What to cook in July: A barbecue spread to build a tradition around
The fun will be remembered as much as the fish on the grill
Flap-crunch-flap-crunch-flap-crunch-flap — the sound of little flip flops hurrying over dry, dry grass toward picnic tables under a white oak tree. "Lift it higher!" my older sister instructed, her 11-year-old biceps bulging under her t-shirt. How the heck did my sister and I get stuck carrying one of the drink coolers? "Let me trade with you," I said to Jeff, our cousin a couple of years younger than me. "Not a chance," he replied, swinging the tote of hot dog and burger buns around like a windmill.
It was really a small effort on our part when I recall that the adults did the real heavy lifting of bringing the fishing gear and foods for this one big event. Plus it wasn't every day that us city kids got to go fishing and have a barbecue with all of us getting together — my parents, three sets of aunts and uncles, and nearly a dozen very excited cousins, gathered just outside of Toronto on a hot July day. The competition ensued between us kids: "The fish I'm going to catch is going to be as big as your head!" "Yeah, well, the fish I'm going to catch is going to be as big as your house!"
Off to the races. The adults would show us how to use the reel and put on the bait. And then we would wait, and wait. And wait. And wait some more, until most of us kids would give up and go play frisbee, or try to catch any interesting aquatics we could with a net. The loud buzzing of the cicadas could barely be heard above our glee while inspecting our new-found natural treasures.
Then it was time to feast: a mish-mash of food from Canadian culture and Chinese cuisine that had us going back for second helpings and thirds, our little pot bellies unable to keep up with our appetites. Juicy burgers with all the fixings, loaded hot dogs, crunchy garden salad with Thousand Island dressing (my mom's favourite), next to chicken fried rice, gingery skewered shrimp, oodles of sesame noodles, and fresh, grilled fish. Not any fish that we ever caught (that would be nil for all) but marinated ahead of time, classically prepared with scallions and soy sauce.
As we've all grown up — coolers easier to carry now — fishing and barbecue trips with the cousins have become a distant but fond memory... though I suppose there's always time to revive our old tradition and old rivalries too. (I'm going to catch a fish as big as your kid!)
Or perhaps we'll leave the friendly competition to the next generation while us adults do the heavy lifting of putting together a sensational barbecue that the little ones will remember for years to come. A gathering at the picnic tables by the oak tree, with a buffet of different flavours.
Here are some recipes that may inspire a Canadian-Chinese-style summer spread of your own.
Want to try your hand at making a whole fish for your summer feast? Check out this great guide on how to clean and filet a whole fish.
Janet Ho is a writer and hobby artist. You can follow her at @janetonpaper.