Cape Cod in August, Bethesda in September

Harper's CornerJessica Harper
By Jessica Harper
August 2010

"While I leave LA in August in search of a real summer (with in-laws) in Cape Cod, I'm looking forward to leaving LA again in September to find (and renew) real connections at the PXE International Conference in Bethesda."

As I write this, it is August, but it seems like summer has not begun. This is partly because in California, where I live, there is no summer really until everyone else has finished theirs; our big heat kicks in in September. Yes, we are all screwed up: no winter, no spring unless you count June, and summer in the fall.

Anyway, my family and I are fleeing to Cape Cod this week, to experience summer in all seriousness. We go there to join the extended family for two weeks of revelry. There are often fifteen people for dinner; there's a whole lot of cooking going on. (It's what us home cooks would call a "busman's holiday"). But it's a group effort, and the camaraderie is good.

The only trouble is accommodating certain picky relatives. No I'm not talking about the kids. I believe my brother-in-law Scott may be the worst. For example, he will not eat turkey in any format other than roasted, Thanksgiving-style. He thinks ground turkey is peculiar and unappetizing. (So much for those turkey burgers I was going to make.) Although, for some reason, Scott is okay with ground beef, but picky people like him often have such irritating quirks.

Scott also has negative feelings about chicken soup. And in a recent development, he swore off panini, of all things. He sent his friends vicious anti-panini e-mails, the details of which I was spared, thanks to my handy “delete” button. Now the word on the street is that, since his recent business trip to Mumbai, Scott has gone vegan, sending his wife, Julie (who is a fabulous cook and an avid carnivore), into a tailspin. Just when she thought she had established a cycle of acceptable menus for her picky family, Scott threw her the vegan curveball and screwed everything up.

But several other family members are picky too, if not as picky as Scott. I tried to make a corn salad last summer, all loaded with tomatoes, beans and cilantro. While this would actually suit my vegan brother-in-law nicely, my sister-in-law doesn't like tomatoes (or anything else that has seeds), so I left them out, and my niece said she wouldn´t eat beans due to concerns about flatulence (she was going on a blind date later), so I ditched the beans. Then my husband sneered at the cilantro and my father-in-law reminded me that he was allergic to onions. So the salad was stripped down to corn, with basil subbing for the cilantro. (It was still good, by the way.)

If you have a more tolerant family, try this recipe. It's great for the end of summer, when corn and tomatoes are peaking.

(Serves 6)

4 ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the corn, and cook until it is just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. (Or steam the corn in a vegetable steamer if you prefer.) Drain the corn and set it aside to cool.

2. When it is cool enough to handle, scrape the kernels off the cobs with a sharp knife, letting them fall into a salad bowl. Drain and rinse the beans, and pat them dry them with paper towels. Add the beans, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro to the corn.

3. Pour the lime juice into a small bowl, and gradually add the olive oil, whisking until the dressing thickens. Whisk in the cumin, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the corn mixture, mix well, and serve.

Variations: Use basil instead of cilantro. Seed and chop a red bell pepper and substitute it for the tomatoes. Add a jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped, if you want a little heat.

As I said, our L.A. summer won't really kick in until September. We'll just be back from Cape Cod, ready for fall, and we won't be having any. Once again, I will need to travel if I want a proper seasonal experience. I am indeed planning a little trip, but to be truthful, it's not really about viewing the changing foliage. It's about PXE International.

As you know, PXE International's 2010 conference is upon us (September 10-12) and I hope you will try to come. I first went to a conference in Oakland many years ago. At that time, my vision was just starting to fail; those were anxious days. I had had skin manifestations since childhood, but had, until then, been spared other PXE symptoms. Suddenly, I was not at all sure what the future held for me.

In a world that is largely ignorant of our orphan disease (even in the medical community), I'd always felt a little isolated with my condition. With the exception of my brother, I knew nobody else with PXE. That's why I will never forget getting into the elevator at the Oakland Marriott and seeing a woman next to me with PXE skin on her neck, just like mine. I had traveled quite a distance to get to Oakland, but at that moment, it felt like coming home. I took off my scarf and introduced myself.

I'd always worn scarves to cover my neck, but that weekend they stayed in the closet and I proudly displayed my PXE. At the welcoming dinner, I found myself surrounded by people with similar symptoms, and with similar concerns and curiosity about how PXE works and how it might impact the lives of their loved ones. The sense of PXE International's commitment to inform and embrace those of us affected by PXE provided an amazing sense of community and comfort.


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