Squash on the grill! and the “Debbie Downers” of Puget Sound…

Olympia snapshot memories…the Drab and the Dreary

debbie downer

I should start this with a tip o’ the hat to Debbie Downer, that SNL character who, if you haven’t seen her yet, can suck the last dram of joy out of any happy occasion, as this sketch shows on Yahoo.

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Rachel Dratch as Debbie Downer on SNL

As I wrote earlier, we lived for the two years on Puget Sound in Washington State, first in Shelton and then in Olympia, I could not keep accurate track of the number of people we met whose souls seemed irredeemably polluted by the spirit of Debbie Downer. Examples:

  • We’d just bought a boat – a 14′ runabout with a 20 horse motor. My wife happily announced our new purchase to a work colleague, whose immediate and only response was, “Well, I certainly hope you wear your life jackets when you’re out there.” *sigh* (I can’t remember the last time I wore a lifejacket on a boat – maybe when I was six or seven.)
  • We went to a “jam session” of local musicians – guitars, violins, clarinet – and sat happily listening to some fun music, clapping after every song, while the other 10 or 12 people in the room sat unsmiling with their arms tightly folded over their chests. *sigh*
  • Likewise, a banjo concert with two very fine women banjoists tearing the roof off the place with foot-stomping rhythms and yee-haw energy: again the grumpy frowns and arms folded across chests, with smatterings of polite applause. *sigh*

Note that the first example above would be a common response from lots of people we knew out there: Washington State (I came to think) is obsessive, nay, rabid, about safety and obedience to rules and regulations. Ride a bike without a helmet, flashing halogen lights, orange pennant on a pole and a neon green vest? Are you crazy??!! Add to this most people being terrified of the summer sun – and it is sunny out there for several weeks in July and August – donning their long-sleeved shirts ands broad-brimmed hats and lathering up with SPF 150 lotion. Sure, some people do this wherever they live, but in western Washington fear of skin cancer was a broad-based cultural norm, as clear and present a danger as death by bicycle.

How refreshing it is that we also lived for considerable lengths of time in New Mexico, Georgia, and now in Maine – where we knew people who were (and are) much more positive and cheerful and exposed to the sun and willing to bend or break a rule now and again.

I’ll admit our timing wasn’t very good in Olympia. 2002 to 2004. The place is surrounded by military bases, and in the fall of 2003 the Bush government was hellbent on gearing up for the invasion of Iraq, and flags were flying from bridges all over the place. Distraught and deeply alienated politically, we escaped Thanksgiving Day and weekend for the Granville Island Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. for a few days, enjoying our own private Thanksgiving feast at the amazingly good, spacious, and friendly Sand Bar restaurant. We experienced an endless array of good cheer and smiles in Vancouver, condolences that our government to the south seemed to have lost its mind (if not its moral compass), bought Cuban cigars to smuggle back to the States to send to my wife’s father, met Vietnam-era expatriate Americans who were thrilled not to be going back, and in general refreshed our spirits enough to return to Olympia without needing immediate psychiatric help.

Sure, to be fair, we met some fun people, ate the best Alaskan halibut you can get in the Lower 48, bought local apple-fed pork at the Farmer’s Market, enjoyed wonderful sunrises over Mt. Rainier, reconnected with two of my first cousins (one of whom used to live across the street from Paul Newman, which I wrote about last month), and were nourished by the incredible variety of natural beauty of Puget Sound, its many islands and inlets.

I had to write this last graph to avoid Debbie Downer-ing myself (or you) into a deep funk. Not sure I’ve succeeded. Much happier stuff to come next time.

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Over-squashed?? Grill ’em!

 DSC_0008Thin-sliced crooked neck or summer squash on the Weber. (Carla White photo)

Now that the summer squashes in our garden are getting as big as cudgels, we need to find ever new and interesting ways to prepare them. There are plenty of innovative recipes out there for cooking them so that they’re not at all mooshy and revolting (the way they can be when they’re just boiled to death), but our usual approach is to grill them. It’s easy, and they’re super tasty.

Here’s what to do to feed about 4 people:

  • Take 3-4 cudgel-sized summer squash and/or zucchini, cut them lengthwise into slices about 1/3 inch thick
  • Get the grill nice and hot
  • have olive oil, soy sauce, black pepper, red pepper (optional), and a basting brush nearby.
  • Brush one side of the slices with the liquids and spices, and lay them brushed-side down on the grill. Now brush the top side and cook until they start to soften. Flip them a few times to make sure they’re evenly cooked and partly blackened. Serve them up on a platter.

You can experiment with other ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, Mongolian fire oil, sesame seed oil, and so on, but soy sauce seems just right for us.

There it is. More to come next week. And please support the Knox Backpack Program to feed hungry kids!

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Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.