Read

Fall is looming on the horizon, and I have that running-out-of-time feeling.

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How is it that I have two, nearly untouched, 800 page books sitting at my bedside, needing time and thoughtful consideration.

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My ambitions get the better of me. I think I should throw in a good classic now and then, so I dove into Anna Karenina, but my book group revs up again in September with A Little Life….. I need a beach vacation.

Oh, and in the car…. the historical epic Fall of Giants, clocking in at 24 discs and 30 plus hours of listening pleasure.

I do need a beach vacation…maybe I’ll drive out to Cabo.

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Sam’s Carrot Souffle’

I have dreamed of going to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee for years. The pastoral setting and farm-to-table sensibility encapsulate a life I aspire to…family, friends, a country home, lots of animals, a huge vegetable garden, acres of woods and meadows, and a chef! Not only would I like to stay there as a guest, but I’d love to be put to work too.

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I’ve borrowed their namesake cookbook from our local library at least three times, lingering over the luscious recipes and admiring the gorgeous pictures of this deluxe Inn.

The New York Times featured the article below on Wednesday in it’s Food section. I was shocked and saddened for this young family, whose husband and father died tragically in a skiing accident.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/10/dining/blackberry-farm

Tonight I made Sam’s Carrot Souffle’, in honor of Sam and his family. The photograph in the article of Sam’s widow is beautifully rendered. Her face tells a story.

She is wearing a simple cross.

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Thirst

What do you drink when you’re thirsty?

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There are a lot of choices. Too many actually. It’s overwhelming looking at this display. They are lined up like movie stars, all screaming for attention while looking so cool.

What’s going on here? This display would indicate we are seriously worried about hydration, but apparently not from the kitchen faucet. Isn’t this antithetical to everything we know is happening to our environment. We deeply care, (right?), and are doing our personal best to repair this planet which we are called to honor and protect.

This drink display is destined to create a serious amount of garbage. How much of it will be recycled and how much will end up in a landfill or in the ocean.

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This sad sight is on one of my favorite Caribbean islands. The garbage man does not make everything magically disappear, after all.

These companies have us snookered into the convenience of single serving bottles. How many of them are flavored tap water?

I love color and when I grab one of these, I’m hoping it will be life changing. I fall prey to the ads and slogans promising me youth, vitality and peace…however, I draw the line on the blue ones. It looks like something you’d be forced to drink before a CT-Scan, so your organs light up.

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I don’t mean to sound smug…I grew up on Hi-C Orange drink. My parents wouldn’t buy soda, but my mom treated us to ‘juice’ in a can. She wasn’t a label reader. I’m certain there was 0% juice in it.

These companies make millions, carefully based on our love of convenience, color and the hope that 12 ounces of magic will make all our troubles go away. At that moment, we believe we’re making healthy choices, but of course, we’re not…and definitely not when it comes to the environment.

When I’m conflicted and overwhelmed, I return to the basics.

Sun tea is simple and thirst quenching. I’m not adding to the landfill and not depleting my piggy bank. Put 12 tea bags in 10 cups of water. Place vessel in sun for 4-6 hours. Add ice and sweetener of choice. Drink. Ahhh.

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One more thirst quencher that’s one of my favorites, and best for you… water!

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Peaches

Temperatures here in the northeast ricocheted all over the map last winter. It felt like Spring had come to stay in February, when we celebrated balmy weather, but then we were slammed with Arctic cold. The peach trees that live here in their northern limits, were coaxed into bud in the balmy conditions, but then ruined in the deep freeze that followed. A wily man from Georgia must have felt sorry for us, because he filled his truck with all the peaches it could hold, drove all the way up here, and set up a one man farm stand at a local nursery. What a guy! I guess a lot of grateful folks were waiting for him, because he sold out in a hour.DSC_0866

During the buying frenzy, my friend Laura managed to nab a crate and shared them with me.

I’m married to a southern boy, and his Grandma Hazel in Pocahontas, Arkansas, was famous for her pies. She didn’t share her recipes because she couldn’t write them down. Jim claims he asked, but she would just smile and say “well, I really don’t know…it’s a pinch of this, a handful of that.” God bless her. Forgiving her archiving skills was easy, because she had a gift for making pies that were out of this world.  Jim remembers hanging out with her in her kitchen, as she expertly rolled out the dough to make the flakiest crusts, and added ingredients to a mixing bowl without measuring.  Jim is a seat of the pants cook like his Grandma, making it up as he goes along, and the results are usually delicious.

I’m a girl who loves cookbooks and measuring cups and doing things just so. I would dearly love to have Hazel’s recipes, especially now with a bowl filled with perfect Georgia peaches. I searched my cookbooks for peach turnovers and realized Grandma Hazel’s technique for baking would work for peach filling- it’s only a little of this and a handful  of that. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re mixing peaches and sugar.

Also I used frozen pastry dough, so the tricky part was done.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Take your pastry dough out of the freezer and let it thaw.
  2. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees, with the shelf in the middle.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and gently lower 5 peaches into the water. After 30 – 45 seconds scoop them out. After they cool a minute, their skins will slide off like butter and you’ll be holding slippery orbs of goodness.
  4. Slice the peaches into thin sections, discarding the core.
  5. Into the pot, add 1/2 cup of sugar, the juice of 1/2 of a lemon, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil making sure all the sugar crystals have dissolved, then add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch that you have liquified with a small amount of water. Stir until the sauce thickens. Next add the peaches. Stir them into the sugar syrup gently, then set aside to cool completely.
  6. Once the pastry dough is thawed, flour your work surface generously, and roll out the dough. Cut 5 – 6 squares. Place about a tablespoon of the cooled peaches in the center of the square, quickly fold over to make a triangle, and score both open edges with a fork to seal in the fruit.
  7. As you complete each turnover, place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the refrigerator to keep the pastry cold.
  8. Once you have used all the pastry, you will probably have leftover peach filling. This is a good thing.
  9. Slip the baking sheet into the middle shelf of your oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until nicely browned.
  10. Allow the turnovers to cool while you mix together 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and a dash of milk. You should have a thick but dripable consistency. Once the turnovers are cool, drip the frosting over the top.

 

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Voila! Find 5 people you love and share- they are only delicious the day they’re made.

Serve it next to a pool of the extra warmed peach filling. Yes indeed, I think Grandma Hazel would approve.

 

 

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Tomato Maximus

We’re in the middle of a tomato glut. I’m doing my best to keep up, eating them morning, noon and night.  Today I had a choice: set up a farm stand on our street, or start cooking.DSC_0843 (1)

 

 

Recently, The New York Times printed Julia Child’s recipe for tomato sauce. For some  reason, (and I wish I could tell you why), we are having an extraordinarily prolific crop this year, despite sharing it with an extraordinarily prolific crop of chipmunks. One family was born in an overturned pot cozied- up next to the tomatoes. That is one smart mama chip.

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I used six pounds of tomatoes, chopping them first in the food processor, then weighing them in a bowl. Julia’s recipes can be intimidating, but this is one of her easy ones!

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Julia Child’s Provencale Tomato Sauce
¼ cup olive oil
⅔ cup finely minced yellow onions
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
5 to 6 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
⅛ teaspoon sugar, plus more to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
A large herb bouquet: 8 sprigs parsley, 1 bay leaf and 4 sprigs thyme, all tied in cheesecloth
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon dried basil, oregano, marjoram or savory
Large pinch saffron threads
1 dozen coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 2-inch piece dried orange peel (or 1/2 teaspoon granules)
2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until tender but not browned. Sprinkle on the flour and cook slowly for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally; do not brown.
Meanwhile, fit a food processor with the coarse grating blade. Working in batches to avoid overfilling the machine, push the tomatoes through the feed tube to make a coarse purée.
Stir the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, herb bouquet, fennel, basil, saffron, coriander, orange peel and 1 teaspoon salt into the pot. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, so the tomatoes will render more of their juice. Then uncover and simmer for about an hour, until thick. The sauce is done when it tastes thoroughly cooked and is thick enough to form a mass in the spoon. Remove herb bouquet and taste. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and tomato paste, and simmer two minutes more.

Once the sauce cooled a bit, I put it through the fine disc of a food mill to separate the seeds. This step is worth the trouble. I was left with a velvety pool of sauce, now squirreled away in the freezer. It will be the pièce de résistance for a feast on a bleak winter’s night.

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Book Fetish

What is it about summer that gives us permission to indulge in less scholarly texts that we wouldn’t consider the rest of the year?

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Is it because we spent the first quarter century of our lives in school, and subconsciously  think from September to June we still should be immersed in serious stuff, or is it because fewer people are looking over our shoulder in the summer, who we fear might sneer at our guilty pleasures.

My book club is on it’s summer hiatus, and I’ve taken the opportunity to read less book cluby things. And…I discovered something wonderful.

I rarely read mysteries because I’m already afraid of most things, and need no help imaging a plethora of new scary things. However, my friend Teresa, who works at a local bookstore, adores mysteries. One day, when I was buying a stack of books, she snuck one into my bag, and insisted I try it.

She has created a fan, at least with this author, Elly Griffiths, who is so pretty, you can’t imagine she could write anything too grizzly. She has sucked me in with her wonderful characters. It’s a series, you see, and she makes me feel I have very interesting friends who live far away, and I must read the next book to see how they’re faring.

The primary character is Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist with a specialty in bones! Oh, and then there is Detective Harry Nelson, fierce, but with a lovely tender center. Oh my, it is against my religion to see these two … oh dear, and therefore I read these books with delight and a sprinkling of guilt.

Have you ever thought of a book analogous to a candy bar? Well, neither had I.  Yesterday, as I closed the blinds in the middle of the afternoon, and snuggled up with the third in the series, I felt as if I was indulging in something every bit as delicious and naughty as a candy bar.

Hooray! Enjoy your last month of summer!

Griffiths Books

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Pond

We left home, hearts heavy with news of the latest tragedy in Nice, and the horrible political skirmish in our own country, and slipped away for a weekend to the Weekapaug Inn in Westerly, Rhode Island.

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The inn is  located on Quonochontaug Pond, a salt water lagoon off the Atlantic Ocean. The pond’s beauty and tranquility permeate everything about this place.  Eventually you can’t help but mellow as the gentle ebb and flow of the tides begin to slow your heart rate, as you’re soothed by cool ocean breezes.

Long ago, conservancies and land trusts extended their protective embrace around the pond, recognizing the importance of  its large salt marshes providing sanctuary for migratory birds, and plentiful spawning grounds for clams and fish. A few houses have been built near the pond, but primarily it is enjoyed via kayak and water craft with a shallow draft that explore its myriad coves and channels.

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This is called a Beetle Cat, designed about 1920 by Mr Beetle. It’s small, and a perfect vessel for teaching young people how to harness the wind and respect the vagaries of weather while racing across the pond.

 

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Here, dawn is breaking over the pond, shrouded in fog. The chairs remind me of church pews, with people ready to file in to sing praise for the dawning of a new day.

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These fellas are clamming on the sand flats. They are towing a perforated basket behind them to hold the clams, keeping them cool while sifting out the grit and sand from the clams as they wade across the flats.

JJ and I borrowed some water shoes, terrific ones that protect your feet from baby sea monsters and slimy things, and joined in the mysterious pleasure of digging up food from  beneath the sand. We didn’t have rakes but used our fingers, and yes indeed, there were clams aplenty. It was amazing to discover all this free high quality protein, hidden like treasure, mean’t to be found.

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Later while walking along the shore beside the clam beds, Jim, who loves all foods Japanese, spotted pousse-pied, a common plant that thrives in tidal marshes. Around here it’s known as sea beans, but in proper Latin plant nomenclature, it is called Salicornia. Around the world, it goes by many names, but is always found in salt marshes and springs. It tastes salty and has a lively, crunchy texture. All it needs is a quick steaming and you have an exotic topping for your favorite dinner.

A little foraging and this pond supplies a gourmet dinner for free.

The pond seems a peaceful place for nesting birds and newborn fish taking their first swim in this nursery-like setting. So too for humans, as children can learn to brave the sheltered water in tiny boats. This is summer at it’s best, with the freedom to explore accessible waters, and the wonders of all the creatures thriving there.

It is places like this that nurture the environmental advocates of a new generation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hot Tomato

My brother’s tomatoes in Virginia ripen much faster than mine in Connecticut. I’m happy for him, sort of…. and a wee bit envious.

I took his advise and bought the rig shown below, from Gardener’s Supply Company , called ‘Gardener’s Revolution Tomato Planter’. The kit supplies everything you need, boasting: “revolutionary design, amazing results!” This is the kind of thing I would have written off as a gimmick, had my brother’s experience not been so positive.

8592161_369_gardeners-revolution-complete-tomato-garden-kit-red-clayIt was great fun to set up. It has a reservoir beneath the pot with an ingenious wicking system, giving you a grace period of an extra day or so, before you need to haul out a watering can to refill it.

I chose a Beefsteak tomato, my husband’s favorite, and stationed the planter close to our kitchen door on the hot flagstone hoping to hasten growth and fruiting.

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Voila! The thing works.

I quickly found the ratio of plant to planter problematic. On a windy day, my coddled plant and container toppled over. I relocated it to a protected spot against the house, where it has grown stout and is fruiting magnificently. It’s only nourishment has come from my favorite  Coast of Maine potting soil and one shot of organic fertilizer. Concerned the plant had outgrown its pot, I tried mustering the courage to transplant it to a larger container, but feared ruining a good thing…

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Did I mention this thing works? One day, the weight of the lush growth and fruit brought the whole system down…a Tomato Catastrophe.  The agapanthus were not happy.

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Now it’s battered, caged, tied and under a tower. With the dog days of summer fast approaching, transplanting has moved from elective surgery to life saving. Help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m now researching large basil, basketball mozzarella and Costco sized Balsamic Vinegar.

Eat your heart out bro…

 

 

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Mama Snapper

In late May I witnessed a snapping turtle excavating a shallow bed in the soft dirt of our garden. When she was satisfied her nest was just right, she backed her tail section in and busied herself  laying eggs.

This is all terribly exciting for me, as I’m married to a guy who has put his foot down about any new animal adoptions, whether it chicks, goats (what better way to mow our new meadow), kittens, or for heaven sake, even puppies. Well guess what? This momma is laying somewhere between 20 – 40 golf ball sized eggs, right here in our backyard.

So I guess you could say we’re expecting! Mid to late August we’ll have a brood of pet store sized baby turtles, born with a freshwater meter that points them to the nearest pond.

Life is tough in the wild. 90% of the nests are pillaged by raccoons, skunks and crows. Fortunately with two Labs watching over the yard, I’ve seen no evidence of predators.

The babies are born with soft shells, and once their shells harden, they are only preyed upon by people.

There is a hunting season for snapping turtles in the state of Connecticut that begins July 15th. The new bag limit is 10 per hunter, down from 30. Turtle meat is considered a delicacy, especially in Asia.

Personally I’m not interested in exploring the potential cuisine to be plundered from reptiles. I’d much rather these baby turtles make it to the local pond and contribute their mysterious role in the balance of our local environment. They are scavengers, helping to keep insects, spiders, frogs, snakes and aquatic plants in check.

DSC_0621We were a bit alarmed last week to find Mama Snapper on our lawn quite far away from her aquatic preference, and feared she couldn’t find her way out of our enclosed yard.

JJ hefted her into a box and toted her across the driveway to a wetland in the direction she appeared to be headed.

Interestingly, snapping turtles don’t have a carapace with retractable gear like other turtles. Their long neck and tail are formidable, and beg not to be messed with.

The babies are more my speed. Come August, I’ll be on the lookout for them.

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Mozzarella Man

Hooray, our own tomatoes, drenched in flavor from the summer sun, are ripening on the vine! I drove to Citarella, a new market in town, in search of the softball-size, shrink-wrapped mozzarella, sure to be stacked next to a mountain of tomatoes and bouquets of basil. A salad of tomato, mozzarella, and avocado drizzled with balsamic glaze, is one summer’s great treats.

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A woman spied my ball of ‘manufactured’ cheese in my shopping cart, and asked if I’d met the mozzarella man, offering warm squares of cheese in the next aisle. I showed him the mozzarella in my cart and asked him if he’d made it. He frowned at my cheese with disdain and offered me a piece of his freshly made cheese. Now I’m ruined. There is no turning back. I always thought mozzarella was only good paired with other more tasty things. This was delicious all by itself.

Nearly a decade ago, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. She and her family decided to try on the ‘Eat Local’ movement like a religion, and agreed for one year to eat only food that either grew in their own backyard or from one of their neighbors. From chickens from the farmyard across the meadow, to beans they grew and canned for winter, they lived their promise.

Tucked within this wonderful story, is a recipe for homemade mozzarella. Ah, my ship has come in!

Next time I see the mozzarella man, we’ll practically be comrades in arms.

I ordered my supplies from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company as the Kingsolver’s recommended, after discovering any and all local grocers haven’t a clue what rennet is. Never mind, you don’t want to know either.DSC_0634

 

DSC_0635I’d got right to work!

It takes a gallon of milk to make a tradition round of mozzarella.

But, not just any milk….. raw milk is best but unless your milking your own cow, it is tough to find. The next best thing is very fresh pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized milk.DSC_0637

This is my favorite milk- not because I can speak to its purity and superior taste, but because the cow makes me smile. The logo was drawn by Susan Boynton, the illustrator of many wonderful children’s books. Of course I also love that the cows are (theoretically) grazing on a mountain side farm.DSC_0638
Here the curds are separating from the whey.

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At this point you heat it and knead it and stretch it ….. and sneak little bite of it.

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Well, I’d love to tell you that mine is every bit as delicious as Mozzarella Man’s.

I went back to Citarella to track down the mozzarella master to pick up some tips.  Angelo is my new friend. He was raised on a farm in Sicily. Making mozzarella is second nature to him. This week he invited me to witness how a master makes this simple cheese.

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