Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's Official: Our Hottest Summer Ever!

Whew! It's official! The National Weather Service announced today that this has been the hottest summer ever on record for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, eclipsing the Awful Summer of 1980 for the highest average temperature with 90.6 degrees.

Although we missed tying 1980's 42-day streak of 100-degree days by only two days, we've still made it into the record books for something. I'm glad that after enduring this relentlessly hot summer, we at least have some bragging rights!

And we still may tie the 1980 record for the most total days over 100 degrees. Today was Day 65, and the 1980 record was 69. (See the full story here.)

I've gotten so used to this heat that it will feel really strange when this heat wave finally breaks.

But won't it feel nice?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dashboard S'mores

Hello again from the Land of Always Summer, aka Dallas, Texas.

This year is turning out to be the second-hottest summer in recorded history, trailing only the unbearable summer of 1980. (I'm glad we didn't live here then!) This month we finally ended our 40-day streak of 100-degree-plus temperatures with a day in the high 90s, meaning we came within two days of tying the 1980 streak of 42 days. Rats!

And now, as we wind up August, we've had 63 days of at least 100 degrees. Right now it's only 95 degrees, which actually feels good by this point. The record of the most 100-degree days in Dallas is 69 days in 1980. So we still have a shot at meeting that record, although I'm not sure I want to.

One of the more interesting things we've done this summer is to try our hands at dashboard cooking in our old Chevy Suburban. We've made quesadillas, garlic bread, grilled-cheese sandwiches, cinnamon toast, hot dogs, bruschetta and beef jerky. As the temperature inside the car can easily hit 120 degrees and above on a hot day, most of our experiments have turned out quite well.

By far the most popular experiment with our kids was the dashboard s'more. Easy and tasty, it came out great! Since then, I found this funny song on YouTube titled "Dashboard S'mores." It takes place -- you guessed it! -- in Texas. Where else?

I've also come across several people who've baked chocolate chip cookies in their cars! You can find out more at Discover Magazine, Baking Bites, SnarkyVegan or Completely Delicious. We'll have to try that sometime as well! I bet the smell inside your car is heavenly. :)

I've also found a surprising number of online articles about solar cookery using cardboard boxes covered in aluminum foil, or funky reflective dishes that look like giant woks. This turns out to work great in hot places such as Africa, where they don't have electricity or Suburbans. And it might be fun for a Scout project.

For now, though, we'll continue trying car cookery and hoping for our heat spell to eventually end. But maybe it would be nice if we could break that 1980 record, for bragging rights anyway.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Happy Back-to-School Day!!!

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved going back to school: picking out my favorite outfit to wear, seeing my friends again, toting a brand-new lunchbox with a PBJ and a Hostess Ho Ho, wearing new leather shoes, meeting my new teachers, and seeing which boys had grown taller and more handsome over the summer.

Now that I'm a mother, the first day of school has morphed into my all-time favorite holiday of the year! The above video accurately reflects the states of mind in our house as I excitedly prepared the kids for school and they looked at me glumly and asked why they had to return to that horrid place.

Here in Dallas, yesterday was the first day of school, and I've enjoyed seeing all the Facebook photos of my friends' kids all dressed up, brandishing their backpacks and ready to face a new year of classes. It's fun to see how all our kids are growing and changing, getting a little bit older and a little bit more jaded every year. Even though my own kids complained, I of course took their obligatory pictures in our front yard as well. It's a family tradition! I remember my mom took our pictures on our first days of school so many years ago, and it's fun now to look back at them and see the feathered hair, big jewelry and "cool" outfits we sported so many years ago.

The temperature here in Dallas this August is still well over 100 degrees every day (we're now enduring the second-hottest summer in recorded history), but band kids and high school football players have been marching and practicing for weeks already in the heat. And even though the thermometer doesn't say it's fall, it's nonetheless time to head back to school.

Although I may groan at the cost of binders and notebooks, I consider the small fortune I've spent on school supplies a fair price to pay for 6.92 hours of peaceful bliss every school day for the next nine months. With all my kids now safely at school, I can finally hear myself think for the first time in three months. You know those new kindergarten moms crying on the first day of school? I was practically crying tears of joy as I did my happy dance!

So while Back-to-School Day may not be an official holiday, to me it's the best one of all. Best wishes to all the parents, kids and teachers as they embark on another journey of learning.

And then start the party!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dashboard Beef Jerky

Our latest foray into dashboard dining is a blast from the past ... beef jerky! With our record summer temps this year above 100 degrees for 40 days in a row, we thought we'd try an ancient method of food preservation: drying meat in the sun.

According to "The History of Beef Jerky," Since prehistoric times, one of the oldest methods of preserving food was drying it in the sun. In North and South America, native Americans dried strips of deer, elk and buffalo in the sun to eat later. In the land later called Peru, a tribe called the Quechua (part of the Inca empire) dried meat and called it ch'arki. This term later became charqui and then jerky. In later years, North American pioneers dried meat by smoking it or by draping it over the outside of their covered wagons for two to three days as they headed westward.

At our house, my husband is a big beef jerky fan and usually makes his jerky in the oven or in his smoker. But last week he decided to try making his beef jerky on the dashboard of our Suburban because it was about 105 degrees, and the inside of the car gets really hot when it sits outside in the sun all day long.

First he bought some thinly cut beef strips and marinated them. Then he laid them over racks atop the car dashboard.

The jerky sat in the sun for several hours, with the car windows cracked open so the meat could dry more easily.

My husband said the jerky drying actually went more quickly than he anticipated. It came out perfectly and used no electricity to make. Just think how much easier and faster it could have been for the pioneers if they had had Suburbans instead of Conestogas!

And of course, we had to taste-test the car food to make sure it was safe to eat. In this case, the boys ate it all by the next day! Luckily for us, it didn't have to last us weeks on the trail.

Next up in car cookery: pizza bagels.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Return of Rain

  "The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks, and gapes for drink again.
The plants suck in the earth, and are
With constant drinking fresh and fair."

-- Abraham Cowley,

After nearly a month without rain, and more than a month of 100-degree-plus temperatures, we awoke at 4:45 a.m. to a strange sound: rain!

It turns out that my husband had left the car windows open last night, so of course that's why it rained. If I'd realized that was better than a rain dance, we would have left them open earlier!

So after I ran out in the pouring rain and closed the car windows, we listened to the welcome patter of rain falling on the parched landscape, where streams had run dry and lawns have turned brown all over town. It rained for four straight hours! By the time we woke up this morning, our empty pond had filled up, the creek had overflown its banks, and everything was dripping wet with little pearls of water.

Almost the entire state of Texas is suffering from severe drought this summer, so this one rainstorm won't solve all our problems, but it brought wonderful relief after weeks and weeks of dry, deathly heat. Unfortunately, we endured 40 days of 100-degree-plus heat without even setting a new record! I was really rooting for Dallas to tie or break the old 1980 record of 42 days of 100 degrees in a row, but a silly cool front dropped down from Oklahoma two days ago and stopped us in our tracks at 40 days. What a cruel trick of Mother Nature to give us 40 days of 100+ heat and then make it 97 on Day 41! So this summer ends up in the record books as the second-hottest summer of recorded history. However, we have set some other heat records this year.

I guess I'm happy we don't live in Wichita Falls, which has been in triple digits for about 52 days and has shattered its previous heat record.

After baking in the relentless heat for weeks on end, our yard and plants eagerly drank up this morning's rain, and the heat index dipped about 30 degrees, making it actually pleasant to be outside! The rain cleaned the dust off our cars, filled our birdbath and formed reflecting pools on the street.

When the rain evaporated, it got really humid. But the respite from dry heat was nice while it lasted.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Let's Get a Bruschetta!

Hello again from Dallas, where we are closing in on the dubious distinction of suffering through the longest stretch of 100-degree-plus days in recorded history! As we parents wait eagerly for the start of school (yahoo!), our heat-addled brains have come up with new ways to entertain our families in the broiling heat of the summer. One novel idea for us is car cookery, or cooking food in the solar heat built up in our 1999 Chevy Suburban. With the city's heat at all-time highs nearly every day this month, we have more than enough solar energy to cook a few things in the car.

Why cook in the car? There are several good reasons for doing so:
1. to cook when camping
2. for summer amusement
3. as scientific experimentation
4. to save energy and lower your electric bills
5. to cook during power outages, and
6. to avoid heating up the house with your indoor oven

So if you live in a hot part of the country, why not try something new?

Today's entry into the annals of car cookery is much fancier than yesterday's cinnamon toast. We've already tried car-cooking plenty of kid favorites, such as quesadillas, garlic bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs and that all-time classic, s'mores. But man cannot live on kid food alone, so I thought I'd branch into something more sophisticated: bruschetta. 

Bruschetta (pronounced "broosketta" in Italian) is a yummy appetizer made with baguette rounds, fresh tomatoes and basil. For my recipe I looked online and found a five-star version here on When I made the bruschetta yesterday, it was 105 F outside and 158 degrees on the car dashboard.

First I sliced the fresh baguette into 3/4" slices.

 I toasted the bread slices for about half an hour in the car until they were warm and slightly crunchy. In the meantime, I chopped all the tomatoes and assembled the savory topping. Then I spooned some topping onto each baguette slice and sprinkled a little bit of mozzarella cheese on each one. 

Then it was back in the "oven."

I let the bruschetta broil under the windshield about 45 minutes, until the topping was warm and the cheese had started to melt. I could have let it go longer, but it was dinnertime, and we were hungry!

After I brought them in, I garnished each round with a fresh basil leaf from our yard. They looked so cute and tasted so yummy! Sadly, our kids were too chicken to try them (they prefer cinnamon toast), but that only left more for my husband and me -- oh, darn! We even had a bunch left over for our neighbor, who gladly tasted them even though they were cooked in our Suburban.

The bruschetta turned out to be the tastiest and most elegant food we've made in the car yet ... definitely a success!!!

And it's only a few more days until we break that 1980 heat-wave record!

Next up in car cookery: sun-dried beef jerky.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dashboard Cinnamon Toast

Cinnamon toast made in our car.

Hello, again! Here in Dallas, we're still in the middle of an extreme heat wave and extreme drought, so we're trying to entertain ourselves without using water and without being outside. One thing we're not in want of is solar power, so we've decided to use it to cook as many things as we can.

Yesterday it was 105 degrees in the sun and 181 degrees on our car dashboard, so I thought I'd try to make cinnamon toast. It was so easy that kids can do it.

(By the way, can you believe that if you Google "cinnamon toast," you'll actually see lots of recipes for basic cinnamon toast? I'm as surprised that anyone would need a recipe as I'm surprised people would actually buy little bottles of cinnamon sugar in the store. Seriously, can't people figure out how to mix cinnamon and sugar?)

Anyway, all I did was butter some sandwich bread, sprinkle it with my very own homemade cinnamon sugar and place it in a pie pan on the car's dashboard.

The bread before we put it in the car.

In about 15 minutes, the toast was done and ready to eat. It wasn't very "gourmet," but my boys ate it all.

So if you need to entertain your children cheaply in the summer, try toasting some bread in your car. If you don't like cinnamon toast, try regular buttered toast, and then add jelly when you bring it inside.

If your kids like the car toast, then they'll really like the car s'mores I made last week.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Garlic Bread "A La Car"

This is the "after" picture.

As Texas broils in a heat wave (Today is Day 35 of 100 degrees plus), what better time to make "Texas toast"?

Yesterday in our Suburban I made one of my favorite foods: garlic bread. So easy, and yet so delicious! The high temperature yesterday (which happened to be a record high) was 108, so it was more than hot enough to toast garlic bread on the dashboard of our car. (For more information on our heat wave, click here.) In fact, a reporter using a fancy laser gun measured the temperature of a car dashboard in the sun at 165 degrees. She also measured  the rubber mat on a playground at 180 degrees! (Click here for full story.) But I digress.

Anyway, I didn't have any French bread, so I used sandwich bread. First I buttered it, then sprinkled garlic powder on it, then layered some Italian cheese on top. After about 15 minutes, it was done. It turned out as well as any garlic bread I've made in our real oven, and this was energy-efficient because I didn't have to pay for the car oven. (And it's a good thing, too, since the Texas power grid has been straining all week to keep our air conditioners going, and they're asking everyone to conserve electricity.)

This is the "before" picture.

So the garlic bread was great ... yum!!! And there was a bonus, too: The inside of the car smelled really good! 

What will we try next?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hot Dog! It's More Car Cookery!

Greetings from Texas! It's time for more car cookery!

Today for lunch we tried heating up hot dogs on our Suburban's dashboard. The hot dogs are already precooked, so they need only to be warmed up enough to eat. Luckily for us, that was no problem.

We decided to steam them a little so they'd end up moist and not shriveled. First we placed four hot dogs in a pie pan, then added a little bit of water and covered them with a damp paper towel. It was 100 degrees F outside and far hotter than that inside the car as it sat in the sun with all the windows closed.

After about 30-45 minutes, they were warm enough to eat. 

Most of the water had evaporated, and the paper towel was completely dry, but the hot dogs were moist and had that good hot dog smell. We placed them in buns and added our toppings. The testers pronounced them satisfactory and ate all of them.

Best of all: We didn't have to use any energy to make them, because all the solar energy we could ever want is provided free by our friend the Sun.

Next up: garlic bread!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sandwiches, Suburban Style

As Dallas endures its 32nd day in a row of 100-degree-plus temperatures, we decided to make another entry for our upcoming Suburban cookbook. Today's experiment is ... grilled cheese sandwiches. No, not cooked on the car's grill, but on its dashboard.

We started by preheating a nonstick black frying pan on the car's dashboard as the car sat out in the sun with all the doors and windows closed. With today's outside temperature at 106 degrees, it was plenty hot enough inside the car. After the pan was warm, we put the buttered sandwiches in and cooked them about 15 minutes on each side.

The resulting sandwiches were hot and greasy, with melted cheese and toasted bread. Offering to serve as tasters were our two boys, both self-professed grilled-cheese experts. They pronounced the results edible but not as good as regular grilled-cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches looked OK to me, but apparently the bread turned out a little hard and didn't have quite the right texture.

Luckily the dog thought they were just fine. :)

So what should we try next?