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: https://www.bhg.com/recipes/how-to/preserving-canning/canning-and-preserving-charts/  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.

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Saga of the Summertime Berry Tarte

berry tarte with flower pie crust cut outs and knife

 I've written about all of this before in stories about my personal issues with being competitive: http://www.notesfromvalskitchen.com/2008/07/andrea-norris-aka-sarah-vallely-or-whos.html and how I have passed these tendencies onto my own children:   http://www.notesfromvalskitchen.com/2017/07/best-in-show.html
For a while, I was able to let most of it go, to mainly support my children in their efforts. I matted and framed various pieces of their artwork, helped them come up with recipes and even assisted pulling hot baked goods out of the oven when the timer went off if the cook was a  little too scared to handle it.  But this year, I could not quell the urge.  I needed to enter something in the Barnstable County Fair and I really wanted to win a blue ribbon.
  I have been craving and working on various pie projects throughout the year.  Pinterest, other cooking blogs and instagram have stoked the flame of trying to attain perfection or at the very least, some very tasty treats.  In February, when I am at my most bored, I entered a pie contest thrown by Providence Performing Arts Center in honor of their production of "Waitress", a musical about love and pie.  Although the person in charge of entries emailed back with a very positive response, I heard nothing else about my sweet/tart "Pucker Up Pie" made with a raspberry Nilla Wafer crust, a tart lemon filling and raspberry whipped cream on top.  I am still wondering what the winning recipe was. I have been tinkering with savory pies topped with roasted red peppers and caramelized onions, sweet hand pies with peaches and raspberries and even brought out some old stand by's like strawberry rhubarb and apple.  So, it should come as no surprise that I thought I would be up to the task of taking home a blue ribbon from the Barnstable County Fair with a pie creation this year.
  Inspired by so many pretty pie photos on the internet, decorative tops of pie crust cut out leaves and flowers and dusted with sugar, cooked until golden brown, I decided that this creative touch could mean the difference when it comes to winning.  Also, I wouldn't make a traditional American pie, instead, I went with a more "European" style tarte but still using regular pie crust.  My test tarte looked beautiful as it went into the oven, pretty cut out flowers adorned the top of it, filled with blueberries and strawberries.  And when it came out, bubbling fruit juices and crispy, flaky crust, it looked good, too, except for those pesky purply colored blueberry drips that ran down the sides.  I decided I could perfect this and felt confident that all would be well with another tarte I would actually deliver for judging.
  An interesting story must have some sort of conflict.  The second tarte that was supposed be absolutely gorgeous, showing ultimate pie baking skills and  without any fruit juice drips, was not what I expected.  Sure, it was pretty and looked scrumptious but those darn blueberry stains dripping down the sides of the crust, sent me stomping out of the kitchen.  There was no way I had time to recover before the baked entries were due on Monday morning at 8:00am.
 That night, in bed,  I tossed and turned and kept myself up way past midnight trying to think of a recipe that was creative and delicious enough to grab me a top prize.  I finally came up with one: scones made with white and dark chocolate and studded with dehydrated strawberries.  I called them, "Strawberries Love Chocolate Scones" because I believe that a good name can help my cause. 
  When I woke up at 5:00am on Monday morning, I got to work right away and popped the scones in the oven, typed up the recipe, drizzled the scones with chocolate and decorated them with strawberries.  I was ready just in time with my scones and the kids' entries: S'Mores Cake made by Ava and Declan's  "Breakfast Candy": caramels made with maple syrup and bacon.  As Ava and I gently loaded up the car as not to jostle any of our delicate work, Ava asked my where my tarte was.
"Oh, I don't think I am going to enter it.  It doesn't look perfect." I said, trying not to sound as deflated as I felt.
"Mom, it's not supposed to.  The contest is for amateurs, not professionals.", she said.
So true.  And I was acting a little like a prima donna, not at all setting a good example for the kids, especially when I nearly had a tantrum the night before over the whole thing.  I begrudgingly went in the house and quickly wrapped up my "Summertime Berry Tarte".  "At least, I should win something for my scones.", I thought to myself.
  The ladies who take in all the baked items before judging fawned over the tarte and were equally upbeat about the scones but their excitement is no indication of winning.  They are just happy to be allowed to taste some of the entries once the judges are through.  As I walked out the door, I knew I needed to release my mental hold on winning.  So, I did my best to put it out of my mind until Thursday, when we would be back to enjoy the fair: the junk food, the rides, the petting zoo and perhaps, the prizes.
  This story ends with me beating myself up for being my own worst critic.  Clearly the judges felt differently about my scones and my tarte.  Those what-I -thought-would-be blue ribbon winning scones, only won a red, second place ribbon, beaten out by some fancy red and green sprinkled cookies. But the tarte was the real break out surprise.  They awarded highest scores for flavor, texture, uniform shape, degree of difficulty and even neatness/appearance.  I guess there is something to be said about an amateur attempt at making something delicious even if it is not absolutely perfect in every way.  My being ridiculously overly competitive with myself to the point of almost self sabotage is not my best showing through.  So, let me please remember this as I gaze upon the fancy red, white and blue ribbon bestowed upon my work.  And let me come up with something even better for next year's competition.

Feel free to substitute other berries or even use chopped peaches and plums.  Just be aware, those fruit juices tend to drip down the sides during baking, no matter what you do to try and stop it from happening.

Summertime  Berry Tarte
(makes one tarte)

Tarte dough:
1 cup All Purpose flour, plus more for rolling out
1/3 cup Crisco
2 tablespoons cold butter
pinch of salt
¼ cup water

1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt

3 tablespoons milk or cream
¼ cup turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Using a large mixing bowl, combine
1 cup flour, Crisco, butter and salt with a pastry cutter until small, pea
size pieces form.  Slowly add water and combine until mixture comes
together and cleans sides of bowl.  (You may not need all of the water.)
Form dough into a round and wrap with plastic.  Place in refrigerator.

In another bowl, combine berries, sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg and salt. 

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Roll out on a floured board to
approximately 12” in diameter.  Gently place rolled out dough over an
8” tarte shell, laying the dough inside and touching the bottom of the
tarte pan.  Using a rolling pin, roll over the top of the tarte pan to cut
the dough.  Set the tarte pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet lined with
parchment.  Pour the fruit filling inside the tarte shell.  Using very small
cutters such as the type for cake decorating, cut out flowers and leaves
with the leftover rolled out dough.  Brush each cut out with milk and
place in a decorative pattern over the fruit in the tarte shell.  Continue
until the tarte is completely decorated.  Sprinkle turbinado sugar over
the top of the decorations and fruit.  Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes
until the edges of the dough are golden and fruit is bubbling.  Remove
from oven and allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

blue ribbon and best in show ribbon


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Miss Kentucky

    My friend, Deb loves winter.  She spends most of it at her escape home in New Hampshire where she gets her fill of downhill and cross country skiing, fireside dinners and snuggling under heavy blankets to keep warm.  But summer on Cape Cod is really where it's at for this Irish-American girl with roots in Kentucky. 
  Without fail, every year, on July 4th, at the annual Quissett village parade complete with decorated antique cars and kids on bikes tossing candy to spectators, she laments, "Summer is almost over!" as she waves a flag and cheers on the bagpipes and folks dressed in Revolution era costumes.
  Ah, no.  It's really just beginning as the kids have only been out of school for a week.  But Deb likes to make the most of everything.  To squeeze out every moment and enjoy it all to its fullest.
  So, here I am writing during the last week of July, reminding her (and me) that we are actually only half way through at this point on the calendar.  There is so much more fun to be had, sunsets on the beach, midday dips in the ocean , cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from the garden and ice cream heaped on cones dripping down our arms.
  We should all have a friend like Deb.  I can stop by anytime, still wearing my bathing suit at 6pm, dirty, sandy beach feet that I have not yet had time to rinse off and a messed up head of hair from my large brimmed beach hat.  It is summer, after all.  So, when she says, "Tap on over for a drink."  while Ava is at dance (tap) class down the street from her home, I don't hesitate.  I know she means it.
  I love that Deb puts together sliced salami, sharp cheddar cheese, pepperoncini and Ritz crackers.  I bring my new creation, "Fancy Cocktail Popcorn" to test out on her because I know she is game to try just about anything I make. She drags a wooden bench next to two Adirondack chairs on the terrace by her front door where marigolds, lavender and parsley are mingled together in over sized terracotta pots, white lights strung on the pergola overhead and a fan, plugged in and placed by our feet to compensate for the sticky summer heat and lack of a breeze on this late July evening.
  In honor of Deb's Kentucky heritage on her mom's side, I created a cocktail with bourbon and gently sweetened peach iced tea.  Mint and frozen raspberries and peach slices round it out and dress it up.  Although, it's really Craig, her husband and high school sweetheart, who is the whiskey drinker, Deb embraces the concept of a Kentucky bourbon or even and Irish whiskey cocktail to honor her ancestors on both sides of her family.  She praises how pretty the drink looks as I snap a few photos.  She takes a few tiny sips but I know, that she is ready to switch over to her signature beverage: Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay poured over a large wineglass filled with ice. 
 We savor the moment on this summer night, have a quick catch-up, then it's time for me to get going to pick up Ava from class.  I think about the perfect ending to this hot, humid July day.  It is just about over and I'm ready to get out of my bathing suit and into my pajamas.  As the sun begins to set behind the tall pines in Deb's yard, I back the car out of her driveway, take a deep breath and think to myself, "I'm so glad this summer is far from over."

  This is a refreshing way to drink bourbon on a hot summer night.  Named in honor of my dear friend who's mother hails from Kentucky.  
Miss Kentucky
(makes one cocktail)

 1 1/2 oz. bourbon
4 oz. sweetened peach iced tea (see recipe that follows)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
4-6 mint leaves, plus a few for garnish
frozen peach slices 
frozen raspberries

  Fill a shaker full of ice.  Add bourbon, iced tea and lemon juice.  Crush mint leaves in your hands and add to shaker.  Shake vigorously for 30 seconds until your hands stick to the shaker.  Strain into an ice filled rocks glass.  Garnish with extra mint leaves, peach slices and raspberries.

Sweet Peach Iced Tea
(makes 18 oz.)

4 Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion tea bags
18 oz. boiling water
1 tablespoon honey

  Steep the tea bags in a large heat proof container of boiled water for a few hours until cooled to room temperature.  Remove tea bags and discard.  Mix in honey until dissolved.  Store tea in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.