Friday, June 26, 2009

The S Word

What could be more exciting than uttering such a word after its prolonged, unseasonable absence? Yesterday, after days of storms, cold temperatures and clouds, the wintry weather gave way to ssssssssssun. There, I said it! It was hot and lovely on the skin and it brightened up the house and my mood. However, in spite of the miserable weather last week, we still did manage to keep ourselves fairly busy, and in between bursts from the sky, accomplished quite a lot actually.

For example, we reacquainted ourselves with running fast on the beach.

And got to play with some old friends.

We also made some new ones, at Taylor Bray Farm in Yarmouth. And we checked in on the progress of the blueberries. Some are already turning blue. It won't be long now...

We've planted many beautiful things in the veggie patch, and so far we have tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, onions, chard, two kinds of lettuce, zucchini, crookneck squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, peppers, and cucumbers. We still need to plant some radishes, which along with some of the cucumbers and peppers, will be the only things we are able to harvest before we have to go home.

We have two little cucumbers ready to pick, so I will be able to share my favorite Thai cucumber pickle recipe with you later. Stay tuned...But right now, I'm heading out to enjoy some more of that sun, and maybe wipe down the outdoor furniture in the hopes we will be able to enjoy dining al fresco soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Salsa

If the calendar says summer, then it must be summer, right? Even though I spent the day bundled in a thermal, sweatshirt, jeans and rain boots? Even though the temperature hovered around 50 something...even in the "heat" of the afternoon? Even though the tomato plants in the garden are withering, not from heat and drought, but cold and wet?

Indeed, it is summer, and here on the east coast, sunshine and warmer temperatures are promised for Thursday, so there is some (sun)light at the end of this dark, foggy, misty tunnel. At any rate, I was able to snag some ripe-ish local tomatoes at Cape Abilities farm to make some summery salsa the other day. Normally I grill the ingredients, but the weather was having none of that. Sadly, we haven't even uncovered the grill (or eaten outside!). So instead, I broiled the ingredients to create the necessary char which lends a terrific smoky flavor to the finished salsa.

Because the tomatoes, chiles and onions need time to cool, then meld together after they are chopped up, it's best to make this earlier in the day so it is ready for cocktail hour, when you invite your friends and family over to enjoy it with some chips and a classic summertime beverage. It's probably a good idea to make a large quantity so you'll have some leftovers...though it's quite addictive, and you may find you have none left over at all. This salsa will heat up your summer evenings, no matter if they are spent out on the deck under the stars, or huddled and shivering around the kitchen table.

Charred Tomato Salsa
makes 1 1/2 cups

6 firm tomatoes (plum, or any other firm tomato is fine)
4 scallions
2 jalapeno peppers
1 t salt
1/2 C minced white onion
1/2 C finely chopped cilantro
juice from one lime

Grill or broil tomatoes, scallions, and jalapenos over (or under) high heat until beginning to become blackened on all sides, watching carefully and turning frequently. Remove stems and root ends from veggies, rough chop, and pulse in a food processor, along with salt until blended to your desired consistency (I like mine pretty smooth). Taste to see if you have added enough salt. Put into a bowl and refrigerate until cold, at least one hour. Add onion, cilantro and lime juice and stir. Return to refrigerator for one hour more. Taste for seasoning. Serve with chips (or veggies...if you are trying to be healthy or something). Don't forget the margaritas!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Natives Are Getting Restless

Back in California, we are lucky to have strawberries year round at our farmers' markets. The are usually ripe throughout, and consistently sweeter than anything you might find at the grocery store. Contrast that with the berries available on Cape Cod, and all over New England for that matter, for a few fleeting weeks in early summer. The poor souls who call these parts home must fight over every little pint and quart basket that gets delivered to farm stands and green markets, knowing that if they miss their chance for "Native Strawberries" they have to wait another whole year to get a taste. Folks swear they are better than strawberries from any other place, but I personally suspected that they were so berry deprived that they were viewing the world through jam-colored lenses. After all, the strawberries I buy nearly every week are pretty darn delicious.

But you know what they say about assuming...I must admit, that the so-called Native Strawberries are hands-down the most delicious berries I have ever tasted, and I have nibbled a lot of them in my lifetime. They are smaller than the kinds I usually buy, and softer too. Deep red throughout and gently perfumed, they are sweet with a subtle tart undertone that rounds out their flavor. I was planning on making jam, or syrup, or pie, or even shortcake, but after I got a taste, I didn't want to cook these delicate beauties, or undermine them by drenching them with cream or even sugar. They are perfect just as they are. And it was pretty difficult to resist eating the entire quart by myself and save enough for dessert.

I decided that crisp and buttery shortbread cookies would make a fine accompaniment to the berries and quickly threw together a batch, using my (slightly modified) grandmother's recipe. Requiring just a few ingredients and one bowl, they are easy to make when you don't want to dirty your mixers (or don't have a mixer to is the case in this summer house). I usually roll mine out to a quarter-inch thickness, then use cookie cutters to cut them into cute shapes (they are a Christmas favorite). But this afternoon, I simply rolled them into a log, refrigerated them, then cut them into quarter-inch disks. It worked like a charm, and they were so good with our fresh berries. They almost looked like little sand dollars, which would make an appropriate Cape Cod name for these most delectable treats.

The season here is almost coming to an end. The nice lady at Setucket Farm Stand told me that they would only be available for 10 more days, unless we get a lot of rain. It poured today, but I hope that I get one more chance to have some native berries this year...

Cape Cod Sand Dollars
makes 1 1/2 dozen cookies

In a large bowl, blend 1 stick (1/2 C) of soft butter with 1/4 C powdered sugar and and 1/2 t pure vanilla extract. With a wooden spoon, stir in 1/2 C flour and a pinch of salt. Stop mixing when the dough has just come together, or you risk overworking it. Wrap with plastic wrap and roll into a log. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the log into 1/4 inch slices and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just golden around the edges, but still pale. Cool on a rack.

Dough can also be rolled out to 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Summer Tradition

Cape Codders love their traditions and you'd be hard pressed to find one more beloved than the Cape Cod Baseball League. In it's 114th season, it is arguably the most prestigious summer college ball league in the National Alliance of Summer Baseball. Because it draws top-tier baseball players from universities all over the country, it is considered to be equivalent to "high-A Minor League" baseball, with many of its alumni being drafted to the major leagues. In fact, there are over 1000 current major league players that played in the CCBL. It is one of the few institutions that still uses wooden bats...and believe me, there is nothing more exciting than hearing the crack of the bat when it smashes the ball. (Okay, maybe there is, but I'm trying to write as if I were a major baseball fan...a skill I am still perfecting).

After attending 40 of my sons' little league ball games, I must admit I am suffering from a wee bit of baseball fatigue. But tonight, we piled into our car to head out to our first Y-D Red Sox game of the summer. The kids had a blast chasing down foul balls and both boys got two each. Also, they ate their first snack shack burgers of the season. You should know that Cape League burgers are like none you will find anywhere else. They are cooked up by the gentleman below, who is there every year, preparing his specialties with care. If you are brave enough to eat them, you get a sticker that says, Ask me what I ate at the Y-D Redsox game!

You might be wondering why you need to be brave to eat a burger at the ballgame....CAFO beef notwithstanding...Well, it's because their burgers come on doughnuts. If you order the "Sinker" you will get a burger on a plain (outside), cinnamon (inside) or powdered sugar (down the middle) doughnut. If you'd like cheese on that it's called "over the plate." The other kind is appropriately named "The Hurler." The Hurler comes on a jelly filled doughnut with two huge squirts of canned cheese product. Blessedly, neither of my boys ordered that one, sticking with their usual Sinker, down the middle, over the plate (which translates, of course, to cheeseburger on a powdered sugar doughnut). This year, they've added a new taste treat called the "Screamer" which is served on a Boston Creme doughnut (cream filled with chocolate on top).

The first time I saw this monstrosity I was horrified. I was even more disgusted when my children ordered their own. But now, I hardly bat an eye...I've even had a bite, and it wasn't really half bad. Alright, it was half bad....but not nearly as revolting as I expected it to be. So if you'd like to recreate your own Cape League tradition at your home, here is how you can make your own Sinkers and Hurlers.

Cape Cod Sinkers and Hurlers

Grill hamburger patties to your desired doneness. Take a powdered sugar, cinnamon, plain or jelly-filled doughnut and slice it crosswise. Grill it briefly to give it a nice toasty crunch. Place the burger (with cheese or without) on the doughnut. Don't forget the fixin's. Ben likes his with ketchup, mustard and relish. Yummy?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Home" Sweet Home

I know I said that maybe I'd have other things to do today besides blog, and that's true. I did accomplish many, many hosing off the back porches, vacuuming up about a thousand bugs that have somehow migrated into the house (the charms of east coast living), finishing the enormous and mysteriously multiplying pile of laundry, and taking the dog out for a much needed trot to reacquaint ourselves with the hood. But when I've cooked something delicious, I like to share it with you and when I've captured great photos of my subject, it makes it even more fun.

Take, for example, this lobster. I picked him live and wriggling out of the tank, and 15 minutes later, he was steaming hot and ready to go. Talk about fresh about fast food. Now I know that folks can be squeamish about such things, but lobsters are good and worth the extra effort they take to prepare. If you are uncomfortable holding the lid down so frantic lobsters can't escape the boiling water, have your fishmonger steam them for you. Most will, at no or little extra cost, and you save yourself the time (and trauma) of doing it yourself. I don't mind doing it myself, but it was one less thing to have to deal with for my dinner tonight. And if you are uncomfortable directly having a hand in the death of another living creature, don't even get me started on how many different dead cows were blended into the last burger you ate...

Tonight we had lobster corn chowder. Eastern corn is so lovely, sweet and delicate. Its tiny little kernels looked like shimmering pearls when I cut them from the cob. The rich stock was flavored with the lobster shells and the corn cobs (and a little Better than Bouillon Lobster Stock), and thickened only with a bit of flour and pureed corn, so it's not nearly as rich as other chowders that are heavily laden with cream. Accompanied by a loaf of artisan bread and a hearty salad (provided by my mom-in-law) and it made for a perfect light supper on a cool summer's (late spring's) eve, and a wonderful reminder of Cape Cod's bounty.

The recipe calls for purchasing and preparing the lobsters yourself. If you'd like to give that a go, check here and here with more specific instructions on how to do that. But if you'd prefer, your fishmonger will most likely be able to cook your lobsters for you (it takes about 15 minutes). For a meal like this, when the lobster meat is thrown in at the end, it's a great way to save time. But don't just buy lobster meat out of the shells because you need them to create a depth of flavor in your soup stock. This soup would be a beautiful first course, or a light dinner (with a bread and salad).

Lobster Chowder
serves 6-8 as a first course, 4 as a main course

2 live (or recently cooked by your fishmonger) 1 1/2 pound lobsters in their shells
1 yellow onion
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
3 cups of fresh corn kernels cut from cobs (from 3 ears), reserve cobs and split in half
8 C reserved water from boiling lobsters (or fresh water with 4 t of lobster or seafood base or 8 C of your favorite seafood stock)
6 small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into a 1/4 inch dice
1 zucchini, cut into a 1/4 inch dice
6 scallions, sliced
1/4 C flour
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1/4 C chopped parsley

Boil lobsters in 8 cups of water in a large dutch oven (if you are having your fishmonger cook yours for you ignore this step). Reserve boiling water and remove meat from claws and tail, first snipping the tips of the claws over a colander set over a bowl (you're going to use all that juice), setting those shells aside. Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat. Melt butter and oil together and add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add reserved lobster shells and corn cobs and continue to cook for 4 minutes more.

Add lobster cooking water (or 8 c of lobster or seafood stock) and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain broth through cheesecloth-lined colander over a large bowl. Heat remaining butter and oil and saute 4 green onions until soft, 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, puree 1 C of the corn kernels with 1 C of the lobster stock. Add to pot with flour and whisk until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Return the remaining stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Add diced potatoes and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add zucchini and corn to the pot and simmer for 2 minutes more. Add reserved lobster and heat through (about 1-2 minutes). Garnish with remaining chopped scallions and chopped parsley.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Great American Road Trip: Part 6

9:10 a.m. Departing Danville, PA Cloudy, 67*

Our room was brand new and quite comfortable. We were all rudely startled awake at the alarm (that we set) at 7:30 a.m. Matt and I had another late night planning our route and re-packing the bags and are quite tired, but energized at the idea that this is our last day in the car.

10:35 a.m. Following a blue Prius with a Cape Cod license plate surround and a Wellfleet sticker in the back and listening to "Life is a Highway" on the radio, which seems quite appropriate. This part of Pennsylvania is one big piney mountain with ski resorts and lush forests and waterways.

11:05 a.m. Welcome to New York! Cloudy and 61*

We just climbed a huge hill that overlooked the Hudson Valley--absolutely stunning view.

12:00 p.m. We finally succumbed to what we feared most...McDonalds. The kids are thrilled and I have totally surrendered to the notion that french fries might actually be a vegetable. Strangely, there is no mustard in the burgers. Ben informed me that New Yorkers don't eat mustard. What? Can this possibly be true?

12:27 Connecticut Welcomes Us! Cloudy 68*

2:00 p.m. Massachusetts Welcomes Us! Partly Sunny 70*

I like the way the weather is looking. Everyone is exhausted but excited. But nobody, not once on this entire trip, has asked the ubiquitous road-trip question, "When are we going to get there." Although admittedly, Willa has been asking her own version of it in the last few minutes.

3:45 p.m.
Our first view of the Sagamore Bridge...the gateway to the Cape! We couldn't ask for prettier weather.

3:50 p.m. Crossed the bridge onto Cape Cod. Sunny 63*

4:10 p.m. Arrival at our home away from home. Whew! We did it!

The grand total of miles driven over these last 6 days: 3339

The children and dog were shockingly well behaved and the trip was overall one of the most fantastic things I have ever done. We are tired, to be sure, but feel a huge sense of accomplishment, and have a new appreciation for this vast, varied and incredibly beautiful country of ours. I'll post more thoughts when I have a chance...we are busy doing laundry and settling in. Willa wasted no time in heading down to the water to check out the scene, and spotted two horseshoe crabs right away.

You may not hear from me for awhile...I am planning on spending much of my day tomorrow enjoying vistas like this one in the back yard....and maybe taking my road-weary legs (and dog) for a jog.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Great American Road Trip: Part 5

9:32 a.m. Depart Cloverdale, IN High clouds, 73*

Heading through OH to PA today. Owen and Willa are in the third row. Indiana is a smattering of cornfields and other crops, outlined by dense woods. We're having a little trouble adjusting to the time change so we left a little later than we planned...but we didn't' get to bed until 1:30 a.m. so I guess that's the way it goes. We're planning a small detour through Amish country in western PA, but not much more today-seems the route we planned isn't very exciting....

11:13 a.m. Welcome to Ohio! "So much to discover!" Partly Sunny 76*

So much to discover? "Like what's the speed limit, " quips Matt. We've been playing a rousing game of Apples to Apples which is actually pretty hilarious.

12:35 p.m. Subway at Springfield, OH Sunny 78*

Owen is bored and growling, though I am pleased the dog is not.

1:13 p.m. Passing through Columbus, OH after a quick lunch at Subway.

1:45 p.m. Have to stop again because Ben needs to "go" and Owen feels sick in the 3rd row. So we get off the road and rearrange the car so Owen can sit in the middle row with Ben.

2:05 p.m. Back on the road again.

3:00 p.m. Sun and Clouds 81*

Kids are arguing about what video to watch. Everyone is feeling a little tired and crabby. We passed a truck driver with a funny face mask on (the kind with the glasses, nose and moustache). Normally I would think it was bizarre...okay, I still do...but it was just what we needed to diffuse the negative energy in the car and get us in the right mindset. Thank you Mr. Bizarre Truck Driver!! Almost going to switch from I-71 to I-76 towards Akron.

4:20 p.m. Welcome to Pennsylvania! Sunny with big, puffy clouds, 81* and not so humid.

I am really stiff today and starting to fantasize about taking a jog, which, if you know me at all, means I am really in dire straits. We're heading to Volant for a small detour through Amish country. Everyone is hungry, so we will probably have dinner there too. We still have 200 miles to go--the thought exhausts me.

5:05 Volant, PA

Okay, I know that these next pictures are totally disgusting...but I had a special request for images of some of the hundreds of poor animals we've seen dead along the road. Along with the usual deer and raccoons, there are also many dead rabbits and groundhogs in Pennsylvania(Punxsutawney isn't that far away, after all!).

Voltant is a picturesque village nestled in the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania. Populated by several Amish families, we saw some, but elected not to take pictures out of respect.

We unfortunately arrived after closing time for many of the cute little shops, but we did manage to squeeze in a little wine tasting of some locally grown and fermented wines...that were not half bad.

We took a side road following a sign advertising fresh, local strawberries (you know I'm a sucker for things like that). Again, we were too late for the berries, but I captured these lovely photos of the countryside instead.

Finally we ate dinner at Rachel's Roadhouse. This bar and grill was in the middle of nowhere, but hugely popular. The interior was very nice and the food was adequate. I couldn't believe the crowd. Where did all these people come from? I'm afraid my children will go through french-fry withdrawal when we get to the reality of mom's cooking.

6:29 p.m. Back on the road after dinner...

Favorite PA sign: Buckle up next million miles.

8:30 Still Sunny, 67* Rest stop somewhere in PA

PA has beautiful rest stops with lots of grass and landscaping and, most importantly, clean restrooms. The Frisbee the kids got with their meal at Dyers in Texas have been a godsend.
PA is so beautiful I can hardly stand it--lush forests, farms dotting rolling hillsides and winding rivers...

10:00 p.m. Arrival in Danville, PA

Days Inn had no more "pet rooms" so fortunately we went across the street to the Super 8, which has been totally remodeled and is very posh and comfy. We are so looking forward to arriving in Cape Cod, sometime around 5 in the afternoon tomorrow. Only 400 miles to go.

Total miles today: 635 Longest day yet, I think.

The kids enjoying some space at a rest stop somewhere in PA.