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Three summertime traditions for dining and drinking at home

Cash Edwards, Ross Smith and Paul Kostial share their family secrets on beating the heat while entertaining at home

Michael Barnes
Ross Smith's family dined outside frequently in the '60s at their home in Knoxville, Tenn. 'In its rhythm and pace, dinner at our house could have been in the 1760s instead of the 1960s,' he writes.

Austinites sometimes forget - enervated as they are by record temperatures - that people have been cooking, dining and entertaining here for many summers. That started long before air-conditioning, or even metal window screens, which were considered staggering summer innovations when they were introduced in the 19th century.

To help ameliorate the heat, we asked readers about their hot-weather entertaining traditions. We received a trove of responses.

Deborah Hamilton Lynne, editor of ATX Man magazine, for instance, throws Cuban-themed parties, cooled with Cuba libres, around the pool. What better way to respond to waves of tropical weather? "Viva la revolution!" she says.

Gallery owner Leya Simmons Oswald challenges friends to bring along their best pitchers of sangrias - or $10 - to go with tapas. "Three very lucky judges decide," Oswald says. "One person takes home the money, though everyone wins!"

Marketer Christian Scarborough keeps up the summertime liquid themes: "We usually have a pool party where everyone wears beach attire and we play surf music and other beatnik music," he says. "We grill burgers and dogs and serve all sorts of frozen libations."

(Remind us to tell Scarborough, who is too young to remember the 1950s or '60s, that beatniks and surfers generally belonged to rival social tribes.)

Three summer traditions - contributed by music veteran Cash Edwards, former political spy Ross Smith and marketing expert Paul C. Kostial - stayed with us.

Grilled chicken is a zesty stand

Dinner was always a happy time in my family, especially when we got to dig in using fingers. And barbecue chicken with lemon sauce was the only way we barbecued chicken in my family.

I thought the old recipe came from my Richmond (Va.) grandmother, who was a caterer. But no! Chatting with mom about the origin, I found it came out of an article in the Washington Post in the late 1950s. She has only been cooking chicken that way since I was 3 years old, so not all my life.

I cook it generally at every barbecue. Friends seem to enjoy the break from the red sauces. It has been so well received over the years that friends say, "The weather's heating up; time for a barbecue at your house?"

We serve it with spoon bread, tossed green salad and rice. The lightness of the lemon sauce and freshness of a tossed salad are always nice in summer heat. Why has it become a tradition in my family to barbecue chicken this way and only this way? Because everyone seems to love the flavor. It's as simple as that!

- Cash Edwards

Mom's Barbecue Chicken with Lemon Sauce (for 2 halves)

1 clove garlic (diced)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh; there is no substitute)

1/4 cup salad oil (light vegetable)

2 Tbsp. onion (diced roughly)

1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Blend it all together in whatever order you like and pour over chicken. Marinate chicken at least 4 to 6 hours, turning in marinade occasionally. Overnight is best. Reserve the marinade and heat to boiling on the stove (for food safety) and serve in a gravy bowl. It's fabulous soaked up in the spoon bread and tastes great on the rice. Grill to taste.

Al fresco in shadows of the Smokies

My dad, who grew up in a little town near Brownwood, told about having dinner under the grape arbor in the backyard when it was too hot inside. It was still hot, but at least you got some shade and breeze.

We ate out on the screen porch or the patio pretty much everywhere we lived. Yet dinners during the late 1960s in Knoxville, Tenn., fit our tradition best.

The screen porch was along the back side of the house, with a pass-through window from the kitchen and a view out over the backyard. Our house dated from the 1940s and didn't have air conditioning, so to get away from the kitchen and be comfortable in the spring, summer and fall, eating outside was pretty much the only option.

Being pretty close to the Smokies, it rarely got very hot in Knoxville, so with the summer breeze the porch was usually quite pleasant.

My mom came from genteel Southern aristocracy. Her cooking style was English/Scottish. She learned Tex-Mex from her dad, who'd worked on the chuck wagon on the family ranch near Fort Stockton, and honed her skills cooking at YWCA and Girl Scout camps. Back then, college professors like my father didn't make as much as they do now, but through her ingenuity, we ate well on a tight budget.

On Sunday mornings, my mom would put a roast in the oven before we left for church. Beef rump, pork shoulder and lamb with mint jelly were common. It would be done by the time we got home.

Walking into the house to the aroma of the roast is one of my fondest memories. She'd whip up some vegetables and rice, I'd set the table out back, and my dad would turn on some pretty music on the radio and read the paper till dinner was ready. We always took our time eating - sometimes an hour and a half - then go for a drive to look at the spring flowers or fall leaves.

As the week went along, she would make a couple of evening meals by taking cuttings off the leftover roast. Other meals would be Texas hash, chicken in sherry, fried chicken, meatloaf and such. Friday night was always fish. Sunday night was enchiladas or tacos.

I believe she made her own tortillas, but couldn't swear to it. (I can't imagine where she could have bought them in Knoxville in 1967.) We'd sit down to supper around 6:30 p.m., and get treated to the fireflies coming out as dinner went along. Occasionally the breeze would bring a whiff of magnolia blossoms through the porch.

I know this sounds a bit romantic. In its rhythm and pace, dinner at our house could have been in the 1760s instead of the 1960s. But the truth was, we were also in the hot middle of the South during civil rights and Woodstock and Vietnam. All I had to do was visit my friends up and down the block to hear the Beatles and see blacklight posters of Malcolm X and Jimi Hendrix and the Doors everywhere. Looking back on it now, I don't recall any disconnect between the two. They both seemed to fit the moment.

- Ross Smith

After long soak, a refreshing martini

Our summertime martini is definitely a conversation starter and, for the most part, my friends like the idea and have used it themselves at their little summer get-togethers.

The recipe was given to me by a friend. Not sure if it has an official name, though we've started calling it the Kostialtini (after my name), at least until we come up with something better to call it.

It's very easy to make, though it requires a bit of advance planning. Cut up a fresh pineapple and place in a container or pitcher. Pour a fifth of your favorite vodka over the pineapple and refrigerate. You only need one pineapple per fifth, unless you want to accentuate the pineapple flavor.

Let the mixture refrigerate for about 10 days - the vodka will "marinate" the pineapples. You can taste-check along the way to determine the pineapple flavor that is perfectly suited for your particular tastes.

After 10 days, remove and discard the marinated pineapples, bitter at this juncture, not tasty.

When party day arrives, the drink is best served in chilled martini glasses with pineapple garnish - very refreshing, without being overly sweet.

I serve it with appetizers or, for summer grilling, with grilled steaks, chicken or seafood with grilled vegetables. That way, everyone can participate, serving and cooking the dinner together while drinking Kostialtinis.

- Paul C. Kostial