By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
I’ve been so hungry for summer, and last week’s Summer Sampler was a perfect kick off to the season of sun and fun. Seems like summertime is always too short around here; the events are plentiful, and time to enjoy them is way too short. But the Sampler is one of my favorites, filled with myriad friends who’ve either been holed up the other side of a snowdrift or newly returned on snowbird wings. In either case, it’s always fun to show up and catch up with friendly and familiar faces who’ve gathered for summertime’s winning combination: music, food and drink (and not necessarily in that order – the event’s longest line was snaked around the margarita tent).
It’s kind of bittersweet for me to attend these type of events. For more years than not, I was on the other side of those BBQs at a manic pace, tongs in one hand (beverage in the other), keeping beat with the music while turning endless rows of savory ribs or skewered veggies. I’ve also seen the other side of prep work, loading in and loading out, and the cleanup – none of which I miss!
But sometimes I find myself longing for the comradery I shared with fellow chefs. I miss the kibitzing and the personalities, which were as diverse as the culinary creations we all hawked. So, it was especially heartwarming to see this spirit still exists as I observed our local food community sharing laughs, drinks, supplies and even licensed kitchens to help each other out.
I got my foot in the “food festival” door as an “Out To Lunch At Caras Park” food vendor in Missoula, Mont. This event was an idea conceived by my dear and departed friend Pat Simmons (mother of the fine actor J.K.), who was told by city officials that Missoula was not large enough to draw a sustainable summer crowd on a weekly basis. Nearly 30 years later, it’s still a wildly popular Missoula mainstay.
Food festivals date back thousands of years, when our ancestors, who toiled and tilled tirelessly, could finally gather in the fall to celebrate and share their harvest. From those humble-harvest beginnings, to events like the chichi Aspen Food and Wine Classic, food, beverage and music are a winning combination that never fail to draw a crowd.
Oldest daughter and sociology professor Ryanne (who teaches about culture and cuisine), agrees, saying, “Consuming food together strengthens social bonds because it creates trust among the people who share together. In short, on a fundamental level, you must trust that people aren’t going to poison you. And, historically, especially among Indigenous peoples, it was a way of redistributing and sharing resources—the group with excess resources could bring people together to share that wealth, and everyone left feeling enriched in some way.”
Youngest daughter Casey is a smart-as-a-whip psychologist (and great humanitarian), and says: “We enjoy the experience of food via our five senses, our thoughts and emotions interplaying reactively. We eat, taking in sustenance, and then our bodies intuitively transform this morsel into strength and vitality. This symbolically rich act then mirrors, quite literally, how we survive, and how we seek to make meaning in our lives: we interact with our environment, assess sensorily, with an interplay of thought and emotion and sustain ourselves on this cycle. This psychological and soulful process is innate within us, and requires no intellectual understanding. Food is special because there is a simple physical rationale for the importance of food, but there is an equally compelling soulful psychological cycle that mirrors this physical understanding of food and its role. When it comes to nurturance, the presence of love in food makes a difference. You can taste it, derive strength from it, and most importantly, be inspired to seek it out again and again.”
That’s a lot of food for thought as you’re strolling Festival Street next month. To be honest, with multi-generational progeny staying on-and -off all summer, at times I feel like I am prepping for my own food festival. Unfortunately, unlike Summer Sampler, mine won’t be underwritten by Litehouse. Still, I can’t complain. After the huge Litehouse salad dressing sale at Yokes last week, my ranch dressing-loving grandkids can eat it like they own it because everyone gets a personal jar (with initials scribed on the lid).
If your taste buds (like mine) have outgrown ranch dressing, try a bottle of my favorite, Litehouse Mango Habenero. A perfect balance of sweet and heat. I love it mixed with mayo and cilantro as a dipping sauce for shrimp. And I especially love it as a marinade for Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Give it a try as a side the next time you throw some ribs or chicken on the grill.
Great stand-alone vegetarian dish and a delicious accompaniment for your ribs, chicken or grilled salmon.
•2 sweet potatoes, peeled
and cut into 1-inch pieces
•1 medium pineapple,
peeled, cored, and cut
into 1-inch pieces
•1 Walla Walla sweet
onion, peeled and cut
into thin wedges
•1 cup Litehouse Mango
Prepare vegetables and place in gallon size freezer bag or shallow dish with tight fitting lid. Pour dressing on vegetables and mix well. Marinate, refrigerated for 4-6 hours, turning a couple of times.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Pour mixture onto a greased, rimmed baking sheet, or shallow casserole, Season with salt. Roast until tender and golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.