/2 cups) ground chicken, stirring frequently, until it is opaque and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Combine cooked chicken, remaining 1 1/3 pound chicken, scallions, miso, and 2 tablespoons oil in al are bowl. Knead until a homogenized, sticky mixture forms, about 5 minutes. Clean hands; lightly coat with oil to prevent meat mixture from sticking. Divide mixture into 16 equal portions. Roll each into a ball, then form each ball into a 4-inch-long cylinder. Insert skewers (BA suggests two 6-inch flat wooden skewers per cylinder, which I’m sure made them easier to handle, but as you can see, we used regular old metal ones and it was fine). Press meat gently to flatten slightly. Repeat with remaining skewers and meat.
Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Brush grill grates lightly with vegetable oil. Place yakitori on grill in batches, turning every minute for 4 minutes. Brush with Tare and continue cooking, turning once for 2 minutes. Brush again with Tare and grill, turning once, until cooked through, about 2 minutes longer. Serve immediately.
Tare basting sauce:
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
3/4 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 scallion, chopped
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced
Place a fine-mesh sieve over a small bowl. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to a generous 1/2 cup, about 20 minutes. Strain Sauce, discarding solids in sieve. Let cool. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Cover and chill.
This recipe was reprinted with permission from Bon Appetit.
On Sunday, we hiked Mt. Tammany’s Red Dot Trail overlooking the Delaware Water Gap. Halfway down the mountain, Abby said, “You know what should be a ritual? Milkshakes and French fries after a hike.” I couldn’t agree more.
P.S. Spontaneous giveaway! I don’t have advance copies of my book yet, but I do have a single galley (a black-and-white paperback) that’s looking for a home. Comment below with a favorite summer ritual to be eligible to win it. Contest ends Wednesday 6/29 at 8:00 pm ET. Update: The winner has been chosen. Thanks for playing everyone!