It’s suddenly chilly here in eastern Nebraska. We have the heat on, and I’m afraid we might have missed fall. I can’t complain too much, though, because the summer here was spectacular. Who cares that there were tornadoes nearby just a couple weeks ago? And I’ve already forgotten the few weeks of typical summer weather misery we had; for the most part it was mild and pleasant, perfect weather for backyards, porches, camping.

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Early in the summer one of Derek’s coworkers had just moved here from Baltimore, and because she was craving blue crabs and hadn’t had one in probably all of weeks we hosted a birthday party for her, complete with live crustaceans, a giant canning pot, miniature mallets, flimsy plastic bibs, soft-buttered-in-advance rye bread, and Old Bay. Thalia spent a good half-hour desilking corn and carefully folding the husks back up over the cobs, and we soaked them in a tub of water before putting them in the coals to char and steam. Frozen chunks of watermelon, blended to a smooth slush with a few chunks of unfrozen melon and some lime juice, poured over two fingers of cold vodka: summer in the backyard.

 

There was poor-man’s Annie Hall moment that afternoon as a dozen or so surprisingly large crabs escaped their chilled box, woke up, and started scrabbling across the kitchen floor, headed for the exit—almost as if their lives depended on it. Long tongs got them back where they belonged, and we put a weight on the lid. Thalia was thrilled by the whole thing, and she ended up eating as many of those critters as I did; she fell asleep in the hammock and almost missed the birthday carrot cake.

Upon seeing that we could indeed use our funny little fire pit for cooking purposes, and determining that there (probably) wasn’t an unseen propane tank ready to explode within it, my dad sent us a paella pan and an obscene quantity of saffron.

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So we invited some people over for a paella party. Fresh rabbit raised on a farm nearby, good small chicken thighs, Romano beans, long-simmered rabbit stock, roasted red peppers, and arborio rice; I’d gotten some canned snails but forgot to add them. This website’s description of how much rice and stock to add, and when, is brilliant: You go by the rivets on the handles of the pan, and add rice in a line across the diameter that extends an inch above the level of the stock.

Also that evening I learned that the game cornhole is not in fact a primarily Deep South phenomenon; native Nebraskan sisters brought the whole setup and beat all three Krissoffs at it soundly.

We stayed up Midwestern-late at the folding yard-sale table in the backyard with a flan and a bottle of Colorado whiskey, laughing to wake our good neighbors.

 

The most recent backyard happening of note (that is, besides the cozy campouts and the fairy-house-making and hammock time) was this, and it counts double in my memory of this late summer precisely because there are no evidential photographs: I suggested to a friend that she come over for a while, we could hang out and chat or whatever. She not only came, but brought her whole family, sending a message on the way that said something like, “Can we bring a pork loin? Please? We already have it and we’re two blocks away.” We grilled it, of course, throwing some hot dogs and hamburgers and some long broccoli spears on alongside, and talked again into the dark while the kids ran and jumped themselves silly.

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