This house has always smelled the same, and smells most like itself in the summertime. The high, hot sun bakes itself deep into the asphalt shingles and that slow creeping heat slides down through the walls, the floors, so much so that even the basement tiles become less chilly. With that warmth, comes a cache of memories, hanging, gallery-style in the warm air. I have known seventeen summers with this house. I’ve seen it’s lilac hedges fill in, watched the night sky from it’s front stoop, slept and wept and dreamt in its rooms. It would be impossible to count the number of family dinners around its table, and more impossible to forget the family who have sat there, sharing a meal and a laugh, some who will never return.
The dining room table stands at the house’s heart. It is wide and round, a great, old oak relic, a memory from the farmhouse of my childhood, resurrected in the city of my youth. At any chance, without prompting, my grandfather, now nearly ninety, will tell you the story of how he bought that table at auction in 1952 (or was it ’47?) for eight dollars. He’ll tell you that it’s solid oak, and run his hand over the tabletop and remark that it needs refinishing.
When the whole troop is here the table spreads and seats almost everyone, but it wasn’t always that way. By the time there were enough kids old enough to feed themselves and fill the card table in the living room, I was too old to join them. I’ve always slipped in to a seat at this table, preferably by the wall, at the window. This is an especially pleasant vantage point in the summer months when the evening sun is too low and still too hot to eat in the yard, and that old oak table fills up. With your back to the west wall you can catch the breeze from the window in your hair and stave off the heat as you sit elbow to elbow, proverbially breaking bread.
You could cover my eyes and spin me until I couldn’t stand and then lead me into this house and I would know precisely where I was. It’s not the colour on the walls, or the corner cabinet full of Granny’s pheasant-patterned china that makes it so familiar. It’s not the birds nest on the mantle or even that weathered old table, it’s the smell. Like a fingerprint on glass, it is clear and unique and wholly recognizable. But like a fingerprint, it is mysterious in its specificity. Without a particular quality to describe, I cannot quite articulate it for you. I only know that the summer heat brings it out like no other time of year, amplifying the magic and silence of this house. Its what makes the space feel known, what prompts the stories and memories. It is a part of the quiet moments and the raucous laughter. For me the smell of this house in summer is the shimmering thread in this family’s tapestry, woven over nearly two decades, so much of which we have spent simply chatting around an old table, pouring more wine and serving up summer salads.
Summer Salad with Roasted Corn & Avocado
The roasted corn in this salad is most efficiently achieved on the barbecue, but a couple of careful minutes on a hot griddle pan or under the broiler will do the trick. Aim to cook the starchiness from the corn as well as achieving a flavourful partial char which is both pretty and delicious.
2 ears of corn, shucked, roasted and cut from the cob
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and chopped
1 tomato, chopped with seeds removed
1/2 cup chopped scallions, green parts only
Juice of 1 lime
pinch of red pepper flakes
sea salt and pepper to taste
Stir together the corn, peppers and scallions. Season with lime, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Add avocado and stir gently before serving. Garnish with lime wedges for extra zing.