Sunday, December 23, 2018

Party Season

  I've often said, my grandmother, Edie, loved a party, an occasion, any type of gathering.  Especially if it was in honor of her.  Her birthday is December 30th.  It is only fitting that the following blog post details a memory of her entertaining style.

Party Season
  My grandmother, Edie, enjoyed entertaining.  However she was never one to slave in the kitchen or go to extremes cleaning her house before numerous guests arrived.  She just turned down the lights, lit some candles and prepared a few easy to put together bites along with an amply stocked bar then let the party begin.  With a shortage of caterers on Cape Cod back in the days when she was hosting cocktail parties for the upper crust of society in Falmouth, MA, she embraced any means of short cuts, and hacks-as we know them to be called today.  Her recipe file filled with newspaper and Women's Day magazine clippings is chock full of recipes using canned ingredients and speedy methods to keep the cook out of the kitchen and in the mix of the party.
  Sometimes Val happened to bring us kids for a visit the day after such an event.  I loved hearing the names of some of Grammy's guests: The Clausons, who owned a car dealership, The Faxon's, old money (hospital wing), The Eastmans, proprietors of the hardware store on Main Street, to name a few.  I imagined them dressed in their finest, helping themselves to such exotic delicacies as Vienna sausages, Swedish meatballs and Grammy's show stopping Mock Lobster Dip, molded into the shape of a fish and surrounded by Saltine Crackers.  The ice in their glasses of vodka or whiskey (light on the mixers), clinking as they chatted, gossiped and laughed in the dim lighting of the dining area and living room in Grammy's house in Greengate, the then  "it" neighborhood in Falmouth.
  It all seemed so glamorous to me.  After all, the only parties we hosted were children's birthday parties and the occasional cook out, fun but not very fancy.  I always wished to attend such a sophisticated soiree.  Finally, at fifteen years old, I was granted that wish, well, sort of.  My best friend, Jenny and I were asked to help out at one of Grammy's larger holiday cocktail parties.  We dressed up for the event: I wore a nicer sweater and a skirt and fixed my hair to look appropriate.  Our job was to take the guests' mink wraps, heavy overcoats, evening bags, and silk scarves and place them "carefully" on Grammy's bed.  We then snuck off to the kitchen to sample the "hors d'oeuvres" using fancy frill picks to stab the Swedish meatballs  and an elegant cheese spreader to smear globs of port wine cheddar on Triscuits.  Once the party got into full swing, Grammy relieved us of our duties and sent us off to my aunt's old bedroom for the night, where we laughed and giggled about the guests until we fell asleep.  In the morning, she was up before we were, still wearing her gold charm bracelets and sipping black coffee.  She made us breakfast: ice cold Tropicana Orange Juice and toasted Thomas' English Muffins slathered in melting peanut butter. When Val picked us up to go home, Grammy handed us each a check.  In the memo, written in her swirly script, "Party Help".
  I came across a letter the other day in that same unmistakable hand.  Grammy wrote me in 1997.  She had found a snapshot of me in a party dress taken when I was about seven years old.  On the flowered note card she congratulates me on a new job, hopes it's going well.  In the next sentence, she implores me to also take time for my social life.  "because it's really important not to be just a 
work-a-holic.  Work hard and play hard as long as you can- it makes life such more fun!"

Mock Lobster Dip
(for a party)

1 can crab meat
1 can tomato soup*
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (1/2 lb.) package cream cheese
1 package Knox gelatin
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped very fine
2 tablespoons onion (chopped fine, also)
1/4 cup chopped celery (fine)

  Melt cream cheese over low heat.  Add tomato soup until well blended.  Add gelatin and mayonnaise, stir well.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pour into greased mold.  Chill well before serving.**

* I am guessing that the soup should be condensed, preferably Campbell's
**Probably should chill overnight, at least 6-8 hours.

Grammy and Pressy  celebrating their December birthdays before a night on the town.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

My New Book: Notes From Val's Kitchen: Stories, Food and Life on Cape Cod

  So, I wrote a book.
  Well, actually, I put together a collection of my favorite blog posts from 2008-2016.  Can you believe I have been writing this blog for that long?  I definitely cannot.  The posts are organized by subject instead of dates which makes for an interesting analysis of my thoughts on my childhood, motherhood, my family and, of course, my friends.  It's all wrapped up in a paperback that you can snuggle up with in bed or throw in your beach bag.  The reading is light enough that you don't need to think much about it and most of my musings include recipes, too.  So you can make a snack or a cocktail or both if you want something to go with the entertainment.
  It's been a long journey, compiling the posts, editing and formatting.  Go easy on me if you find any errors, I hope there aren't too many that I've missed.  I had some superb help with the technical aspects from my friend, Patti Fitzgerald and great assistance from Stefanie Morrison with my grammar and punctuation.  There are so many people who are special to me mentioned in my stories, that I must thank. And thank you most of all to Val and Dick, my parents who inspire all of it.
  If you feel inclined to get a copy for yourself or someone else (makes a great gift!), please click on the link below.  By the way, I am always available for autographs especially if you bribe me with a cookie.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Falmouth Bulletin Throwback, December 2010: "Nutcracker Sweet"

  A throw back from my days when I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin.  This story appeared under the column: "Lessons From Val's Kitchen" in early December of 2010.  Eight years later, Ava is still in love with dance, still dancing in the Sea Captain's Nutcracker this weekend: November 24th and 25th.  However, she has graduated into one of the "older" dancers, now wearing satin pointe shoes and an icicle tiara.

Chocolate and Cherry Mice for your holiday table

Nutcracker Sweet

  "I’m so excited!”  Ava said as she rolled out of bed early this morning, her eyes still smudged with black liner and her long locks sticky with hair spray from dress rehearsal the night before. We were at the theatre pretty late last night just as we were all week for practice with the rest of the Sea Captain’s Nutcracker cast. Every night we left the theatre around 9:00pm, way past her usual bedtime of 7:30pm but every night she bounded down the concrete walkway under the light of the moon as if she was ready for more. Her energy is contagious which is a good thing because before she got up, I sat with my cup of coffee wondering how I was going to get through two performances. All of the mom’s had a job; mine was to help with the hair and makeup and thwarting inevitable backstage catastrophes like “Fritz” losing his only pair of white tights and the little sea pearl who suddenly has to use the bathroom as the stage manager calls “places everyone!”
  Ava never tired watching all of the “older” accomplished high school age dancers during the long practices at her dance school. I had to drag her out after each four hour session was finally over even though she spent such a short period of time practicing her own part and the rest of the time observing. It seems she just can’t get enough of satin pointe shoes and leg warmers.
Being involved in a large scale production is exciting but the costumes make it more so. Ava couldn’t wait to put on her mouse hat complete with pink and white felt ears, and sparkly gold whiskers made out of pipe cleaners. The outfits were over-sized and baggy. They made all the kids look like they were fat mice who had been stuck in the dryer for a cycle. The mice in the fight scene added a touch of comedy as they jumped and scurried about cheering and jeering. Of course, this scene was far too short in my opinion! But when the few minutes were over, Ava waited patiently back stage for her next part, eager to change into her  “sea glass” costume and color with her friends until she was called back to stage during Scene 3.
  I understand Ava’s excitement. The ballet always seemed so magical to me, and still does. Ever since my grandmother took me to Boston when I was about ten yrs old to see the Nutcracker, I have loved the music and hummed along, visions of Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in my head. Tchaikovsky’s music is my go to sound track for holiday baking. Just hearing the first few notes of the “Overture” gives me the motivation I need to wrap the last few gifts I have left to put under the tree. I took ballet as a child but retired my dance shoes around age eleven; I’m sure much to the relief of my dance teacher. I was a bit too uncoordinated and self conscious of my chubby body. And I could never get my legs stretched enough to even closely resemble a split. In spite of all this, my love for the music remains and every time I hear the horns announce the beginning of the “March” during the party scene, I recall the sparkly tutus, elegant dancers and elaborate decorations that remind me of Christmas. I played my worn Nutcracker CD the other day to get myself into the spirit of the season. Ava kicked off her shoes and pirouetted a few times across the kitchen floor, eventually crashing her long gazelle like legs into some furniture in our small house. She picked herself up and kept on going, unfazed by any obstacles and completely entranced in her love of dance.

Six year old Ava as "Lead Mouse" and Fourteen year old Ava as "Ice and Wind"

  I discovered these “mice” this summer at the 3 Dogs CafĂ©, Rockport, ME I duplicated them in my own kitchen to surprise Ava after her performance. Children love to eat the cute critters but a steady hand is needed to add the eyes, nose and ears. Enjoy these on your holiday buffet or any time of year!

dessert mice made out of maraschino cherries and Hershey Kisses with almond sliver ears sitting on top of an Oreo half
Chocolate Mice

Chocolate Mice
(Makes 24)

24 Hershey’s chocolate kisses
7 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 10 oz. jar maraschino cherries with stems
12 Oreo cookies
Slivered almonds (small package)
2 teaspoons instant coffee
Tooth picks

  Set out all ingredients needed: Unwrap kisses and place in a small bowl. Place 6 oz. semi sweet chips into a sauce pan and heat over very low heat, stirring frequently until melted, then remove from heat.  Select 24 cherries with stems attached, drain and place into a small bowl. Open Oreo cookies by slicing through filling with a small knife. Place open halves onto a lined baking sheet. Cull through almonds and place 48 unbroken slivers into a small bowl.  Moisten fingers with water and smooth out any dings and white marks on kisses.
Begin each mouse by holding a cherry by the stem and dipping it into melted chocolate spooning chocolate over cherry to completely cover. Drip off excess and place chocolate covered cherry on an Oreo half. Place a kiss on its side and gently press the flat end into the chocolate covered cherry to attach the head. Place 2 almond slivers into the chocolate just behind the flat edge of the kiss for ears.  Continue until all mice are made to this point.
 Place remaining ounce of semisweet chips into a microwave safe bowl. Add instant coffee and microwave at 30 second intervals until just melted. Stir until smooth.  Using a toothpick, dot eyes and a nose onto each mouse. Let mice set for 3-4 hours until firm. Store for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

This holiday season, Andrea Norris can be found humming along to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker while making treats at her home in East Falmouth, MA. For more recipes, go to:

Saturday, October 27, 2018

French for Beginners

forming gougeres with a piping bag

 "Boreees Noreees.  I had to choose a name for French class so, I chose Boris because it rhymes with Norris.  Borees Norees!"  Declan explained as he heaved his backpack off of his shoulder.  I don't think he thought I was paying close attention to him but I caught the twinkle in his eye and his smile just on the edge of a laugh as he waited for me to get the punchline.  I kept a straight face.
"Boris!?  Is that a French name?  It reminds me of Boris and Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle."
"Who are they?"
"Russian spies-never mind-do you have any homework to do?"
"Un, deux, troy, what comes next?"  Declan is now trying to count.  Just a few days into his first semester of French 1, he seems to be enjoying this idea of learning a foreign language along with assuming his "French" identity.  I guess it's all fun and games until he is forced to conjugate irregular verbs.
  I don't remember choosing a French name back in 7th grade, in my first ever French class but I do recall the assignment to create a menu for our own make believe restaurant complete with a fancy logo and menu design to house our list of delectable choices.  This was my French teacher's attempt to teach us a few food vocabulary words. I fashioned the cover for my extra-large menu out of the cardboard from an old shirt box and leftover fabric from Val's sewing projects.  I carefully cut out then glued the Kelly green checked fabric on with Elmer's. While I waited for the glue to dry, I used my best markers and my finest hand writing to list and describe entries of what I thought were the most sophisticated sounding French meals and treats: Steak Frites, Vin Rouge, Fromage, Mousse au Chocolat. Classic, typically French foods, items I found by researching Val's Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 5 in the section labeled "French Cookery". This was about as exotic as it got back in the Fall of 1981 as there was no Travel Channel or Food Network or even the all-encompassing internet for information gathering.
  My French restaurant was called, "Chez Andrea".  Actually, all of us named our establishments "Chez" plus our name.  Except for one incredibly defiant student who insisted on calling his by the grammatically incorrect: "Bill's Chez".  This was long before celebrity chefs where naming restaurants and pubs after themselves or by one descriptive word like "Olive" or "Prune".  Martha Stewart wasn't a household name and Emeril had yet to make his mark on the world.   So, we all thought we were on the cutting edge, way ahead of our time especially in our little town on Cape Cod.  Not to mention that most of us-mainly me, had never been to a restaurant that would have a fancy cloth covered menu such as the ones we were being asked to design along the lines of a chic Parisian bistro.  The only restaurants I knew featured cod and fried clams on their paper place-mat menus.
  But Declan is far more knowledgeable about his world outside of this tiny peninsula.  Cable T.V., the internet, and his own mother's ever curious palate have exposed him to far more interesting places, ideas and especially food.  But I have to give some credit to Val for my desire to constantly try out new dishes and seek inspiration from diverse countries and cultures.  She introduced us to chocolate eclairs filled with creamy, pastry cream and smeared with dark chocolate as well french onion soup made with rich beef stock, topped with melted cheese, not to mention many other specialties from various countries like spanakopita from Greece (successful) and samosas from India (thumbs down from her children). I won't forget the time she saved my 8th grade French project by suggesting we make Napoleons to serve to my classmates after I delivered my incredibly boring dissertation on the tiny French general.  No, it was Val who was ahead of her time in this small, then isolated town.  She was the one who went out of her way to research and try different, foreign recipes in her kitchen.  In spite of some (often) grumbling from her children who didn't always want to try "something new", Val kept at it, exposing us to a world outside of our own.  Although I don't have the courage to try out Finnan haddie, fried smelts or even eggplant Parmesan on my picky eaters, I do find the energy to push the boundaries, just a little.  We are having French toast for breakfast this morning.

 The name of these little morsels of delight may sound exotic, but they are crowd pleasers for the pickiest of palates.  My kids even like these!

This recipe from Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook  features extra Gruyere cheese.  If you can't find Gruyere, use Swiss or sharp cheddar.

(makes about 40)

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  Combine 1/2 cup water, the milk, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add the flour a bit at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms.  Cook, stirring until the dough pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes.
  Transfer the dough to a bowl and let cool about 1 minute.  Beat 1 egg at a time into the dough, incorporating thoroughly.  Add the cheese, nutmeg and some pepper.
  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or Silpat*). *Fill a disposable pastry bag with batter and snip off the tip.  Pipe 1-inch mounds onto the baking sheet, 1 inch apart.  Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until puffed and slightly golden.  Do not overcook.  Repeat the process with the remaining batter.  Serve while warm.
  The gougeres can be made ahead of time.  Once they cool, freeze in a sealed bag or container.  Reheat the puffs in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

*My suggestions. 

gougeres on Silpat

Food Blogger Pro Enrollment
Video in 2019 Summit

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Creamy Peach Ice Cream for Hot Summer Days

bowl of peach ice cream on a wooden table

 The flavors were either peach or strawberry.  Although everyone in our family and close friends know that Val's favorite flavor is chocolate chip.  Chocolate chip with real, thick hot fudge,  homemade whipped cream and topped with chopped walnuts.  I always felt special when she let me have the maraschino cherry with its dyed red stem and chewy candied fruit flesh that adorned the top of her sundae. But she never made chocolate chip ice cream.  It was always in July or August and always peach or strawberry.
  Fresh fruit in a custard base made rich and creamy with egg yolks, whole milk and heavy whipping cream.  It had to be a special occasion to haul out the old ice cream maker and buy the rock salt at Eastman's Hardware on Main Street and the bags of ice, already melting on the backseat floor of our green Oldsmobile by the time we made it back to East Falmouth.  The bright orange, heavy duty electrical cord ran from the socket in the kitchen by the phone just inside the back door, along the porch and ended at the machine under the oak tree that provided a bit of shade and extra insurance that the custard would chill enough on a wickedly humid, hot August afternoon.  The wooden bucket of the ice cream maker held the gray rock salt that cradled and cushioned the insulated metal canister attached to the paddle that was turned by the motor.  It let out a steady drone while it did its work, churning, incorporating air and slowly, oh so very slowly turning that magical mixture of dairy, egg yolks and sugar into ice cream.
  Typically, at that age, around seven to ten years old, I didn't really appreciate the uniquely delectable flavor of the rich, homemade ice cream. I much preferred more sweetly saccharin tastes and the slick mouth feel of a Dairy Queen soft serve covered in a hard candy shell- chocolate flavored liquid that froze moments after it was poured over the cold ice cream or the excitement of a trip to Friendly's, getting a scoop of bright pink watermelon sherbet covered in chocolate "Jimmies".  Homemade ice cream to me was just basic.  Like so many made from scratch food we ate during my childhood: homemade chocolate chip cookies made with real butter and Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels instead of Chips Ahoy, homemade bread for our lunchbox PB&J sandwiches instead of Wonder Bread, homemade pizza on Friday nights instead of take-out from the Greek place down the street.  I longed for the latest, store-bought food items that everyone else seemed to be eating instead of the meals and treats that my mother took the time and care to make at home, not yet realizing that many years later, I would crave the very recipes that I was pushing away.
  Now, I find myself looking to recreate those flavors today.  I am lucky to be able to send a quick text or make a phone call and just ask Val about the dishes she made, the recipe ingredients, to clarify the memories. And she, being so ridiculously organized, knows within minutes, exactly where each recipe can be found.  This one for Peach Ice Cream is located in volume #6 of the Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery published in 1966.  She still has the full edition of the "Encyclopedia" ready for reference on the bookshelves in the living room, for all the times I stop by to borrow a volume or two. 
  The instructions provided in these books are not always as precise as the recipes that are written today.  For instance, this ice cream calls for 2 cups sweetened crushed fresh peaches.  (Sweetened with sugar? How much? )  And there are no apologies for length of time spent in the kitchen, short cuts, hacks or dietary substitutions.  Just straight forward recipes describing what you want to make and how to do it.  I think of this as I begin to grow impatient while gently stirring the custard base over simmering water.  It's a slow process that one cannot speed up by increasing the heat or whirring the ingredients in a high powered blender.  To do it right, to attain the same flavor as I remember, there is only one method.  As I will myself to relax into my task, I realize that I don't want to change anything about it.  This stirring, and waiting and peeling fresh, ripe, juicy peaches is where I want to remain for the short time it takes while my memory of family, hot summer days and creamy, rich ice cream swirls around in my head.

old cook book featuring ice cream recipes and illustration

  Here is the Peach Ice Cream recipe with the same ingredients and basic method as the original.  I added more details to the directions to make it a bit more clear by today's standards in recipe writing and left out the information about cracked ice and rock salt....

Peach Ice Cream
(makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

6 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sweetened, crushed peaches (2 cups peaches plus 2-3 tablespoons sugar or more to taste), chilled 4-6 hours

  In the top part of a double boiler, beat egg yolks and milk with a wire whisk until well blended.  Add sugar and salt.  Cook, stirring constantly, over hot, not boiling water until the mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon.  Let cool for 10 minutes, then add cream and almond extract.  Refrigerate 4-6 hours before freezing in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.  Add 2 cups sweetened peaches half way through the freezing process.  Store ice cream in airtight containers in freezer.  Allow to set for 2-3 hours before serving. 

  This is a super quick ice cream recipe, one that I made to go along with the Peach Ice Cream since Chocolate Chip is my mother's ultimate favorite.  It was deemed a success and a lot easier to pull off, if you have less time and patience.

Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
(makes 1 1/2 quarts)

1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 oz. mini semi-sweet morsels

  In a bowl, whisk together the milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla and whisk to combine well.  
  Turn on ice cream maker and pour the mixture in, following the manufacturer directions.  Churn ice cream for about 25-30 minutes until frozen.  During the last five minutes, add the mini morsels and allow the paddle to incorporate them into the ice cream.  Scoop out ice cream into air tight containers and store in freezer.  Allow ice cream to firm up for 1-2 hours before serving.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Underwater Daydreaming

a cup of grape juice mixed with lemonade on a beach towel with a beach bag
Grape Juice and Lemonade, refreshing summertime beverage
 Sunscreen ran into my eyes and stung like crazy until I finally rubbed away the last bit of it.  Every time I re-emerged at the surface after diving under the waves, I wiped the salty water from my eyes with the tips of my fingers leaving my eyelids and the skin covering my cheekbones exposed to the strong summer sun.  There are snapshots of me in an old photo album with white blonde hair, burning red cheeks and freckles dotting the bridge of my nose.  I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt, after beach attire.  Smiling, big front teeth, the Harding teeth, "as big as Chiclets", my dad has always said.  Remember that gum?  Rectangles of smooth, hard candy shell encasing the chewy center, bright white spearmint or multi-colored "fruit" flavored in the orange box.  Shake the box to release one into your hand and pop it in your mouth.
  Soft waves at Chapoquoit beach,  I am diving underwater and opening my eyes to the world below the surface.  A blur of tan, orange, black and brown pebbles worn smooth by the surf.  Bright green seaweed attached to larger rocks, drifting and rocking back and forth with each surge of the water.  I held my breath for as long as I possibly could, for what seemed like five or even ten minutes to an eight or nine year old me.  In reality, it was more like thirty seconds.  I popped up through the water with a gasp into the bright sunlight, impossibly blue sky. 
  I spent a lot of time in the water day dreaming, playing, talking to myself.  No friends around to goof off with, they were all off doing something else: summer camp, visiting far away family, trips to Vermont.  I was compelled to make my own fun or play with my younger brother.  Lost in thought, daydreaming, bobbing up and down in the waves, I can't recall what I played at or thought about during all those hours swimming at the beach, only how it felt to float on my back in the salt water as my body drifted a few feet away and my mother yelled for me to come back in front of her to where she could see and watch over me.
  None of Declan's friends were at the beach the other day.  There is usually a crew of boys who spend their time fishing off the dingy dock then running over to jump off the big dock at high tide, after that start a pick-up game of Wiffle ball on the sand behind the life guard chair until they jump back into the water again. They expend a lot of energy running around the beach, but not this day.  All was quiet.  Elderly couples reading hard cover novels checked out from the library down the street, moms with infants and toddlers nestled under umbrellas.  And me. No one any twelve year old boy would want to hang out with.  The tide was too low for jumping off the big dock.  He spent a few minutes fishing until the bolt from his rod flew into the water rendering his reel useless.  There was nothing left to do.
  "Mom, do you want to go in the water with me?"  He must have been really desperate.
  We floated in the shallow water near the sandbar, only a few feet deep, watching minnows and hermit crabs scurry away from the monstrous and terrifying shadows our bodies made from the sun's reflection. Declan dove under the water, making his body shimmy like the tiny fish just below the surface then flipped himself onto his back to float near me.  I managed to keep my head, hat and sunglasses from touching the water by moving my arms back and forth and my feet out in front of me, hot pink polished toenails poking through,  just like my mother used to do.  She never wanted to get her hair wet, either.  As he rested, with his eyes shut, the salt water keeping him afloat, he asked me,
  "When you were a kid, did you open your eyes underwater?"
  I smiled and did a small inaudible laugh, the kind when you suck in a little air, my voice not making any noise,
  "Yes", I said.  "Yes, I did."

three kids at the edge of the water at the beach

  Val always packed a lunch for the beach and brought along some juice for us to drink.  Her summer specialty was Welch's grape juice and lemonade made from frozen concentrate and stored in her Tupperware juice container.

Grape Juice and Lemonade
(makes a large container of juice)

1 can (purple) Welch's Grape Juice frozen concentrate (11.5 oz.)* 
1 can frozen lemonade concentrate (11.5 oz.)*
ice cubes

  Allow both cans of concentrate to melt.  Mix each can according to package directions in two different containers.  In a third container combine 1/2 of each mixed juice.  Add enough ice cubes to keep cold.  Place in cooler with plastic cups.  Bring to the beach.

* Newman's Own Virgin Lemonade and Newman's Own Grape make perfect substitutes for the frozen concentrate(s) mixed with water.  Just combine equal parts of each and serve over ice.  Val would approve.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Annual Fourth of July Parade and Picnic: Where Does the Time Go?

family at boat harbor on July 4th

  In just a few days, it will be time for the annual fourth of July parade and picnic. After a long winter and school finally letting out for the summer, everyone is ready to celebrate with family and friends.  We are already feeling nostalgic, my friend Deb and I, about this event as our oldest children blossom into teenagers and the youngest are not far behind.  How much longer will they indulge their mothers by dressing in red, white and blue, waving flags in the air and actually hang out with us?
  I began dragging my family to the 4th of July parade in the tiny village of Quissett, MA when Ava was about three and Declan, already walking but still a pudgy baby, barely a toddler.  Deb tipped me off to this quaint, little parade with it's low key vibe, grass roots gathering styled mixed with a little humor about current politics as the participants dressed in costume and made signs to illustrate their point.  An ultimately patriotic celebration along a small harbor nestled between Woods Hole and Sippewisett at base of the Knob.

July 4th parade in Quisset, MA on Cape Cod

Spectators and bike riders in annual Quisset, MA July 4th parade

  Early on the morning of the 4th, year after year, I drag out my decorations: finds from Christmas Tree Shops, Job Lot and the Dollar Store.  I've decorated strollers, wagons, bikes and bike helmets, adhering stars and stripes pinwheels, tiny flags, sparkly stars and bunting with duct tape.  My work makes me sweat as the time ticks by and the sun rises in the sky.  I holler for Rob when it's time to load it all into the car, carefully, as not to disturb all of my handiwork.  I watch over him as he struggles to make it all fit and curse and threaten when he appears to not be taking enough care with my works of art.
kids on wagon on fourth of July
boy on bike decorated with American flag

  Of course, this part of the day never takes place in advance.  There is no pre-planning organization unlike most happenings in the rest of my life.  Independence Day always seems to creep up on me.  The inevitable snow day make-ups for school tacked onto the end of the school year force us to keep the academic schedule until the very end of June.  The last day of school finally comes and I can barely take a breath before it's time to dig out the patriotic gear and get ready to celebrate the birth of our nation.
  As if all of the decorating weren't enough, once all of the wagons, bikes, chairs, umbrellas and blankets are loaded up, it's time for me to focus in the kitchen.  Of course, there needs to be snacks for such an event.  We cannot survive on the melting Hershey Kisses and slimy peppermints tossed haphazardly to parade spectators by children riding in their grandparents' cars adorned with painted poster board and red, white and blue streamers.  No.  That won't do.  After all, it will be close enough to lunch time when the parade finally passes by the second time and leads everyone to the grassy hill with a view overlooking the harbor where there are cold cans of cheap beer and a bathroom in the old clubhouse perched at the top.  Someone starts the crowd singing a few public-spirited songs: The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. The kids run around and make forts under the few tall bushes along the old wooden fence using the towels and blankets I brought for the adults to sit on.  We dragged our wagons filled with coolers, chairs and umbrellas onto the grass.  Deb begins to set up a luxury picnic area  and demands her in-laws be seated before the kids steal all of our stuff.  She has a fold-out picnic table and multiple coolers filled with Prosecco, ice, cold beers and drinks for the kids, too.  We've figured it out after a number of years.  She brings the drinks and I bring the sandwiches, chips and cookies.  My menu hasn't changed much since the first picnic.  Roast beef with "Russian" dressing and Quick Pickled Onions, Turkey with mango chutney and crisp garden lettuce, both piled high onto palm-size snowflake rolls: small round balls of Portuguese bread, soft and pillowy.  They are the perfect size to hold in your hand while you hold a glass of bubbly in the other.   Those, salty, crunchy, Cape Cod Potato Chips, (duh), one bag for those grubby kids hands and one for the adults.  To top it all off, a fresh batch of All-American Chocolate Chip Cookies-easy to transport.  I love it when the dark chocolate chips get cold when the Ziploc bag of cookies ends up at the bottom of the cooler with the ice packs.
  When we pass the cookies around, that's the signal to begin packing up.  A few cups of Prosecco or a couple of beers in the midday sun calls for a nap or a dip in the ocean.  We have most of the day and a lot of celebrating still ahead.  Time to enjoy the beach and get ready for whatever festivities this holiday brings.  But for now, our bellies are full and there is a relaxed contentment in the air.  And for me, I'm just happy that my kids consented to another year at the annual 4th of July parade.
little girls at July 4th parade

celebrating July 4th at the harbor in Quisset, MA

celebrating July 4th in patriotic gear with flags
Baby celebrating July 4th

  These sandwiches are super easy.  A couple of  sauces that jazz up everyday cold cuts make them seem fancier than they really are.

Roast Beef Sandwiches with "Russian Dressing"
(makes about 8 small sandwiches)

1 pound thinly sliced deli roast beef
1 1/2 cups "Russian Dressing"  (see recipe below)
pickled red onions (see recipe below)
8 Portuguese snowflake rolls* or small slider buns

  Slice rolls in half.  Slather Russian Dressing on both sides of bread.  Be generous but not sloppy.  Layer one slice of roast beef onto each half of bread.  Place a few pickled onions on top of roast beef of one half, being careful to shake off any excess liquid.  Put sandwich together and wrap in wax paper.  Store sandwiches individually wrapped in wax paper in a larger container so that they stay neat in the cooler.

*Portuguese snowflake rolls can be found in most Portuguese bakeries.  They are tiny versions of Portuguese bread and perfect for finger sandwiches.

  Not exactly sure why this is "Russian" but this is my version of the popular deli classic.

"Russian Dressing"
(makes about 1 3/4 cups dressing)

3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 heaping Tablespoons dill pickle relish
2 teaspoons French's Classic Yellow Mustard
1 teaspoon spicy horseradish
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 pinch each salt and pepper

  Mix all ingredients together.  Keep refrigerated up to one week.

Quick Pickled Onions
(makes about 1 cup)

1 red onion, cut in half, then sliced
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pickling spice (bundled in cheese cloth and tied with kitchen twine)

  Slice the onion in half then slice each half of red onion and place in a small saucepan.  Add vinegar, water and sugar.  Stir to combine.  Place pickling spice onto a square of cheese cloth about 4" by 4" and tie the ends with kitchen twine.  Add bundle to onion mixture.  (If you don't have pickling spice, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and some dry mustard sprinkled into the onion mixture will do the trick.)  Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and allow onions to cool in vinegar and spices.  Refrigerate onions submerged in pickling liquid for up to one week.

  Another ridiculously easy picnic sandwich recipe....

Turkey and Mango Chutney Sandwiches
(makes about 8 small sandwiches)

1 pound deli turkey, sliced thin
1 jar Crosse & Blackwell Hot Mango Chutney
1 small head fresh lettuce 
8 Portuguese snowflake rolls

  Slice rolls in half.  Spread chutney on each half of bread.  Layer one piece of turkey on each half of bread.  Rip a few pieces of lettuce so that it fits neatly on the snowflake roll and just hangs off the edge.  Place lettuce in between the two halves of bread, in between turkey layers.  Wrap each sandwich in wax paper. Place individually wrapped sandwiches in a container to keep them neat in the cooler.

All American Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 36 cookies)

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup Crisco
3/4 sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

  Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  Mix butter, Crisco, sugar and brown sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add eggs and mix well to combine.  Add salt, baking soda and vanilla.  Mix well, again.  Remove bowl from mixer and add flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated.  Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.  Drop by teaspoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets (silicone baking mats or parchment paper).  Bake for 9-11 minutes until edges and tops are golden brown.  Allow to cool for a few minutes on the pan, then remove cookies to racks to cool.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Natives are Restless for Strawberries

ripe strawberries in a glass dish

There is a sense of urgency in the air.  No, not because we are heading into the last week of school and the kids are running here and there, needing extra cash for the multitude of activities their teachers have planned to keep them entertained and all the bag lunches that are waiting to be packed, not to mention the last minute morning scramble:
"I need a beach towel!"
"Where's my bathing suit?"
"Mom, did you sign my permission slip??!!"
"Don't forget to pick me up after school today!"
  All that madness is enough to send me right over the edge but that is not why I am feeling antsy.  To be honest, although I try to be as organized as possible and get upset with myself if I forget something for the kids, there is actually something far more important occupying my thoughts at the moment: it's native strawberry season on Cape Cod.  The fleeting moment of the year, the few weeks at the end of June when I need to eat until I am stuffed and jam my freezer full of the the delectable, tiny red berries to get myself through the winter. 
  I am not alone in my strawberry madness.  It's a mad dash to Tony Andrews Farm in East Falmouth to get the berries before they sell out every day.  I've written about this before.  My insanity is over obtaining the most delicious, sweet strawberries on the planet.  Pretty much everyone I know who grew up here longs for the native strawberries sliced and macerated in a bit of sugar, spooned over biscuit shortcake and smothered in whipped cream.  My aunt Janet arrived on Friday from New Hampshire where she has resided for most of my life and has gorged herself on the sweet treat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Although she will make a few more trips back to Cape Cod this summer to enjoy the beach and visit with family and friends, she knows those strawberries will be gone by the beginning of July.  We will all gather for Fathers' Day celebrations and again on my dad, Dick's birthday this week.  The dessert featured on the menu?  Strawberry Shortcake, of course!  There is no need to bake them in a cake, puree them into a cold soup or mask them between flaky pie crust.  We can save those techniques for frozen berries that have been hoarded away when we need our fix in the middle of January.  Now is the time to barely mess with the goodness Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.
  This June, I have been the lucky recipient of a multitude of strawberries from Val's garden.  Tiny, oh so sweet and just begging to be popped into my mouth as they sit on the kitchen counter ready to be devoured.  Sometimes we just slice them into a small dish and pour a little heavy cream over them.  The simplest of pleasures.  Then there is my Strawberry Shortcakes recipe however, Val makes hers with Bisquick from the recipe on the back of the box but if you don't have any on hand, this recipe uses pantry staples.  I usually forget to buy Bisquick so I had to make due somehow. Don't forget the whipped cream that Val heaps on top stating, "It's mostly air!"  Really, in fact, this makes a pretty healthy meal when you think about it.  Fresh, native fruit, dairy and a little carbs.  If that's not enough to justify eating as much as you can, remember strawberry season only comes once a year.

  The biscuits often outlast the strawberries until we can pick up more at the farm down the street. In the humid, Cape Cod weather, biscuits tend to go stale overnight.  Instead of throwing the stale ones into the compost and going through the effort of making more short cakes, I created this recipe.

strawberries, whipped cream and biscuit crumbles in a tall glass

Strawberry Shortcake Parfait
(serves 4)
Leftover biscuits
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pinch of salt
2 pinches granulated sugar

Berry Mixture:
1 quart fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

  Crumble biscuits into a food processor or blender.  Pulse a few times to make large crumbs. Melt butter in a medium sized frying pan over medium low heat.  Add two cups of crumbs, a pinch of salt and two pinches of sugar.  Cook for fifteen minutes, stirring frequently until the crumbs dry out and become crisp.  Remove from heat and cool completely.

Meanwhile, macerate the berries.  Slice the strawberries into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add 1/2 cup sugar.  Let rest until ready to serve.

Mix the whipped cream.  Add heavy cream, 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Cover the whole operation with a dish towel to prevent cream from splattering all over your kitchen.  Whip cream on high for 1-2 minutes until thickened.

To serve: create layers in tall glasses by spooning a few tablespoons of crumbs on the bottom, a couple of tablespoons of berries and juice over the crumbs and topping the berries with 2-3 tablespoons of whipped cream.  Repeat the layers until the glass is filled.  Eat immediately and enjoy!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Summer Bucket List 2018 on Upper Cape Cod

Summer Bucket List 2018, Upper Cape Cod, Falmouth, MA

 Summer is finally creeping up on our seasonal town.  The first few weeks of June are filled with seemingly endless end of school year activities, dance recitals and baseball games which give way  to the last day of school with a huge collective sigh.  The promise of the next ten weeks filled with fun, activities and hopefully a few lazy days lounging on the beach fill my mind.  Labor Day seems light years away and I'm ready to focus on my Summer Bucket List.
  I look forward to summer vacation with heavy anticipation beginning as soon as April vacation ends. After a long, stormy winter,  I am so ready for warmer weather and beach days.  The sun setting later, strawberries, basil and tomatoes, ice cream for dinner, outdoor showers, morning dew on the grass, the smell of Coppertone on my skin and sand between my toes.  My Summer Bucket List is pretty simple but it's filled with all the things I plan to do.  Best of all, I've kept it easy this year.  Pretty much everything takes place in Falmouth, MA  or in a town close by (the Upper part of Cape Cod). The only exception is a quick trip to Martha's Vineyard but the ferry leaves from Falmouth.
  Living here is a gift but my life gets busy and it's easy to allow a boring to-do list to take over instead of enjoying what is right in front of me.  My Summer Bucket List is a pledge to myself and my family that I will take the time to savor my surroundings and celebrate this beautiful place with the ones I love.  I hope you plan a bucket list of your own or steal mine, if you want. These are the fun things I plan to do in Summer 2018:

Hike the Knob: The Knob, located in Woods Hole, MA has two short trails that lead to a spectacular view of Quissett Harbor and Buzzards Bay.  On a clear day, you can see New Bedford to the west, the Cape Cod Canal entrance to the north and the Elizabeth Islands to the south. Bring a cup of coffee to sip as you sit on the granite bench commemorating Cornelia Carey, the woman who donated this land to conservation so that everyone could enjoy its beauty.

4th of July Parade:  There are actually quite a few 4th of July Parades that take place yearly in tiny
men marching in 4th of July parade, dressed in colonial clothes
Annual 4th of July Parade, Quissett, MA
villages in Falmouth on July 4th.  They are typically very grassroots with kids riding decorated bikes and perhaps a vintage car or two with passengers waving flags.  Look in the local paper or on social media sites for times.  I like to go to the Quissett parade that kicks off sometime around 11:00am (these events are pretty laid back).  It features a homemade dragon manned by a dozen people and  satire of a current political theme which I don't always understand!

brightly lit ferris wheel against the night sky
Ferris Wheel
Barnstable County Fair: I have been going to the Barnstable County Fair ever since I can remember.  It's dusty, hot and has all of the junk food you can possibly imagine.  There are all sorts of rides to make your stomach turn
and games to play and waste your money trying to get the big prize.  In the exhibit halls, you can
find local entries of baked goods, jellies, pickles, home grown vegetables, arts and crafts.  It's exciting to enter something then go to the fair to see if we won the blue ribbon in our category.  Val always seems to take home a glorious prize like "Best in Show" or the state award for her divine produce.

beach sunset girl in sweatshirt
Sunset after an early evening swim

Pizza at Sunset:  Pack the cooler with drinks, grab a hot pizza to go and head to the beach.  Be sure to wear your suit for a swim in the water that's been warmed all day from the sun.  The best places to view the sunset in Falmouth are Chapoquoit Beach and Old Silver Beach.  Order your pizza from West Falmouth Market where they have homemade dough and all sorts of toppings.  Enjoy Mother Nature's spectacular nightly show.

Ice Cream Tour:  Sampling ice cream at various ice cream shops and documenting all the new flavors we try out on a long list near the summer calendar is a favorite of ours.  We will be sure to check out Smitty's Homemade Ice Cream, Somerset Creamery, Four Seas, Eulinda's and Polar Cave to name just a few.

kids eating ice cream in front of ice cream parlor
Can't get enough of Smitty's Homemade Ice Cream

Mini Golf:  There must always be a summer mini-golf excursion, followed by ice cream, of course
boy putting on mini golf green
Mini golf, family fun
(see above).  The perfect early evening adventure after a day at the beach that the entire family can enjoy.  Everyone is happiest when mom wins.  Cataumet Crossing covers both golf and ice cream.  Head to  Sandwich Mini Golf then conquer your ice cream appetite at
  Ice Cream Sandwich
Falmouth Farmers' Market:  Every Thursday from Memorial Day until Columbus Day, the Falmouth Farmers' Market is located at Falmouth Harbor from 12:00pm-6:00pm, rain or shine. You can find all sorts of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as mouth watering baked goods, jams, jellies and even fresh, hot apple cider donuts! Enjoy the ocean breeze and the view of the harbor as you shop and support local business.

Falmouth Commodores Games:  The Falmouth Commodores are part of the Cape Cod Baseball
baseball players in an outdoor dugout
Falmouth Commodores game
League where talented college players from all over the country come to play and be scouted.  The games are free, donations are gratefully accepted.  Where else can you sit under the stars and watch a relaxing and often exciting game of baseball?  Bring a blanket or a beach chair, get a hot dog and a soda at the snack bar and sit back and enjoy one of the best summer pastimes.

Beach TourIn Falmouth, we are lucky to have so many choices when it comes to going to the
beach.  Hit the west side of town for beaches that offer the best sand bars at low tide.  Want a view of Martha's Vineyard?  Then stick to the town beaches near the center of town and East Falmouth. Feel like floating down a lazy river? Bring your boogie board to Wood Neck Beach where the tide rushes through. No matter your choice,  every beach has it's own personality.  That's why we spend a week in August making sure we visit at least every beach in Falmouth at least once.

kids with boogie boards at the beach
Ready to boogie at Wood Neck Beach

Martha's Vineyard: Jump on a ferry in Woods Hole or at Falmouth Harbor and enjoy a thirty minute boat ride to the island of Martha's Vineyard.  Oak Bluffs is a scenic town with local shops, America's oldest carousel where you can try to grab the brass ring and a neighborhood of tiny gingerbread cottages at Oak Bluffs Campground to name just a few things to explore and do within walking distance of the ferry dock. A great idea for a day long excursion that can be taken at the spur of the moment.

kids on ferry to Martha's Vineyard
ferry ride to Martha's Vineyard

Breakfast at the Village Cafe: I love to go out for breakfast.  One of my favorite spots is the
window view from Village Cafe, West Falmouth, MA
Village Cafe, West Falmouth MA
Village Cafe  in West Falmouth, open only for the summer season. Their gooey, frosted cinnamon rolls are not to be missed.  But there are a lot of great places to go fill up on great food before hitting the beach for a long day in the sun.  Other favorites include: Pie in the Sky a funky bakery in Woods Hole, love those popovers and  Mary Ellen's Portuguese Bakery  a local favorite for linguica and eggs.

S.U.P (Mastery):  This one's for me.  I finally bought myself a
stand up paddle board.  But here's the truth:  I don't know how to use it.  So, my goal is to get out there and paddle around small inlets at Menahaunt Beach and the marsh side of Chapoquoit Beach.  My plan is to get good at it so that I can at a moment's notice, pack up my car and get on the water to enjoy this beautiful place I call home.  If you want to do the same but don't have your own SUP, check out Mocean in Mashpee Commons.  They rent all sorts of gear. Excellent, friendly service and a local business I like to support.

Happy Summer!