Archive for August, 2009

It’s summer.  It’s hot.  The fruit is ripe.  But what the heck, let’s fire up the oven.

We have Shiro plums, the mild little yellow variety which grew originally in Japan, and now grows all over the place here.


These plums are from Dummerston, Vermont.  (The name brings to mind Fort Dummer, near Brattleboro, where we used to go cross country skiing, and where my Dad would release the squirrels he’d caught in his “Have-a-Heart” trap.  These were crazed, ferocious squirrels that chewed our wooden siding and clung to the screens of our dining room windows while we ate dinner.)

Back on topic here… plums make a scrumptious rustic galette.  I had a helper this morning making pastry.  A pinch of salt:

J baking

And a demonstration of the frissage technique, which spreads and flattens those yummy bits of butter, providing the basis for flakiness (push with the heels, fold with the fingertips, repeat):


We also have chopped rhubarb and strawberries in the freezer–remains from an earlier season.  My sister, Bridget, has always loved strawberry-rhubarb pie.  We always thought her red hair and freckles predestined her to be a strawberry lover: strawberry ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberries on cereal, strawberry lip balm, the list goes on.  She’s moving to North Carolina this week, where strawberries and rhubarb will be distant memories.  I think I’ll make her that pie.

And serve it warm with local vanilla ice cream, of course.

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Mmmm… I have such a craving for a luscious tomato tart.  Roasting brings out such intense flavors.  And melted cheese: the deliciousness of the thought speaks for itself.

However, it’s pushing 90 today, and I won’t be turning on the oven.  How to celebrate high tomato season with something a little simpler, more “rustic” and conducive to lazing around than the pretty spiral of tomato, mozz, and basil (though I have nothing against that salad!)?

Panzanella!  A bread salad made with summer’s basics: stale bread, tomatoes, basil.

panz ingreds

The structure of this basic flavor combination provides a strong background for additions, if they come in as accents.  Have some leftover anchovies or olives?  A wedge of lemon?  Toss in a few capers, too, from that bottle that always seems full.  Some other backyard herbs would be nice too, as long as the basil sets the tone.

We’ll have this tonight, with grilled chicken.  Killdeer folks: see you soon.

For the cooler nights later this week, though, I’ll be turning to the tart.  I think I’ll try this recipe, recently posted in the Times.

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Back in Vermont, now, where we’re having the hottest night of the summer.  Haze turned the Green Mountains graduated shades of blue-gray today, on our long drive home.  Our last day on Nantucket was a full one–from bikes and beach in the morning to a wedding party in the evening.  Blank from a day of travel, I’ll just post the highlights.

ubiquitous blue hydrangea

ubiquitous blue hydrangea

Jack and the tree that was probably a sapling when our ancestors, the Rodmans, Rotches, and Husseys were on this island worshiping the whales:


Waiting for waves at Cisco Beach:


And boogie boarding:


Then, we were off to the celebration in Siasconset.  Ginger ale or Veuve?

Jack liked the “shrimp lollipops.”


Jeremiah liked the Boston lettuce:


And everyone liked the chocolate-espresso pot de creme:

choc. pot

And, since I did more body-surfing than web-surfing or researching of any kind, I’ll put in a link to an article on “Slow Fish” on a related island, Martha’s Vineyard.

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I’ve eaten much more fish in the past two months than I normally eat in a year.  I’ve been lucky enough to visit these seafood capitals of the northeast.  Eating locally on an island is pretty easy at this season.  For Nantucket, in particular, striking a balance between conservation and sustainability on the one hand and the inevitable conspicuous consumption of a resort island on the other, is especially important, and tricky, because people come for the timelessness of its beaches and weathered shingle cottages, but also come to vacation and to do all of the spending and  consuming that entails. My Nantucket Quaker ancestors rode the wave of one tide of American capitalism centuries ago, and helped to whale nearly all of the sperm whales out of the Atlantic.  The great white whale is now a threatened species.   Bluefish are abundant, due to regulated sport fishing, and stripers are vulnerable, so I’ll savor them when they’re fresh and local.  We’ve come too late in the year for Nantucket Bay scallops, the sweetest, smallest morsels in the sea.  When I worked at a restaurant in Somerville, near Boston, those of us in the kitchen snuck a couple of raw ones when the small, highly priced shipment came in.   They have a brief season, anticipated by seafood lovers, and hopefully protected by sustainable harvesting practices.

We saw some small-scale fishermen working quickly the other night, just before the dinner hour, to clean and portion these tunas.

fish cutting


A large vegetable and flower farm here has turned to sustainable energy,


but I also saw some spray tanks attached to the tractors.  Their seasonal produce, displayed in a bountiful tumble of color, is wonderful, though.   There were at least four kinds of eggplant; I bought bunches of the Japanese and the “Fairy Tale” varieties, along with a pile of pattypan squash, and roasted them last night (it was chilly outside).  (Olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, 425 for 40 or so minutes.)



Another local institution I like to frequent when I’m here is the bread bakery and sandwich shop, Something Natural.  They bake hundreds of loaves daily, and construct hundreds of jumbo sandwiches for a steady stream of people.  Their chocolate chip cookies, with dark chocolate chunks and a chewy-crispy buttery crumb, are the best.

something nat.

When the endless possibilities for people watching turn tedious, it’s fun to find the animals.  We watched swallows gathering on the wires, and the flock seemed to grow by the hundreds every few minutes.




even more

even more

Bunnies hop out of the bushes, and scurry back in when they see Jack coming.


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We’re on Nantucket for a bit this week.  My cousin’s getting married, so our family (minus Peter, who’s at Breadloaf) is crashing in a mothbally cottage that sits on a rare high hill on this island, and would have a 360-degree view if it weren’t for the fog, clouds, and rain.  “It’s ANOTHER blustery day!” shouts Jack, thrilled by any weather.

I’ve been enjoying local food steadily, but don’t have a steady stream of internet access.  I’m sitting in a corner in the “Atheneum”–the town library–right now, but I forgot to upload the great pictures I took last night of three tunas being butchered dockside.

So… more on tuna and other treasures of the sea, and the organic farm, and Something Natural, later.

Jack and I enjoyed a simple meal on the ferry on the way over: slices of Jarlsberg, “crispy wheats,” amber ale, lemondade.

Jack ferry

His favorite part was watching the wake.

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Artist friends, look at this!

Purple beans

Look at these colors.  They don’t spring out.  They are dark and intuitional, like Arthur Dove’s.  Not as overt as Georgia O’Keefe’s, though I’m asking you to look at the small, wet extremity that splits the color spectrum into two.

It’s shocking, disappointing, and then, simply life.  These beans, when boiled, go from purple to green.  The most intense purple, deep, darkly fertile.  To green.  Basic beany green.

Romano.  String. Wax. Green.  Jack and the bean stalk.  There’s still some magic, despite the Anglo-Saxon simplicity of name.

Jack's sprout

Jack is thrilled to see his bean coming to fruition. Fruition. It is a fruit. First the little, tender stem. Then, the tiny, furled leaf.  He planted it in a Dixie cup full of soil. He didn’t, and doesn’t, know what it was.  But his enthusiasm for the greenness of the green shoot is boundless.  He’s contemplative, in awe, amazed, incredulous, proud. It’s a pleasure to watch. Does it have anything to do with his asking, “Mommy, why did you decide to grow a baby? … I mean me?”

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This summer, while we live–on extended visits–with various units of extended family, my cooking life has been tyrannized.  Not by non-omnivores or picky children so much as by the need to please everyone.  How to do so?  In our family, it’s with the Square Meal.  Protein, veg, “starch,” bev.

Last night, I said, “forget it, I’m making what I want and I’m not cooking.”  Well, I did cook, but just two 8-minute eggs for Jack and a handful of green beans.  We ate a cold and warm assortment of fresh, ripe, local foods.  Remember those heirloom tomatoes I bought on Saturday?  Black and pink brandywines.  I sliced them thick and sprinkled them with fresh mozzarella, basil chiffonade, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  I cooked the green and yellow wax beans just a bit, and tossed them with leftover sweet corn that had been cut off the cob, and with an assortment of chopped herbs from the back yard.  We also had Tarentaise, the cheese made by the Putnams of Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret.  A bowlful of mixed greens with mustardy vinaigrette.  A King Arthur baguette.  Vinho Verde, the effervescent, airy as seagrass Portuguese white that I love.

I know, doesn’t sound like a very adventurous escape.  Ah, well.  It was a good meal.

And escape from the tyranny of square meals is a topic that warrants discussion.  We eat that way quite a bit more at home, and not just because we’re busy parents of a busy four-year-old.  It’s refreshing to eat picnics inside, or to make a meal of the humble egg.

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It’s been nice hearing from all of you, good friends, from Berkeley, in the past few days, especially after getting an official notice telling me my email account was being closed.  Is that some desperate attempt at cost-cutting on the part of the university?  

I have such good memories of Berkeley, and these memories tend to focus on food and walks.

Running down the hill this morning made me think about another regular route I used to take all the way down a steep hill, and then back up.  Not the one to campus, no.  The one to the Cheese Board and to Peets.  Especially during Jack’s first year, I had the need to walk a lot.  Sometimes I’d walk with Bea and our boys in the strollers all the way down the streets and paths to Solano Ave., to Thousand Oaks School, where they had a tot playground with lots of castoff Little Tikes toys.  Most days I’d walk by myself, with Jack strapped in the Ergo on my back, down Euclid, the Vine Lane path, and Vine, to Peets for a latte and across Shattuck Ave. for a corn cherry scone:  the yummiest, most comfort-foody cornmeal drop scone full of dried slightly sour bing cherries. No other scone has ever measured up.

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Pane e Salute

A meal at this osteria is a total immersion experience.  It was a celebration for us, so we went all out, from the delicate prosecco to the late-night liqueurs: with wine pairings, sopressata, chanterelles and homemade papardelle, wild sockeye salmon, sour cherry cake, and espresso in between.   Everything about the restaurant is an expression of the passion Deirdre and Caleb, the owners, have for food and the kind of hospitality they’ve experienced in Italy.  They wanted to transport not only the recipes and cooking methods home with them, but also the culture of food.  They gave us a good taste of all three last night, during our long meal.  It was all wonderful, but the highlights for me were the antipasti (sopressata, fresh mozzarella dressed with a little olive oil, a crostini with chicken liver pate); the olive oil served with the aperitivo, which tasted like fresh olives and greenery; the chanterelles and pasta, which melted on my tongue; and the wine pairings, which were certainly the most thrilling experiences my palate has had in a long time.   The standouts were, with the antipasti, a blend in the Alsatian gewürztraminer style made by the winery Lincoln Peak in… yes… Vermont; with the chanterelles, “Delfino della Contessa” (the—whimsical and rich—countess’s dolphin), a blend of riesling, chardonnay, and some others, which was bright and full of surprises; and with the salmon, Rainoldo Roso del Valtellino, a medium-bodied red made with the nebbiolo grape, which didn’t overpower the fish with fruit but held its own alongside the walnut-pinenut-basil pesto.

Certainly the most interesting part of the meal, aside from the company of my husband after several weeks apart, was the last part.  Deirdre, in her perfectly natural yet both eccentric and sophisticated grace, brought over two cordial glasses containing two liqueurs she had made herself.  One was dark, and tasted of walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and ginger.  The other was the color of iced tea, but was a combination of two mints, lemongrass, stinging nettle, and lavender.  I look forward to reading her new book, Libation.

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Going to Pane e Salute tonight with Peter.  A little taste of Italy in Woodstock, Vermont.  An aperitivo to our trip!

Check in tomorrow to see what was on the menu.

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