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Survival Guide: Eight Ways to Help You Get Through a Memphis Summer

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How to Beat Mosquitos

Nothing bums out a backyard beer like mosquitos. Heat and humidity? Dress light and drink cold. You're a Memphian. It's part of the package. But biting bugs — literally sucking your blood — it's enough to inspire your inner indoorsman.  

But what works — really works — to get rid of them?

The Shelby County Health Department preaches the four "Ds." Defend with DEET. Dress in long pants and sleeves. Avoid dusk and dawn (when mosquitos are most active). Drain standing water. 

That last "D" — draining water — is the number one way experts say you can snuff skeeters. That's where they lay their eggs. Tyler Zerwekh, administrator of the Environmental Health Services Bureau of the Shelby County Health Department, says all mosquitos need is an eighth of an inch of water. So, even an overturned bottle cap will do.  "When we do our inspections, we're looking for standing water: flower pots, bird baths, dog bowls," Zerwekh says.

Zerwekh and other experts say you should also cut high grass and any other overgrowth around your house. Swamp angels feed on plant nectar (when not feasting on your life blood) so they'll swarm to any place with vegetation. They also like overgrown places just to get out of the sun. Get rid of the habitat, get rid of the mosquitos.

As for bug spray, Zerwekh recommends anything with DEET. Other products may work, but nothing like DEET. And Zerwekh said the percentage doesn't really matter. Any DEET will keep mosquitos at bay, the percentage — much like sunblock SPF — speaks more to re-application times than it does potency. A mosquito won't know the difference between 15 percent and 30 percent, for example. But you'll have to re-apply the 15 more often.

Since the Zika-virus threat in 2016, the number of companies that will spray your yard for mosquitos has exploded, according to the American Mosquito Control Association. Root out jackleg operators by asking for licenses or certifications, according to Consumer Reports. Ask if they have plans to protect non-target species and ask if they'll come back to ensure their spray has worked (pros will say yes to and explain all of this).

Home stores will also sell you many flavors of DIY yard sprays. Check labels to see which have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (because they check for the product's effectiveness). Zerwekh said he sprays his yard with a Cutter brand spray.

Want to go all natural? A good old fan is sometimes enough to keep the wretched creatures at bay. Some things that don't work: most "natural" repellents, those wristbands and ultrasonic devices, clip-on fans, and most citronella candles, according to Consumer Reports. — Toby Sells

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How To Throw an Inexpensive Summer Party

How do you throw a summer party for 50 to 100 people and not blow your budget on food and drink?

First, start with my sangria. I got the recipe from The New York Times back in the 1970s. You mix five bottles of cheap red wine, five one-liter bottles of club soda, 12 oranges, 12 lemons, five cups of brandy, and enough sugar to sweeten.

Lisa Getske, owner of Lisa's Lunchbox, suggests salmon as the centerpiece dish for a big party. "It can be done in the oven, you can do it on your stove top in a skillet, or you can put it on a grill," she says. "It's so easy. It's just fresh salmon, and I like to put brown sugar on top. For each five-ounce piece of salmon, maybe a quarter cup. Then maybe drizzle about two tablespoons of fresh honey on there. And then I squeeze either lemon or lime. If I'm doing it in the oven, probably put some aluminum foil over the top of the pan and cook at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes."

One whole salmon will feed 10 people, so adjust accordingly.

Alyce Mantia, former owner of Mantia's International Foods, suggests Italian Porchetta, which she makes with a pork shoulder. "You mix together rosemary and sage," she says. "I usually put orange peel in mine and some garlic the night before. Just poke holes in it all over and stuff it in there. Then stick it in the fridge."

The day of the party, Mantia says you should let it sit for for an hour or so and then "cook it covered, low and slow" in a 300-degree oven for 40 minutes per pound. You could also do it on the grill if you've got one with a cover. One pork shoulder will serve about 20 people. They tend to run about eight pounds. The recipe can be found on Mantia's blog, mantias.blogspot.com.

Mantia recommends roasted potatoes and fresh vegetables such as asparagus as sides. — Michael Donahue

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How to Play Cheap Golf — and Stay Cool

Memphis' summer heat can diminish the enthusiasm of even the most dedicated golfer. If the prospect of plunking down $50 to spend four hours in the broiling sun has you re-thinking your Saturday foursome plans, here's a suggestion: Remember the Alamo!

Well, not really. But don't forget about The Links at Davy Crockett. It's a city-owned course at the far north end of Hollywood Street in deepest Frayser. It's densely wooded, meaning you're mostly playing in the shade. (And if you've got an erratic tee shot, you'll spend even more time in the shade — looking for your ball.)

But here's the best part: It's $11 for all the golf you can play. With cart. The official weekday rate is $16 for 18 holes, which is still cheap, but the last few times I've been out there, that amazing $11 all-you-can-golf rate was in effect.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that Davy Crockett offers a high-end golf experience. You won't see a lot of guys in expensive, wick-dry, pastel polos and white pants. The cart paths are ... rustic; the asphalt buckles over a tree root here and there. The greens can be a little bumpy and dry, depending on which hole you're playing. And, as I said, if you don't hit it straight, plan on spending some quality time communing with nature.

But, that said, the people in the pro shop are friendly, the beer is cheap, and there's a diverse community of regulars who make the place a fun golf destination. Best of all is the layout, which for my money is the most interesting track in Memphis, with big elevation changes, old-forest oaks and hickories lining every fairway, and abundant wildlife, including deer, foxes, coyotes, groundhogs, and other critters.

Plus, there are no condos, no nearby streets, and no traffic noise. When you're playing Davy Crockett, you're in the woods. It's a beautiful spot, really.

And for $11, you don't feel guilty if you decide to stop after 15 holes — or 23 holes. Or whatever. This ain't the Memphis Country Club, dude. It's Davy Crockett. Remember? — Bruce VanWyngarden

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How to Grow Food in the Heat

Memphis is a gardener's town, and the summer bounty from homes, farms, and community gardens can bring a cornucopia of tomatoes, okra, and squash. But the Mid-South also presents its own challenges. Once temperatures rise to 95 degrees or more, tomatoes won't put on fruit. Pests make organic squash nigh-impossible. And for many, summer lettuce is out of the question.

Ray Tyler, co-owner of Rose Creek Farms near Selmer, has tackled the problem of summer lettuce for years, and he's just released a free eBook, The Top Five Secrets for Growing Lettuce Year Round, spelling out his methods in five steps. First, pick your seed varieties wisely. "We favor Batavian hybrids and Salanova over many other varieties," he writes. "In particular we like Muir and Cherokee for crispheads and the green and red sweet crisp Salanova varieties." Second, Tyler recommends starting your seeds using the do-it-yourself containers at germchamber.com: Seeds must be cool if you hope to start new plants through the season.

Third, "harden off" your plants. "We set the trays outside 4-5 days before planting to get them acclimated to the sun and wind," writes Tyler, adding that "this allows them to start growing as soon as they get planted." Lettuce must grow fast to stay sweet. Fourth, water your lettuce daily, using sprinklers for cooling and soaker hoses for the roots. Finally, use shade cloths for the first two weeks of growth, cooling the plants during early growth. After that, give them full sun or they'll get leggy, but keep cooling with those sprinklers. Judging by the lush lettuces sold year-round by Rose Creek, following these steps will make the summer months your salad days.

Chris Cosby, a former senior manager at the Memphis Botanic Gardens before pursuing permaculture design and education for Plants Plus People, outlines a broader approach. Work with the seasons, not against them. "Squash vine borers [moths] show up just when the first squash is fruiting. Their life cycle is keyed to a June appearance, and the easiest way to get around that is to not plant until August." Crop selection can make all the difference as well. "Sweet potatoes are a good hot weather green. The key to sweet potatoes is keeping the vines trimmed, which is easy, because we just eat those greens." By fall, you'll have a bounty of the root crop as well.

Cosby recommends one last thing: napping. "We need more of a siesta culture here. People should relax a little bit. The summer's a really good time to observe what's happening in the garden. I mostly grow aromatic herbs this time of year. Change up your summer activities completely so you're ready to go in the fall. With fall gardening, I'm making more nutrient-rich food in larger quantities that tastes better, with less work." — Alex Greene

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How to hack Your Patio

You're not doing summer right if you aren't spending lazy evenings lounging on a patio. Your patio might be a two-star destination now, but with a little bit of work and a few Pintresting DIY hacks, you can see it transform right before your eyes.

Skip the premade furniture sets and take a deep dive into the magical world of doing it yourself. Here are some quick tips for transforming your patio into a five-star oasis.

I hope you like scavenger hunts, because all DIY projects require some looking in unexpected places for reusable treasures, like tires, for example. They're not hard to find; just look on the side of most roads. Pick up two, then grab some rubber glue, spray paint, and artificial turf from a hardware store.

Paint the tires and cut the turf into a circle to fit the circumference of the tire. Then glue the tires together and the patch of turf on top of them. Bam, you have a multi-purpose piece of furniture that can serve as both an ottoman and a table.

Benches can also be made with a minimum amount of materials and labor. All you need are four eight-foot-long four-by-fours and six cinder blocks. You can find both at any home improvement store or a used-lumber yard. Add some paint to the wood and blocks (or leave them as is if you're into the rustic look). Line the cinder blocks up in two stacks, separated by the length of the wood. Slide the wood through the holes on each side, and voila! you have a bench. For comfort, add a bench cushion and a few outdoor pillows.

Now for the fun stuff: greenery, lights, and whatever else your heart desires: Succulents, like cacti, thrive in the summer and can add colorful character to your outdoor space. And instead of housing your plants in pots, try something unconventional, like coffee cups or tennis ball cans.

Finally, set the mood by draping a few strings of Christmas lights over your patio. Now, sit back, relax, grab a beer, and admire your hard work. — Maya Smith

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How to Get to a Shady Spot

for $5

I'm sure I've read sadder words than the ones displayed on the screen of Explore Bike Share's vending station in Overton Park, but as the sun beat down and the sweat dripped into my eyes, I sure couldn't think of anything more upsetting than, "Kiosk unavailable." This is a brand-new service, how could it possibly be broken already? I'm getting ahead of myself, let me back up.

It was 95 degrees on the scorcher of a Sunday afternoon when I decided it was time to rent a bike and go searching for the shadiest spot in town. I have my own bike, but wondered if the added transportation and exercise options Memphis' new bike share service provides might be a game-changer, particularly for an active family of four with a car rack that only accommodates three bikes.

The first thing I'd need to do is find a bike station. There's an app for that, but with 600 bikes and 60 stations I figured I'd just hop in the car and drive till I didn't need to drive around anymore. My first stop was the broken Overton Park kiosk. Thankfully, the kiosk isn't necessary if you have a smart phone with the bike share app, which I strongly advise downloading (bcycle.com/app). Otherwise, a single ride costs $5 and the rental process is pretty intuitive. In no time I was two-wheeling it toward the darkest parts of the old forest — just not very fast.

While there are a number of gears, the Explore bike only seemed to have two real speeds: Easy to peddle and slow and harder to peddle and only a little faster. I was already feeling a little fatigued by the time I passed through the park's eastern gate to the old forest, where the sun disappears, the temperature drops, and oxygen is abundant.

Memphis is more forested than the average city, and from the greenline to Shelby Farms, there are plenty of opportunities to get out of the sun and ride. But few of those rides have ever felt as restorative to me as a swing through the old forest. As I hit my first downhill run, and a breeze smacked me full in the face, I started to think, "Hey, this may not ride as comfortably as my bike, but it's not so bad." Five miles later, I returned my bike to its station, and by that time I'd both cooled off, and warmed to the ride. I don't think the service will ever replace my personal bike, but in a city with poor transit options, I could certainly see the $120 year-long pass as a reasonable option for someone with a modest commute. And, should you find yourself in need of some shade fast (or faster than foot travel, anyway), there are worse ways to spend a hot summer afternoon. — Chris Davis

How to Host a Hog Roast

In her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton opens with an anecdote of an annual party for 200 her parents held on the grounds of their home in Pennsylvania. The party was an elaborate lamb roast. An eight-foot pit was dug, the kids sleeping next to it overnight to feed the fire. Her father acted as stage manager; her mother, impossibly chic in a skirt and heels, got shit done.  

All day long we did our chores, the smell of gamey lamb, apple-wood smoke, and rosemary garlic marinade commingled and became etched into our brains. I have clung to it for thirty years, that smell. I have a chronic summertime yearning to build large fires outdoors and slowly roast whole animals. I could sit fireside and baste until sundown. Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.

The pit, the kids as sentry, the mom in her skirt and heels, the hiss, hiss, hiss all spelled romance to me, a smoky idyll. But, deep in my heart, I know this: It sounds like a lot of trouble.

It is, cheerfully admits chef Nick Scott. Scott, a partner in Alchemy, Interim, and the butchery City Block Salumeria, began holding hog roasts for his crews when he worked at Bluefin. Instead of a pit, he uses smoker boxes. One, La Caja China, he bought online, a wooden box lined with galvanized steel, on wheels.

The first thing one should do, he says, is brine the pig in a combination of salt, sugar, garlic, apple juice, and bay leaves. Then place it skin side down with a grate placed over it. A barrel with coals, acting as sort of a chimney, is placed on the box. The pig is cooked for four hours, then flayed, turned over, and put back in the box.

Scott describes the roast as a great coming together of restaurant types with beer drinking and jockeying to break down the pig. Everyone brings a side dish.

Scott recommends roasters get plenty of sleep in the days before the roast, as you'll be up all night feeding the fire. He notes that just about anything can go in the box — goats, chickens, vegetables.

"I love the process of it and getting together and hanging out," says Scott.

Scott's recent projects have kept him from holding the roast in the past few years, but he plans on bringing it back. Y'all hold him to it. — Susan Ellis

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How To Stay Cool Without Losing Your Cool

As spring runs its course and the thermometer creeps upward, you try to make a game of it: How long can you go without turning on your air conditioner? One year we made it all the way to June, but it seems like it's getting hotter, faster every year. Soon, it's time for some AC. You flip the thermostat switch to "cool" and let the techno-magic happen.

By mid-afternoon, the house is just a little hotter than it should be. No big deal. The unit is old. It'll be okay. Within a week, it's too obvious to ignore. The unit is not keeping up. You got an HVAC guy. Shoot him a text. No response. It's a busy time of year for HVAC guys, with everyone discovering that their broke-ass compressors aren't up to snuff.

Your neighbor's got a guy: The Compressor Whisperer. After only a couple of days, he shows up — tall, confident, with a tool belt hanging on his hip at a jaunty, virile angle. He cracks open the AC and digs around. Everything's going to be fine.

The Whisperer emerges shaking his head. Everything is not fine, he says. It's not quite dead, but your AC is going toward the light.

Can't you do something, anything to save it? No. Then, the dreaded words: "Total replacement."

You rant and scream: WHY HAVE THE GODS OF COOLING FORSAKEN ME? What have I done to deserve this?

Deserve's got nothing to do with it, says the Whisperer. Your system has succumbed to entropy, as one day, we all will.

You wake up from fitful, sweaty sleep in a fog. The fact of hotness outweighs everything. Techs, salesmen, and "comfort specialists" roam through your home. Did you invite them? It's hard to recall. Panic rises as each estimate comes in less affordable than the last. You explore financing options with disembodied voices on the phone. The fact that the owners of the voices are sitting in an air conditioned call center makes you seethe with rage.

You visit the city's museums, take long coffee-shop meetings, wander around big box stores for things you won't buy. How did people live before air conditioning? George Washington never had it. Lewis and Clark would have scoffed at you. You wouldn't have lasted a week back then.

You find yourself standing in the beer cave in a Midtown convenience store. It's freezing. You carefully consider your choices, slowly scratching your chin in a "hmmmm" fashion. You don't even like beer. The cashier is starting to stare at you. She's going to kick you out if you don't buy something soon.

How do you stay cool while keeping your cool? You don't. You can't.

— Chris McCoy

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