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Archive for July 24th, 2011

fish and berries

As soon as I posted that paean to Minneapolis, we left town, heading east to Vermont and Cape Cod.  We find big bowls of ripe berries wherever we go, whether it’s the beginning of blueberry and raspberry season or the end of strawberry season, every sweet bite must be savored or baked before they go bad or are replaced on shelves by their cardboardy California cousins.  We even discovered a secret cache of raspberries where they were least suspected, twining deep in the lilac behind the grill at my parents’ house.

I found myself repeating recipes that have long been summer stand-bys: panzanella, garlic scape mashed potatoes, blueberry buckle, to name a few.

One evening, we drove down I-91 through the gorgeous Vermont hills, where farmers were haying, kids were swimming in rivers, and everything was green, on our way to Saxton’s River, where we joined our friends Eric and Rachel and kids, and Chard and Liz for dinner.  When Chard and Eric get together, they like to get down to their Finnish roots and smoke a salmon in the backyard fire pit. The salmon had been brining overnight in whiskey and other seasonings, and while Eric chopped kindling, Chard conjured a fire out of the damp wood and curls of birch bark. He threw on some large sprigs of juniper, and then they laid on the home-made steel smoker. The smell was primitively delicious (and forced off the mosquitoes, which was a welcome side-effect).  Jack, Maddy, and Emmet rode their bikes up and down the block of Academy Road, which was busy only with other children, while the salmon cooked.  We also took a quick trip to Eric’s new studio–a spacious room in an old abandoned school–to see his new paintings.  They dance with pastel thrusts of color, then deepen into darker hints.

When the salmon was done, everyone gathered around for the ritual unpeeling of the smoke-blackened skin.

not so sure about it...

It was a fun evening.  We hadn’t seen some of these friends for several years, but we got right back into the groove.  Rachel was pregnant with Emmet that time, and now I’m the one with a bump.  As Gillian Welch sings on her new album (which I just downloaded): “everybody’s buyin’ little baby clothes… that’s the way that it goes…”

After a couple more delightful days in Vermont, we headed to the outer Cape, where we had a streak of hot sunny weather, and went to the beach twice a day.  Curtis greeted us the first night with gigantic lobsters, and sent us off on our last night with the freshest of striped bass.  We also went to Mac’s, on the pier in Wellfleet, where I had a crab cake sandwich.  Considering my state, I should lay off the fish for awhile.  When we got together with our friends Tom and Sarah, wine was offered and suhsi and raw bar spots recommended. When I reminded them I couldn’t have any of those delectables, Tom exclaimed with concern, “Wow, you have a lot of restrictions.”  I said, “no, not really. It’s just the things that I like!”

view from our table at Mac's

Jack at Mac's

And now we’re on Nantucket with my family.  This is a pretty nice kind of itinerancy…

cousins on the ferry

me and my sweet boy

I’ll leave you with a recipe–the one Curtis used for our last dinner.  The flavor combination was amazing, and didn’t overpower the striper at all.  (This is from the most recent issue of Food and Wine.)

Grilled Striped Bass with Indian-Spiced Tomato Salad

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chopped basil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 medium shallot, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice

Salt

1 teaspoon chopped rosemary

Four 6-ounce wild striped bass fillets, with skin

Freshly ground pepper

In a small skillet, toast the peppercorns and coriander seeds over moderately high heat until fragrant, 30 seconds. Transfer to a spice grinder and let cool completely. Grind the peppercorns and coriander to a powder.

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the ground spices, basil, vinegar, shallot, ginger and sugar. Add the tomatoes and toss to coat with the dressing. Season the tomatoes with salt.

Light a grill or heat a grill pan. In a shallow baking dish, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the rosemary. Season the bass with salt and pepper and coat the fillets with the rosemary oil. Grill the bass over moderately high heat, skin side down, until nicely charred and crisp on the bottom, 3 minutes. Turn the bass and cook until just opaque in the center, 3 minutes longer.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to plates. Set the bass fillets on the tomato salad. Spoon the tomato dressing over and around the fish and serve.

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