Friday, November 1, 2019

Scalloping Season


 It's this time of year, usually while I am driving and I can allow my thoughts to drift for a moment.  I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of cranberries in a flooded bog, ready to be harvested and the electric yellow, orange and red of the surrounding trees against a crystal clear blue sky and I recall late fall days at school, going to football games with friends and eating scallops, lots of scallops for dinner on what seemed like every night for weeks on end.
  Back in the late 1980's when I was still in high school, I remember my mother wearing my father's old jacket from his skating rink days, only taking it off to drive us to practice, pick us up from school or make dinner.  During these weeks of October, her days were spent opening scallops and the jacket kept her warm and protected from the gooey, snot like scallop guts that ended up in the trash bucket along with the shells.  Her task was to finish opening bushels and bushels of scallops, as many as a commercial license was allowed to procure before my father arrived home with more. This was a time when bay scallops were ridiculously plentiful and my father called it "a bonanza".  Each day, he left before dawn, in the crisp early fall air, took off in his boat, then returned in the late afternoon.  He unloaded his catch, the scallops heaped high in their baskets, shells clapping open and shut, making clicking noises and forcing the scallops on the top of the piles to tumble onto the concrete floor and continue there, clapping, slowly: open, shut, open, shut.

  My field hockey teammates and I were working on costume ideas for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Each high school class and fall sport made a float in the back of a pickup truck or on an old trailer used for hauling leaves and branches.  We decorated these vehicles with our school colors: maroon and white using crepe paper streamers, and poster boards designed with magic marker slogans meant to inspire our football team, the Falmouth Clippers to glory on Thanksgiving Day.   "Go Clippers!" "Beat Barnstable!" was about as creative as we got and we tired easily of the task, turning instead to a silly game of make shift field hockey in my dirt driveway, devouring the rest of Val's homemade chocolate chip cookie and goofing around.
  I'm still not sure if she was glad to take a break from all that scallop opening, her hands chapped and raw, tiny cuts along her fingers from the sharp shells and shucking knife, to help us make costumes for the float that year.  Her talent, along with cooking and gardening, has always involved the sewing machine for which I have many fantastic Halloween costumes and my sister has her wedding dress to show for it. We had hatched an idea to make angel and devil costumes featuring angels with maroon "F"'s on their costumes for Falmouth and red devils to represent our evil rival, Barnstable. Val mustered up what little patience she had left from her long day and helped us produce brilliant costumes amidst our teenage giggling and foolishness. I'm sure there are photographs somewhere documenting her hard work and all the fun we had as dressed as devils, we pretended to drag the float carrying the Falmouth Angels along main street the day before Thanksgiving to the pep rally at Fuller Field.
  Sadly, there is no longer a pre-Thanksgiving Day parade made up of Falmouth High School students, no longer a pep rally on that Wednesday.  The kids all have the day off from school and lots of families use the time to travel out of town.  There are not as many scallops in the bays, either.  Those "bonanza" days have passed, as the cycles of nature determine. But every October 1st, without fail, my father still gears up his boat and launches it in the early pre-dawn morning hoping for a mess of scallops to bring home for dinner.  I get excited when I see the local fish market marquee lit up with the words, "Bay Scallops".  It proves there still are some out there, hiding in the muck and sea grass they call home.  It's as if all is right in the world for a moment: the cranberries, the football games and the friendships just like they always were.

  If you can find them or you know a shell fisherman willing to give up some of their catch, this is the easiest and just about the most perfect way to prepare bay scallops.

      Broiled Scallops

shucked scallops, about 1/2 cup per person

  Preheat broiler.  Lay the scallops in one even layer in a square, metal 8"x 8" pan.  Dot scallops with small pats of butter.  Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper.  Place under broiler for 3-5 minutes until scallops just begin to turn white and some of them begin to split on the edges.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Easiest Way to Grow Tomatoes

Red and yellow tomatoes on a flowered tray.
Perfectly ripe tomatoes.

  My garden, if you want to call it that, is overridden with weeds and flowers. Tall green leafy things suddenly sprout over night.  The Black eyed Susans which actually grow as if they are weeds, take over everything else that I attempt to deliberately grow in that small patch along the side of my house.  I like the flowers since it looks somewhat intentional.  So, I let them do what they want along with the nasturtium and zinnia.  The flowers seem to be the most successful of my plantings.  The kale is growing pretty well, too.  But these are plants that don't need any special care aside from watering when they are seedlings, so I can't really take much credit there.
  Tomatoes are another story.  I do not grow these from seed.  I take care to tie them up when the plants get tall enough.  I watch them closely.  But somehow, they just don't ever yield that much for me.  This year, I thought it would be different.  I purchased a few plants from Tina, a woman who sells starter plants at the Falmouth Farmers' Market every spring.  I figured I couldn't go wrong.  It all began so well, the plants were hardy.  They grew tall.  I tied them up.  They flowered and then the tiny green fruit came.  The fruit grew.  I checked every morning in anticipation.  Then one day, I found that something had eaten half of one of the tomatoes.  GRRRR.  Definitely not a rabbit, it was too high up.  Val suggested a raccoon.  No, my set up is so flimsy that a fat thief like that would likely pull it all down with its weight.  I tied tin pie plates and pinwheels to the stakes, hoping to deter squirrels.  But whatever that tomato eating varmint was, it was brave and wily enough to eat around my attempts to thwart it.
  Never mind.  I can and do always go to Val's for the best tomatoes, anyway.  Her rows of plants are neatly tied to strong metal netting and stakes.  Not a weed in sight along the well mulched paths between plants.  No, instead she has bright yellow, red and multi-colored Dahlias marking the rows of tomato plants.  It's ridiculously gorgeous and instagram worthy.  Maybe this is why I gave up the annoying task of weeding sometime back in July.  Because I know just down the street there is a garden paradise that I can access whenever I want?  The place where I pick juicy, red, ripe tomatoes that are not half eaten by raccoons or squirrels or whatever.  And if I don't have any time to pick them myself?  Well, somehow a small pile of them may magically appear on my kitchen counter while I am at work accompanied by a clipping from the local paper that she thought may interest me and my empty container that held the cookies I made for her last week.  That is definitely the easiest way that I know to grow tomatoes.

Sunlight on garden rows in late September
The heavens shining light on perfect rows of tomato plants

Flowers and plants growing in a country garden on Cape Cod
Strong metal stakes and wire netting keeping everything in check.

Garden Fresh Salsa
(makes a small bowl)

3 medium size ripe tomatoes
1 small jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed
1 small handful fresh cilantro or parsley leaves chopped to make about 1/4 cup
3 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
tortilla chips 

  Cut the tomatoes in quarters and gently squeeze out any excess juice and seeds.  Chop the seeded tomatoes into tiny pieces.  Finely chop the jalapeno, leaving out the membrane and seeds, unless you like a lot of heat.  Add the chopped cilantro or parsley.  Mix in the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and salt.  Allow flavors to meld for about 20 minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips and margaritas.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Holding on to Summertime

paddle board and Adirondack chair in the summer sun
 What is it about August that I dislike so much?  The hot, humid heat in the early part of the month is a given.  The sweaty, sticky feeling of the oppressive air at 6:00am, just as the sun is rising letting you know that you're in for another day of being trapped in doors, a slave to the A/C or putting your chair in the water while watching your hooligans at the beach.  There is absolutely no relief other than spending all day in the freezer aisle of the supermarket which is its own quiet hell especially while this town is still packed to the gills with tourists. And those neon ice pops and 2 for 1 ice cream deals will lull you into to believing that frozen dairy is a substantial enough dinner.
  Or maybe it's the thought of going back to school, back to reality?  That dull weight of feeling that it's the end of the summer, the end of fun, the end of freedom, the end of long days spent reading on the beach, wading in the waves, daydreaming while laying in the cool grass and looking up at the clouds floating through the bluest of skies. Wait-is this how the kids feel, or is it really me?  The kids seem a little sad but ready.  Their excitement to get back to school, back to friends, back to fall sports is a feeling I knew so well.  It's electric, the anticipation of possibility and what the school year might bring.  Exciting.
  I used to love back to school when I was their age, too.  I even loved it when I worked in retail long before they came into my life.  All those fall colors, heavy sweaters, tall leather boots and cool new denim styles.  I couldn't get enough of it. And when the kids were little and took so much of my daily energy just to keep them happy, clean, fed- alive, I was glad to get a little rest when Tuesday after Labor Day came around, again. But now, not so much.

 house overlooking dock on a salt river on Cape Cod
  Maybe it's because they are getting older and it's becoming so obvious that they need me less and less.  I can see the end to all this back to school stuff in sight, now.  I feel a little sad this year.  Ava is going into her second year of high school and my little man, Declan is finishing jr high.  There are not many more "back-to-schools" left before the college years begin.
  If I could just somehow bottle it all up, keep it going forever, now that would be something, wouldn't it?  Keeping all the best times: jumping off the dock on a perfect sunny day, puffy clouds in the sky, a light breeze in the air, feet in the sand, and forgetting about the bad times: when your thirteen year old boy doesn't understand why you won't let him dive head first from 12 feet high into the murky salt water below.  Then pouts with his back to you until Gramma Val arrives to buy him an ice cream.  (All better, now.)  In an effort to hold onto all of it til the bitter end, I'm trying to pack it all in: a trip to the water park, a Labor Day party at Val's house, as many hours spent on the beach and paddle boarding as humanly possible.  There are only a few days left until September swallows summer up and lazy afternoons on the beach turn into after school cheering for the kids on grassy fields, homework and sweatshirts.

homemade cucumber pickles

  When I am really desperate to hold onto summer, I make pickles.  How else to preserve all that bounty from the garden?  This year, my little garden produced lots of cucumbers and not much else.  Feel free to sub out other vegetables for this quick pickle, such as green beans or fresh corn.  If you are canning to save all this garden goodness for later this winter, please consult the correct canning instructions such as those found here:  Otherwise just quickly make this recipe and keep in the refrigerator.  Eat them within 2 weeks.

Quick Vegetable Pickle
(makes one 16 oz jar)

1 large cucumber, sliced 
1 jalapeno, sliced (remove seeds and membrane if you like it less spicy)
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt

  Pack sliced cucumbers and sliced jalapeno into a 16 oz canning jar.  Heat vinegar, water, sugar and salt until boiling.  Stir to dissolve sugar and salt.  Remove from heat and pour slowly over cucumbers and jalapeno in jar.  Allow to cool.  Cover tightly and store in refrigerator.  Enjoy within 2 weeks.