Returning to Fresno: Finding Summer Begun

Fresnopostcard Fresno is a beautiful place to fly into at night; I’ve remarked upon this to seatmates on a few descending planes, colleagues and co-workers, and all agree: the unerringly level valley, illuminated with a sprinkling of variously-toned white lights – pale yellow, blue, green, orange – in every direction as far as the eye can see, is absolutely stunning.

Friday, however, I was flying in during the late afternoon on one of the first warm days of the year, with the familiar pall of brown haze hanging over everything. Most of the time, Fresno looks like you should open it in Photoshop and do some color correction.

The daytime landscape, as you come toward the airport from the southern approach, is partially redeemed by the view of countless trees in neat orchard blocks. Many of them are stone fruit trees; you can spot them when they’re in full leaf by their doughnut appearance, the centers pruned out to let more light into the tree’s canopy.

At any rate, the spell is broken when you get out of the plane. I don’t know how to describe it, but Fresno has a smell – hot dust, even on what passes for a cold day here, is the closest I can come to it. Though I love my work in this place, I’m always a little sorry I left the fresh air of wherever I came from.

While I was gone this week, investigating consumer preferences, Fresno decided to have the first warm day of the summer. The wet spring is finally starting to recede; though many farmers have lost a lot of crops, we’re about to start into gonzo strawberry season.

I had already used my car air conditioner on April 20, and we had to crank the house one up on Friday. We’ve been trying to use the blinds-down-windows-open-in-the-morning-and-evening tactic – it works fairly well, as this is really a desert climate and the temperature drops precipitously once the sun goes down – but once we start getting up to those 90+ degree days, and it’ll be soon, we’ll have to start air conditioning in earnest.

My cooking is going to change now.

Seasonality isn’t just an idle whim here – cold food goes a long way toward making the very long, very hot summer bearable. Sitting on the couch on Friday, watching the cats sprawled out asleep, as long as they could make themselves in their full-body sweaters, I started thinking about big salads, chilled soups, fruit, and, in general, anything that doesn’t involve the oven.

So vinaigrettes are on my mind, massive piles of produce lightly dressed, things marinated, macerated, chilled. There’s always one day in the summer here where I can’t bear the idea of turning on even a light switch, much less a burner, in the kitchen, and I think That whole raw food thing makes a lot of sense. Time for some Mexican Gazpacho. It won’t be long.

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