Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
How our food writer is staying cool in the midst of all this heat

Four years ago this August, when my husband and I first moved to the Valley, we had the brilliant, moneysaving idea of keeping our thermostat set to 90 degrees.

Then, as now, we lived in an apartment, and we figured we could dump a little of our surplus heat into the air-conditioned units of our neighbors.

Besides, 90 degrees wasn’t so bad, was it?

It was. Our little experiment in cheating the system lasted about two days before we cranked up the A.C. and resigned ourselves to $100 electric bills.

Hey, they’re better than heatstroke.

In recent days, of course, we’ve been asked to conserve electricity, so our thermostat has inched back up to 80. But that’s about as high as I’m going to go.

I’m looking for other ways to conserve electricity, and I’m finding them in the kitchen.

Indeed, I’ve come full circle since my last column, which described a certain celebratory pot of Mole Poblano.

In that recipe’s long list of ingredients, I neglected to mention a barrel of crude oil. After all, eight hours of simmering pumps a lot of heat into a kitchen—which then has to be pumped out.

(Did someone say, “irrational exuberance?”)

Now, under the threat of rolling blackouts, I’ve kept my kitchen cool and dark by emphasizing easy meals with minimal stove time. That’s simple to do in the summer, when an abundance of good produce provides lots of options for salads, sandwiches and cold soups.

I’m a member of Victory Farms’ Community Supported Agriculture program (www.victoryfarmsinc.com), and for the past month or so my weekly produce installments have included marvelous Charentais melons and cucumbers. For a quick, refreshing salad, toss slices of cucumber and Charentais melon (or cantaloupe) with olive oil, lime juice and salt.

The same dressing is good with another melon combo: chunks of watermelon very lightly tossed with crumbled feta cheese.

Fresh mint or basil makes a terrific addition to either salad.

Serve a melon salad to accompany wild salmon, which is in season now (I’ve been getting great, fresh salmon from Whole Foods). Instead of heating up your oven to cook it, you can poach this fish on the stove.

For a pound of salmon, bring 2 or 3 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt to a simmer in a skillet large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Add the salmon and simmer for about five minutes, then turn off the heat and cover tightly. Let the salmon sit in the hot water for another five minutes, or until it is done to your liking.

If you have leftover salmon, fold it into an omelet, which makes a smashing breakfast but a wonderful supper, too. For one generous omelet, beat three eggs until just combined. Heat a scant tablespoon of butter in a 7-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

When the butter is foamy, add the eggs. Use one hand to swirl the pan over the heat, while using the other hand to stir the eggs with the flat side of a fork. As the eggs begin to set up, use a flat spatula to lift the corners of the omelet, allowing uncooked egg to run onto the surface of the pan.

The time to add your fillings is when the omelet is still slightly wet. Use flaked salmon, grated or crumbled cheese, fresh herbs, sautéed vegetables, sour cream—you name it—but no more than a generous 1/4 cup.

Arrange your fillings in a line down the center of the omelet, then fold one side of the omelet over the them, then the other. Now turn off the heat and let the omelet sit in the hot pan for about a minute, or until it appears cooked through. Finally, flip it onto a plate. The whole process takes about three or four minutes.

A bonus of these easy meals is that they make for minimal cleanup. We’ve been asked to avoid using our dishwashers during peak hours. How about barely using them at all?