Friday, May 25, 2018

Cocktails and Hors D'oeuvres

 My grandmother planted snap dragons by the breezeway door.  She hated salad and never missed her nightly cocktail. And since we are coming up on the end of May, it reminds me that she insisted on celebrating the summer holidays with a cook out at her house on Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day.
  My mother, being a dutiful daughter, agreed to bring the three of us kids while my father was out shell fishing for extra money, his night time summer job after a long day working for the local electric company.  I'm sure he preferred the quiet of the bay over the raucous opinionated arguments that inevitably surfaced around Grammy's kitchen table at these events.
 "Come over around 5:00 pm for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres." Grammy said in her sing song voice. (She never referred to pre-dinner snacks as, "appetizers".  It would have been gauche.)  My mother knew what that meant.  Never one to have a drink herself as she hated the taste of alcohol, she braced herself for a potentially long evening, the kind that drags on forever if you are the only one in the group not partaking.  She would need to take control of the reigns upon arrival.
  The cocktails consisted of your choice of vodka or whiskey purchased in gallon jugs and an array of mixers from cranberry juice to various flavored, sometimes flat, plastic liter bottles of soda.  Grammy and her husband, "Pressy", short for his middle name, Prescott, favored at the time vodka mixed with Fresca, that bracing grapefruit flavored soft drink, on the rocks, light on the Fresca.
 The bar was well stocked.  Er, crammed with sticky bottles jammed into the corner counter space behind the kitchen T.V.  I could barely pour myself a soda or a cranberry juice, which the kids were allowed to do since we were at Grammy's house.  I did need help reaching the glasses from the cabinet above, so I had to employ my sister with her long, lanky arms or a close by adult to reach one for me.  My favorite were a set of roughly worn plastic cocktail cups with a golf game sealed into the bottom.  Once you finished your drink, you could try to swirl the little white ball around to land it into the hole on the painted green, marked with a bright yellow flag.  This game occupied me for some time as any little nudge could knock the ball off its perch and I would have to start all over again.
  Although I was excited to score one of those plastic cups as mine for the evening, by far the most interesting and exotic item to me was the pint glass full of swizzle sticks collected from various swanky bars and restaurants in Falmouth and Woods Hole.  The solid red one with the lobster at the top and the large, loopy capital "L" from the "Landfall waterfront dining".  Navy blue with a regal crest at the top for Woods Hole Golf Club (the most exclusive golf club in town), bright yellow and hunter green ones, too but I don't recall what they were advertising.
  Hors d'oeuvres were typically cheese and crackers.  WisPride Spreadable Cheese, the bright orange and shockingly pink, port wine flavor was fancy.  If the gathering was impromptu, a can of Kraft Cheez Whiz graced the table, instead.  Either delicacy was served with Triscuit Crackers that inevitably grew stale in the damp, Cape Cod air.
  Without the hors d'oeuvres, these evenings could have gone terribly wrong as dinner seemed to take forever to get going.  By the time we arrived at the appointed time, no one had thought to prepare the charcoal for grilling.  Val poured the briquettes into the rickety grill, located the lighter fluid and admonished us to stand back as she lit a match and tossed it on top hoping it would ignite but at the same time, terrified it might explode from the accelerator and singe off her eyebrows.  After the excitement was over, I ran off to play and argue with my siblings and wait for what seemed like an eternity before being called for dinner.  It would be a while before the briquettes turned into smoking gray embers and hot enough to barely cook any traditional cook out meat.
  The dinner buffet was spread out on the kitchen table covered in a green and yellow floral, plastic table cloth to protect the wood underneath.  Hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids, steaks for the adults (Grammy made a big deal out of this and the kids knew not to ask for any.) Canned baked beans, Wise Potato Chips and possibly a salad brought by Val which was the only green vegetable in the offering.  For dessert, brownies from a box mix baked off earlier that day by Grammy, herself.  Although she didn't like to spend time in the kitchen, she also didn't shy away from new cooking inventions intended to make life easier.  Val insisted on making sweets from scratch for us at home but I loved Betty Crocker's chewy, fudgy version best.  The ice cream scooped on top may have had a layer of crystals growing on it from a long time spent buried in the freezer but kids don't care about that and we slowly ate it all up, dragging out our meal as we sat out on the deck while the bug zapper decimated mosquitoes.  By now, it was well past our usual bedtime and we knew we would have to go home after we finished.
  A gathering at Grammy's house always seemed to be an event.  I ran in and out of the house, as the  sun went down, mosquitoes in the damp air and the screen door slamming behind me, as the adults' loud conversation mingled with the sound of the Red Sox on the kitchen T.V.  Ice clinked, tumbling into glasses and someone used a swizzle stick to stir a cocktail.  Out on the deck, I watched my mother's silhouette lit by the kitchen light as she flipped burgers and steaks for dinner.  Grammy hugging us from her perch at the kitchen table as she spread processed cheese on stale crackers then popped one into her mouth. While these are not exactly the images my own children see when they gather at their grandmother's house on such occasions, my hope is that they will have just as fond memories when they look back in years to come.

Vodka and Fresca
(makes one cocktail)

1 oz. Schmirnoff Vodka
3 oz. Fresca

  Fill a rocks glass with ice.  Add vodka.  Top off with Fresca.  Stir gently with a swizzle stick, never a knife, "You will stir strife!" according to Grammy.  No need for fancy garnishes.  Enjoy and have another, if you like.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Sugar Shack Milk Shake

maple and vanilla ice cream milk shake
Sugar Shack Milkshake

  It's this time of year, when the daffodils have finally opened their buds to say, "Hello!" and yellow forsythia blooms explode in every neighborhood street, that I think I about the unseasonably warm April vacation we spent in Vermont a few years ago.  The last of the snow gave way to mud and warmth of the sun made us feel like perhaps spring was on it's way after a long, long winter.  (Don't they always seem really long?) We toured around the Burlington area, took in the sights and sampled many treats along the way.  One cloudy morning we stopped at Boyden Family Vineyard where Rob and I tasted their wines and the kids sampled various grades of syrup in the same fashion.  We went home with the dessert wine made from grapes that had been left to freeze on the vine to bring out their sugars and a jug of their grade A maple syrup.  I know you all know me as a wine drinker but that by far, was not the highlight of our trip.
  On  a very sunny Easter Sunday, the kids catapulted mud off the top of the three story science museum (ECHO). Their laughter rang out in the clear blue sky as we took in the view of Lake Champlain.  We bought a green frog magnet from the gift shop to add to our bulging collection of souvenir magnets which now barely fit on the refrigerator at home. That afternoon, I devoured likely the best burger I have ever eaten smothered in house made aioli and washed it down with an ice cold ginger beer after a long walk through the city of Burlington.  Hands down one of the best days of that week.  A stellar day but still, not the highlight of our trip.
  I think it was the day before we packed the car to head home that we decided to check out Cabot Creamery as well as do the Ben & Jerry's factory tour which was not too far away.  The kids talked me into starting at Ben & Jerry's which was not my original plan but I succumbed just to get them to stop fighting.  It has already been a week full of long car trips to get to all the fun.  And early morning ice cream?  What the heck!  We were on vacation.  No rules.  After checking out the ice cream grave yard, taking another billion photos and eating ice cream flavors I cannot remember, we headed off to Cabot Creamery for more Vermont dairy.
  Cabot was interesting and educational.  The kids were engaged enough due to their ice cream comas and I couldn't wait to get to the end to sample cheese.  I ended up eating just about every flavor Cabot produces from Seriously Sharp Cheddar to Tomato Basil Cheddar.  I was delighted to discover Cheddar Cheese Shake for the best and most cheesy popcorn ever.  I gorged on all the cheese cubes, excusing the calorie count and considering it my lunch.  Finally, I made myself leave the cheese buffet.  The kids and Rob were looking seriously bored by then. As we made our way to the door, the kind older lady with the cute gray bob haircut who led our tour, stopped us and asked what we were up to next.  We admitted, that since we had already been to Ben & Jerry's, we honestly did not know.
"Have you been to a sugar shack?"  she asked raising her eyebrows.
"Um, no."  I said, taking the bait.
"Well there is a very nice one just around the corner.  Here, let me draw you a map."
  Up for any adventure, we headed out of the winding dirt road that led up to the Creamery and followed her directions.  As we pulled up to a small brown cabin with a red and blue open flag welcoming the public, another family who had been coincidentally on our same itinerary pulled in next to us.  Although we never said a word to them, we all looked at each other and laughed.
  The cabin housed the sugar shack gift shop and displayed all things maple syrup: maple candy shaped in the form of maple leaves, every size of maple syrup jug imaginable, maple scented candles and soap and so many other items that one could never imagine that maple could possibly work in them.  Maple body lotion and shampoo? Yup, those items were on the shelf, too.  Nestled in the corner, off to the side, there was a small counter, behind it, a large sign with a list of ice cream treats.  All of them featuring maple syrup.  I couldn't believe it when the kids insisted they wanted an ice cream.  Seriously? It was lunchtime, though.  And I had inhaled a ridiculous amount of cheese, so who was I to to say, "No." ?  I left the kids with Rob to handle the ice cream for lunch purchase as I needed to either lay down in the car to help my cheese digest or walk around the sugar shack grounds to keep myself from passing out from my dairy overdose.  By the time I made it back around to the picnic table underneath the towering pine in front of the shack, the kids were happily licking dripping cones and Rob was drinking something from a covered cup with a straw.  Considering I was pretty thirsty from the sunshine and cheese, I insisted he give me a sip.  Thinking that this beverage was likely water or perhaps a diet soda, I took a hard tug and to my surprise I tasted something sweet, creamy and icy cold.  This was clearly a milkshake.  But not like any milkshake I had ever tasted.  You know, the usual, chocolate, vanilla or one of my favorites, black and white milk shake?  No, this was vanilla and smoky maple.  It reminded me of an after beach treat and a Saturday morning pancake breakfast all wrapped up into one.  The best of both worlds: salty, sunburned skin and soft, flannel pajamas, sunny days and cartoons on the couch.  Memories of childhood in a paper cup with a lid and a straw.  I didn't want to give it back.
  Rob and I fought over the rest of his milk shake.  I couldn't get enough but at the same time I was so full from all that cheese that I also could barely drink another sip.  But that didn't stop me from sucking down just one more, then giving him the cup and swearing as I finished only to ask for another sip about a minute later.  When we finally got back into the car, I had to recline my seat to make room for my bulging stomach.  I moaned and groaned for pretty much the rest of the day and refused dinner later that night. But it was all worth it.  Tasting heaven in a frappe cup was definitely the best part of my vacation.

Sugar Shack Milk Shake
(serves one)

1/2 cup vanilla ice cream (Ben & Jerry's or Haagan Dazs)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup milk

  Place all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.  Drink with a straw on a sunny spring day while the daffodils are blooming.