My mom shared the gloomy prediction on a sunny day in June.
"Lucille used to say that the first frost falls six weeks after the cicadas begin to sing." Unwilling to ponder the possibility, I tucked the information in the far reaches of my mind.
About a month later, I heard their first chorus. It had a pulsing rhythm that seemed mechanized. Summer after summer, I had been fascinated by the ebb and flow of the cicadas' melody. So much so that when I lived in Japan my sister sent me a recording on cassette tape. But that day I felt terrorized by it. Hadn't summer just started?
By early August, my rabbit began shedding her coat. I found tufts of strawberry blond fur on the couch, the carpet and in the windowsill where she loves to perch. "Great???," I thought. "It seems, Honey is in cahoots with those noisy insects."
Unable to cope with the onset of fall, I began sharing the prediction with my neighbors.
"Did you know that it's supposed to frost six weeks after you first hear the cicadas?"
"Really, when did they start?"
"In the middle of July."
They would shoot me a look of disbelief that quickly gave way to weary acceptance.
"That's Chicago for you."
Thankfully the six-week point came and went without the appearance of ice crystals. The sun kept shining. The cicadas kept singing and Honey sported a shabby spectrum of blond.
Last week I asked a flower vendor at the farmer's market about the cicadas and their foretelling of fall. He gave me a big smile and in a humble voice said, "There's no way. The first frost coincides with the full moon and won't be here until the end of September."
And in a few simple words, he redeemed the buzzing creatures.
MOM'S TOMATO RICE
This recipe is wonderful with fresh summer tomatoes. (Be sure to store them on your counter top, not in the fridge where they get mealy.) It starts with a saute of onion, ginger and garlic, the "Holy Trinity" of Kerala cooking, and calls for turmeric, another very commonly used spice added in "dashes". The hot pepper rounds out the flavors and I think of it as my mom's secret weapon. Remove the seeds to dial down the heat. Lastly, the women in my family swear by Riceland Extra Long-Grain Rice.
Serves 6 to 8
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup diced onions
1 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 - 1 jalapeno, slice lengthwise (depending on the heat)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
Dash of turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup extra long-grain rice
2 cups water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Heat oil in a medium saute pan on medium heat.
Add onion, ginger, garlic and jalapeno. Saute until onions become translucent.
Stir in cumin, turmeric and salt. Cook for 1 minute.
Add tomatoes and cooks until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add rice and stir until thoroughly combined. Cook for 5 minute, stir occasionally.
Add water and lemon juice. Stir. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)