After much heat and haze this summer, we have finally been enjoying a few cooler days. This often happens here in New England come August. A day dawns when the cool touch of distant autumn can be felt ...
"This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn take a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders." ~ Sarah Orne Jewett, 1887
These days are wonderful for enjoying the garden ~ and happily, I've been invited to a summer garden party at Donna Marie's! I'd like to think this is the kind of weather we'd enjoy! I will take my garden hat, of course, because the sun will be bright, but perhaps a shawl as well - for the party will last late into the cool starry evening. I'm sure we'll want to linger over the delicious food and pleasant conversation. :)
Now, what shall I bring? Well, for starters, I will fill a crystal jug with refreshing Cherry Blossom Punch. This delicious drink has no caffeine and really quenches our summer thirst. Wouldn't a few rose petals be pretty floating on top?
I will also bring a tray of fragrant Peach Muffins. I will use fresh ripe peaches we've picked at the farm and follow my favorite Mix-and-Match recipe to turn out a few dozen warm soft muffins. I'll use a combination of chopped peaches and peach butter to bake in that extra moistness. I'll place them in a basket lined with crisp cotton linen and tuck in a crock of honey butter. (For the spread, I'll start with softened organic butter and mix in locally produced honey - a late summer delight! We even like it on corn!)
And if my lavender is plentiful, I'll whip up some Lavender Faerie Cookies before I go - don't they sound just right for a warm summer night?
"There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart." Celia Thaxter
First of all, is the term supper a Yankee/East coast/New England thing? We have always called it supper instead of dinner - dinner is what we have on Sunday afternoons or holidays.
Tonight we are having chicken parmesan sandwiches, penne rigati and zucchini on the side and peach cobbler for dessert.
Now true confessions time:
Ian's frozen chicken patties
Prego Organic tomato sauce
Sargento shredded cheese
Wild Oats Organic Whole Wheat Penne Rigati
Zucchini from the farmstand down the street
Krusteaz Peach Cobbler (this is the true shame of it all considering my previous post on my Grandmother's homemade cobbler!)
The thing is this - Earlybird (4) has a lot of food sensitivities. For this reason we have to be very particular about what foods we use. We can't buy the store brand on-sale variety of chicken patties - we must buy Ian's or Bell & Evans. And you cannot believe how expensive the "safe" fish sticks are - and forget about his juice. He can only tolerate two kinds - RJ Knudson Organic Pear and Vruit. Both are quite expensive!
But EB can't tolerate anything else - generally he needs foods that are made without preservatives, artificial colors and flavors - and quite often organic fits the bill. I actually prefer to buy organic, for health and social reasons, but as we all know, the cost can be prohibitive. So where do I turn? Well, this leads me to my point ...
I need to start cooking more from scratch! Most (all) of what I can serve him can be made homemade! Chicken patties, fish sticks, pizza, cookies, crackers, hamburger rolls - yogurt! I can't even begin to imagine where I will eke out the time to cook more of our meals from scratch, but I need to. The grocery bills must be corralled. I'm thinking I must be highly organized about this if I have even a slim shot of getting it done.
So, how about some advice on cooking from scratch, cooking by a schedule, cooking in bulk and freezing ahead?
(Note this article was first published by The TAB Newspapers on August 3, 1993)
Peaches Straight from the Tree
Sniff a ripe peach - it's like inhaling the essence of summer itself. Fragrant and inviting, the peach has a firm skin that belies the tender and juicy flesh underneath. Who can resist peaches sliced and covered in thick, fesh cream, snuggled in a warm cobbler, diced in a tangy salsa served with grilled chicken, or preserved in a sweet jam, chutney or butter?
Shoppers who stick to the supermarket have no idea what a real, honest-to-goodness peach tastes like; those who frequent the farmers' market have a much better idea, but no one knows the peach quite like the home gardener. A peach straight from the tree tastes like none other.
Depending on whom you ask, peach trees are either a snap to grow just about anywhere or may prove stubborn in our northern climate. While the catalogs assure sturdy rapid growth and resistance to a winter's worth of nor'easters, orchard how-to books warn of the troubles you might face. Check with a your nursery for advice on the best varieties to grow in zone 6.
Grandma Millie's Peach Cobbler
3/4 cup flour
Pich of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2 cups fresh peaches
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, salt and baking powder. Mix with sugar and stir in milk. Melt 1/2 cup butter in 8-inch baking dish. Over butter, pour two cups fresh peaches, mixed with 3/4 cup sugar. Pour batter on top of peaches. Do not stir. Bake 1 hour. Serve warm, topped with vanilla ice cream.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 large, very ripe peaches peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Mound the butter into a serving dish, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
(Note: I wrote this article for The TAB Newspapers on August 17, 1993)
Like its cousin the zucchini, the cucumber grows and grows, so it's not uncommon to find yourself with an ample supply this time of year. Throughout August, gardeners "surprise" their friends and family with armloads of this popular member of the cucurbita family. Here are some ways to enjoy them or use them up before their season passes.
There are two types of cucumbers - slicing (for fresh garden salads) and pickling (stumpier fruits that preserve well). Of course you can eat the pickling variety and pickle the slicing variety, but that's anothe story in itself. If you've got cucumbers in your garden, you've probably noticed that their vines grow vigorously; you may want to stake them on supports. If you plan to grow them next year, plant them near the garden fence and and let them travel up the side. Be sure to pick your cucumbers often or they will stop producing.
Cucumbers are easy to incorporate in many summer recipes and are great for preserving to enjoy through the winter months. One of my favorite ways to enjoy cucumbers is the rather simple, yet proper, tiny tea sandwich. Thick slices of cucumber also make wonderful foundations for tea "sandwiches," topped with your favorite savories, like smoked salmon, crab salad, pate, ambrosia, herbed cottage cheese or even caviar.
~ Heart-shaped Cucumber Sandwiches ~
Good-quality firm white bread
Mayonnaise (I prefer Hellmans)
Cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper (no salt)
Cut bread into hearts with a 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. Thinly spread one heart shape with mayonnaise to taste. Arrange 2 or 3 slices of cucumber on top; grind over fresh pepper to taste. Cover with another slice of bread. Arrange on a plate and chill. Very nice served with a pot of freshly brewed English tea.
Peel and slice the cucumbers. Take moisture out of them by placing on paper towels for 10-15 minutes. Combine sour cream, vinegar and sugar and adjust to taste, adding equal parts vinegar and sugar. Sometimes as much as double may be needed. Combine mixture with cucumbers and serve; makes a great accompaniment to pork and is an easy cool side dish for a hot summer night.
(Note: Martha was my editor ~ and great friend! What fun we had!)
~ Cucumber Strawberry Salad ~
1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon raw cane sugar (or use light brown sugar if you prefer)
Chopped chives or spring onion to garnish
Arrange the cucumber and strawberries on a flat dish and season with salt and pepper. Mix vinegar and sugar and pour over the top. Sprinkle with the chives. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
(Note: I originally wrote this article for the TAB Newspapers on July 27, 1993.)
A few years ago I bought a black raspberry plant at the nursery, planted it in my backyard and then set about waiting for fruit. I watched for the little nubs to form, but nothing happened. By fall I was sorely disappointed and considered my plant a failure. Upon further research, however, I was relieved to learn that my plant was just too young and needed another year or so to produce a sizable crop.
If you are thinking about growing raspberries, your best bet is to look for plants that are already a year or two old, or if you have friends, family or neighbors who already have an established bramble patch, they might allow you to dig up a plant or two to transplant in your own yard. Whatever your plan, these sweet little gems are worth the wait.
My own wait has ended; my matured plants have blessed me with heavy branches of red and purple berries. I have been happily harvesting my berries as quickly as I can to eat fresh as well as turn into sweet summer desserts, jams and vinegars before the birds get the rest of them.
Ripe in mid-summer through early fall, raspberries can be red, purple, black or even gold. Not only are they a versatile fruit, but they freeze well. If you don't find berries growing in your own backyard, take a walk along country backroads this summer, and you will be sure to find wild berry bushes. Another good bet is to check out the crop at your local farmstand. If all else fails, you will be certain to find them in grocer's freezer.
(Note: This article refers to a small bush I grew at my childhood home many years ago. Thirteen years later, now married and with a home of my own, I am happily helping my dh tend to 30 red and gold raspberries we planted along our front fence this spring. We may not see fruit till next year, but when we do, I hope there's a lot!)
Crust: Combine crushed cookies and butter; mix well. Press onto bottom only of pie plate. Stand whole cookies up around edges, pressing lightly into crust. Freeze one hour.
Filling: Spread half of ice cream over crushed cookies. Drizzle with half of fudge sauce. Freeze one hour. Spoon remaining ice cream over fudge sauce and freeze several hours, or overnight. Garnish with fresh whole raspberries. Cut into wedges and serve. Let pie stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.
(Note: I wrote this article for the TAB Newspapers back on June 30, 1992)
By the end of June, we see it coming: flags flap proudly in the breeze, planters bloom with red white and blue flowers, the town center gets a fresh coat of paint and hangs patriotic banners, and like jingle bells heralding Christmas, we hear Independence day coming - only louder.
My three Yankee Doodle Dandies!
Nightly, just about dusk, from somewhere in the hazy distance, come the snaps, crackles, pops and occasional booms. Although firecrackers are illegal in our state, they do usher in the revelry, making even the most reserved citizen feel a bit frisky. As our thoughts turn to the big day to come, the most important thought comes forward: What will we eat?
As holidays go, this one is fairly basic to plan. You could easily fall back on the standard cookout cuisine - burgers and dogs and all the trappings. It's comforting to eat the same things every year to celebrate tradition and family.
But with the passing of time, comes the pasing of the spatula, and for the very first time, I will be hosting the Fourth of July party for my gang. In the spirit of this holiday, I have decided to start a few of my own traditions. Here's the kind of thing I have in mind:
Seafood intimidated me until I discovered how easy it is on the grill. It absorbs flavors quickly, minimizing marination time and it cooks quickly too. A friend of mine raves about swordfish simply cooked in Italian dressing (Ken's Steak House is a good choice) and grilled as kebabs.
Vegetables now take up a bigger portion of our plate and they also do well on the grill. Try corn on the cob this way and you'll never go back to boiling it: Peel husks down - but not off - and remove silks; replace husks and tie at the top with string. Soak ears for 15 minutes in water and then grill over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes. Serve with flavored butters (blend room temperature butter with your favorite herb or spice - good to try: curry, garlic, sage, chive).
Sun tea takes more time than Nestea, but is well worth the wait: Fill a gallon container with fresh cold water and four or five tea bags. Let steep in the sun for three to four hours. Serve over ice with mint sprigs, lemon slices or honey.
Another refreshing summer drink: Mix fruit juice with plain or flavored seltzer or a light soda like ginger ale (cran-grape with Sprite is delicious). Try freezing juice in ice cube trays to add a flavorful, colorful twist to your drink (add red juice and blue juice cubes to clear soda for a fun twist). Or freeze a berry - blue, red or black - in regular ice cube trays to keep with the holiday spirit. A splash of white wine adds even more interest.
Small red potatoes make a nice, lighter potato salad. Halve, boil, cool and toss with olive oil, vinegar and seasonings (dill is wonderful).
When making kebabs, rub metal skewers with vegetable oil to prevent sticking; soak wooden skewers in water to prevent burning.
Try throwing different woods on your fire - mesquite, apple, hickory, maple and cherry give your foods an interesting new flavor. Many food stores now sell flavored woods alongside bags of charcoal.
Patriot's Pork (serves 4)
Depending on my guests' appetites, I usually figure on two chops per person. A thinner chop (around 1 inch) will grill quickly over high heat. Play with the marinade measurements to suit your taste. In the fall, I like to substitute 1/2 cup apple cider for the pineapple.
8 ounce can crushed pineapple
1/2 cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Wocestershire sauce
1/4 cup white wine
Rub pork chops with peeled garlic cloves. With a fork and knife, pierce the meat all over; set aside.
Prepare marinade by blending pineapple, mustard and brown sugar with a fork; add Wocestershire sauce and wine. Stir well. Pour over pork, reserving some for basting later. Let marinate in refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Grill pork till done, basting with extra sauce.
Nutritional information per serving: (1/4 recipe): 619 calories (40 percent from fat); 28 g fat; 152 mg cholesterol; 56 g protein; 34 g carbohydrates; 610 mg sodium.
All-American Apples (serves 4)
As easy as pie, but much better for you. ;)
4 apples (I like Macintosh)
cinnamon and sugar
Wash and quarter apples and place in a tin foil "basket." Sprinkle lightly with an even mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Place on grill - off to the side - while grilling pork. Drizzle with reserved marinade if you wish. Apples will be soft when ready.
Nutritional information per serving:(1/4 recipe): 82 calories (5 percent from fat); less than 1 g fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 0 g protein; 21 g carbohydrates; 0 mg sodium.
Cherry Jubille Pie (serves 8)
This is a family tradition - my grandmother makes this for almost every special occasion. It looks spectacular on the Fourth.
9-inch baked pie shell
3 ounce package cream cheese
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 pint heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can cherry pie filling
Blend cream cheese and confectioner's sugar in one bowl. Whip heavy cream and vanilla in another bowl. Combine cream cheese mixture and heavy cream mixture and pour into a baked pie shell. Pour can of cherry pie filling on top of cream mixture and chill overnight until firm.
Nutritional information per serving:(1/8 recipe): 395 calories (50 percent from fat); 22 g fat; 59 mg cholesterol; 3 g protein; 46 g carbohydrates; 180 mg sodium.
(Note: this is adapted from an article I wrote for the TAB Newspapers back in June, 1993.)
"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.
Where oxslips and the nodding violet grows.
Quite over-canopied with lucious woodbine.
With sweet musk-roses and eglantine."
(William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Curiously enough, Midsummer's Day, an ancient Swedish custom, coincides with the summer solstice, which we all anticipate as the official start of summer. Seasons, however, are rarely obedient to the calendar, preferring instead the frisky whims of nature. No matter what the calendar says, come June 24, summer has been in our heart for weeks.
Midsummer also takes place at St. John's Tide, and in addition to the liturgical traditions we will pursue in honor of this blessed feast day (many wonderful ideas found here at 4Real), it is a lovely time to celebrate the pure joy of summer and all that it promises.
In Scandinavian countries, this holiday is a time for much food, drink and revelry; you might choose to celebrate this holiday with a crackling bonfire or pretty fairy lights, or perhaps plan an afternoon tea to usher in this season of light and warmth.
However you plan your Midsummer fete, enjoy the company of friends and family while you dream of a long and sweet summer ...
Berries, Roses and Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon rosewater (available at specialty stores)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups fresh berries or 2 packages frozen
About 8 fresh pink rose petals, cut into comfortable pieces and with white "heel" at bottom of each petal removed (the rose petals are optional but they are beautiful floating on top of this dessert and add a light, fresh flavor. They should be free of pesticides)
In the top part of a double boiler, heat cream, milk, rosewater and sugar until warm. Beat egg yolks in a large bowl. Whisk in milk mixture slowly (by the tablespoon to begin with); return to double boiler and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened (about 10 minutes) - strain and chill. To serve: use either deep saucers or wine glasses. Put a few berries in the bottom of each dish - cover with the chilled custard. Strew more berries over the top and sprinkle on rose petals. Serve.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla; stir in the dry ingredients until well blended. Drop by half-teaspoons on ungreased cookie baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, and cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring to tiny plates.
1 cup stars cut from carrots with a tiny cookie cutter
1 cup stars cut from jicama with a tiny cookie cutter
6 ounces fresh snow peas
Freshly ground pepper
In a soup pot, bring the chicken broth, juice, orange, ginger and scallion to a boil. reduce the heat, add the carrot stars, and simmer for 5 minutes or longer or until all of the vegetables are tender but still crisp. Add the freshly ground pepper; adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.
1 clean, empty, narrow bottle with a long neck and a top
1 clean, empty 1/2 gallon milk carton with the top cut off or just opened up
6-8 sweetheart roses
Extra greenery (box or rosemary)
An old olive oil bottle is good for this ~ narrow, so it fits into the milk carton with space left over for the roses and a good thick wall of ice as well as a long neck to stick out the top and a cork. Funnel the vodka into the bottle, cork it and set the bottle into the milk carton. Fill to neck with water and surround with roses and greenery, arranging as best you can, unfolding leaves, everything totally under water. Freeze it (vodka doesn't freeze). When it's time to serve, peel off milk carton and set into rimmed bowl with more greenery.
If you are using rose geranium leaves, cut in pieces and place in small saucepan with 2 cups milk. Scald the milk. Remove from heat and let steep, covered until cool. Strain the cooled milk into a pitcher. Stir in the remaining milk and almond extract.
If you are using the rose water, mix it with the milk and almond extract in a pitcher. Serve over ice or whir 2 cups milk mixture in a blender with 1/2 cup cracked ice befor serving. Garnish with rose geranium leaves and/or blossoms for garnish, if desired.
(From "From an Herb Lover's Garden: Good Old-Fashioned Summer Coolers", by Emelie Tolley, Victoria, August 1998)
We had a lovely day yesterday with our coop, celebrating the cherry blossoms of Japan with a special tea:
Cherry Blossom Punch
2 bags Red Zinger herbal tea 2 bags Lemon Zinger herbal tea 2 cups apple juice honey to taste
Steep the tea bags in 6 cups boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Mix in apple juice and stir in a bit of honey to taste. Serve over ice.
I found this recipe in the Martha Stewart Kids Spring 2006 issue, but I have also seen it made by the Barefoot Contessa (a favorite TV chef of ours). This punch was so refreshing - a hit with kids and moms alike! I plan to keep a pitcher of it in the fridge all summer long, since it's healthy as well as delicious!
Also pictured above are a few of the snacks we set out - seedless watermelon chunks, Kerrygold Dubliner Cheese and Fig Newmans (no I didn't misspell that!) - all cut into cherry blossom shapes with a fondant cutter. :)