August 21, 2012

Chilled Corn Soup and a BLT in Kansas City

There are 1,463 miles between Kansas City, where both my parents grew up and most of my extended family lives, and Boston, where I grew up -- but both places feel like home.  I've flown to KC - as it is referred to in my family - more times than I can count, and once this past summer made the trip by car (more on that road trip soon). I know well what separates the two - not only the space between but the unique character of each, the differences in community, people's expectations, the way people  speak (it's "ruff" in KC, not roof) and the nuances of their interactions. In KC when you drive by a police man, they smile and wave. Finding a smiling, waving policeman in Boston is a slightly more -- unexpected -- occasion.

It's strange how two places so different in character, so divergent, at times, in their culture and way of life, can both feel so familiar, so much like home. I suppose the simple reason is that I have close family in both - and certainly family can make even the most unfamiliar lands feel familiar.

But differences there are.

There are differences in the way of life. KC is calmer, has infinitely better BBQ and parking is rarely at a premium. Boston has a little more energy, a long history of good food and a little thing we like to call "public transportation."

There are differences in the location. Boston has the ocean and the thermometer rarely goes above 93 or so degrees in the summer. KC has no ocean (but it is the "City of Fountains) and 105 degrees has become the new normal. KC has no public gardens downtown, but I think my grandmother's garden makes up for that on KC's part.

There are differences in the culture. Boston may have a long established arts scene, but KC's is growing and there are new neighborhoods popping up that rival the East Coast in their creativity while still maintaining their own distinct vibe. Trendy lunch spots, small printing presses and local bookstores increasingly line the streets of up and coming downtown neighborhoods. You'll even see the occasional food truck, so ubiquitous in cities across America today. Oh, and did I mention the BBQ? 

There are also differences in the corn and tomatoes. Kansas City wins - every summer, every time. If I go visit in June, when us New Englanders and New Yorkers are still eagerly awaiting tomatoes' arrival, Kansas is already reaping the first crop of the fruit. Glorious beefsteaks and heirlooms and Sunbursts come in all summer longer, smoother, sweeter, tarter and more full bodied than I typically find in the East. They are at the grocery store, the farmers market, and in a seemingly magically replenished bowl on my grandparent's counter - always just right, always there for a snack or to throw into pasta sauce or sandwich between bread with a touch of mayo.

The corn too is always present and seems at its peak from July to September every summer, without fail. Its yellow and white kernels are sweet and light and more flavorful than its Eastern-grown cousin. It is thrown into salads, sauteed with butter and baked into fabulous souffles.

Together, a dinner with corn and tomatoes on my grandparent's patio in Kansas City is my quintessential summer meal, my home away from home.

KC Chilled Corn Soup
Serves 4

This soup requires the best quality summer corn you can get your hands on. For a little tang, try replacing all or part of the cream with buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream.

-4 tablespoons butter
-1 small yellow onion, small diced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
-6 cobs fresh corn, kernels removed
-1/2 cup light cream
-salt and pepper
-1 cucumber, cubed into 1/3 inch cubes
-3 basil leaves, chopped
-3 mint leaves, chopped
-3 tablespoons olive oil

In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onion, saute about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cayenne and saute another minute more. Add the corn kernels and saute another 3 or so minutes. Cover the corn with water, bring to a boil, redue to simmer and allow to cook for 10-15 minutes, uncovered. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and pour contents into a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth and add the cream to the soup. If it seems to thick, thin with a little water. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper. Place in a storage container and refrigerate until cool, about 4 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping, mix the cucumber, basil, mint and olive oil with some salt and pepper in a small bowl.

To serve, divide the soup among four bowls and top with a spoonful of the cucumber mixture. Top with some freshly cracked pepper and serve at once.

serves 4

There's really nothing KC about this BLT at all, but I like how it sounds.

-8 slices toasted white bread
-4 tablespoons mayonnaise
-12 slices thick cut bacon, cooked
-2 tomatoes, sliced
-8 leaves iceberg lettuce

Lay 4 slices of bread on a work surface and spread 1 tablespoon mayonnaise on each. Top evenly with bacon, lettuce and tomato. Top with other slice of bread and serve -- you can halve into two pieces if necessary. Wasn't that easy!

P.S. I realize this is the 2nd chilled soup recipe this summer. What can I say -- it's freaking good stuff!