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Secret second summer suppers

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
June 4, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at robert@nsrg.com or at (601) 264-0672.
I love to eat.
I have always been able to eat a lot. I can sometimes eat an entire meal and then eat another entire meal 45 minutes later. Of course, these days, I can't eat as much and get away with it. When I was a child, I could do more damage at a dinner table than most.
I have always been open and honest about the various behavioral indiscretions that transpired during my misspent youth.
However, some of my most cunning and calculating ruses have remained a secret, that is, until today. I think it is high time to unburden my soul and fess up to one of these schemes: my secret second summer suppers.
The scheme
Let's travel back to 1973, to the story of a 12-year-old boy who had a passion for food.
Growing up, my family ate supper early. Most kids didn't like to eat early. Eating an early supper meant having to leave the playground early. I was glad to have an early supper and sometimes encouraged my mother to have dinner ready as early as 4:30.
Having to go inside while the other kids were still playing was sometimes frustrating, but I had a plan.
An hour later, I was able to go back out and visit friends at their house. Friends, who it just so happened, hadn't eaten supper yet. The same kids who gave me a hard time for going in early were now sitting next to me at their dinner table.
My friend's parents were gracious hosts and hostesses. When I showed up, I was always invited to stay for dinner. "Have you had your supper yet, Robert? No, well come in and have dinner with us." These unsuspecting parents welcomed me with open arms, having no idea that a 12-year-old could have such impeccable timing.
How it was managed
Here's how the secret-second-summer-supper scam worked: After eating dinner at my house I would hop on my orange, Schwinn 10-speed and venture out on my second culinary journey. Over the years, I learned the eating habits of an entire 14-block radius.
I knew which mothers cooked from scratch and which mothers were serving TV dinners and fish sticks. I even learned what some friends ate on certain days of the week. One family might have spaghetti every Tuesday; another might eat pot roast every Sunday night.
All of them had one thing in common; they were having me for my secret second summer supper.
The only thing that interrupted the secret-second-summer-supper dining schedule was when I rode by a house and a barbecue grill was billowing smoke from the back yard. Jackpot! Slam on the brakes, steak for my second supper! As a child, I could smell an outdoor grill from two blocks away.
Neighborhood theories
I am sure most of the mothers in the neighborhood were gossiping about how the widow St. John never fed her youngest son. "Harold, how could she let her child go hungry like that?"
On the other hand, they might have been saying: "Set another place at the table, Betty. I see the St. John kid on his bike and he's headed this way. Why does he always ride with his nose sticking out like he's sniffing something?"
Before long, my olfactory senses became so refined that I could tell whether someone was cooking a rib eye or a T-bone three houses away.
The Roberts family owned a chain of grocery stores. I showed up at their house often. It seemed like they ate steak every night. They also had the best afternoon snacks and breakfast cereals. The secret-second-meal scam worked for breakfast too, but it seems I was always hungrier after playing all day in the hot, Mississippi sun.
Hopefully I will be able to repay some of these people when their children's children show up at my house around suppertime. First meal or second, it won't matter to me, I'll be glad to feed them.
Summer is here. The days are longer and the food is better. Now that I have cleansed my soul, be on the lookout. I might just show up at your house around dinnertime. If I do, you'll know what I'm after my secret second summer supper.
Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salad
2 cups black beans, cooked and drained
2 cups fresh corn kernels, roasted
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
1⁄2 cup red onion, small dice
2 tablespoons fresh jalapeo, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons hot Sauce
Juice from two limes
Salt and pepper to taste
Gently combine all ingredients. Serve as an accompaniment to seared scallops, blackened shrimp, or serve as a first-course salad on a bed of lettuce. Yield: 6-8.

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