Monday, August 24, 2009

Looking Forward to Thanksgiving

Today I paid for a winter share at the CSA. We did this last year and the onions, potatoes, carrots beets, parsnips etc. lasted until the Spring. This year they have a Thanksgiving share, so I signed up for what I wanted. I signed up for a turkey (organic, local), some wild, organic cranberries, some local maple syrup, and a 'cheese' share, which will be cheese from a local maker who uses Appleton Farms milk. I didn't sign up for pies, although they sounded divine, but I can make pies from local stuff.

I"m excited to think of all this local food, but it's still hot out and I'm kind of reluctant to think about winter coming.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer Pudding

Every summer, the COG and I wait impatiently for the soft fruit to ripen so we can make our favorite dessert, which goes by the prosaic name 'Summer Pudding '.

Here's a picture of one slice of pudding.

This is a very old English dessert, for which there is no real recipe and just three ingredients - fruit, sugar, bread. Basically, you take a lot of soft summer fruits - strawberries, raspberries, cherries, gooseberries, currants, blueberries etc. and you cook them with a little sugar for a very brief time. You want the berries just to begin to split and give off juice and the sugar to melt, but you don't want to cook them. Then you line a bowl - bottom and sides- with thinly sliced white bread, over-lapping if necessary because you don't want any holes. Spoon in the fuit until the bowl is full, then pave the top with more white bread and pour the remaining juice over the top. Finally, you put a plate that fits exactly inside the top of the bowl, on top of the pudding and weight it with a big can of tomatoes (or something). Leave overnight or for 24 hours. Turn it upside down on a big plate (which is what you see in the picture) and serve. With a little cream.

If you'd like to try it yourself, watch this video from The Guardian. She makes individual servings, I make one ginormous bowl full. I follow the Elizabeth David proportions of 4-5 parts fruit to one part sugar. One thing, if you can get fresh red, white or black currants, do use them they add a really important depth of flavor to the mix. But if you can't get currants - try it anyway.

This is the best dessert in the world. Surely angels eat this in Paradise.

And, by the way, it's also great for breakfast - which is what the COG and I did today.

A Rustic Fruit Pie

Here's a pie I made from a recipe from Mark BIttmam, of the NYTimes. It's called Stone Fruit Patchwork Bake. What's rustic aout it is that the crust is just squares of pie dough overlapped on the top. It's beautiful and very easy to make. Because the crust is only on the top, it's also more diet-friendly. Here's the Recipe:

Stone Fruit Patchwork Bake

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into about 8 pieces, more for dish

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more for rolling

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3 pounds peaches, seeded and sliced (about 5 large)

1 cup cherries, stones in or pitted

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice.

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9-by-13-inch or similar-size baking dish; set aside. In a food processor, combine 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour, the salt and 1 tablespoon sugar; pulse once or twice. Add butter and turn on machine; process until butter and flour are blended and mixture looks like coarse cornmeal, about 15 to 20 seconds. Slowly add 1/4 cup ice water through feed tube and process until just combined. Form dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate dough for up to a couple of days, or freeze it, tightly wrapped, for up to a couple of weeks.)

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl toss fruit with remaining flour, 3/4 cup sugar and lemon juice; place in baking dish.

3. Put dough on a floured board or countertop and sprinkle with more flour. Roll dough into a 12-inch round, adding flour and rotating and turning dough as needed. Cut dough into 3-inch-wide strips, then cut again crosswise into 4-inch-long pieces. Scatter pieces over fruit in an overlapping patchwork pattern.

4. Brush top of dough lightly with water and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Transfer to oven and bake until top is golden brown and juices bubble, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool; serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yes, we have no tomatoes

Usually by this time of year we have more tomatoes than we can eat. But this year, the CSA will not have any tomatoes.

Because of the unusually wet, cool weather in June and July, Massachusetts has been hit by a tomato blight, called 'Late Blight'. It's caused by a fungus-like micro-organism - the same organism that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 1850's. The organism is harbored by potatoes that overwinter in fields and, under the right conditions, they can produce millions of spores that spread like wildfire. That's what has happened this year - nearly all the farms in Eastern Mass have been affected.

Lucky for us, we have some tomatoes in our garden that look healthy. All the tomatoes are still green (except cherry tomatoes, a few of which have ripened), but we will get some eventually.

Also lucky for us, we don't depend on them as a staple food and won't have to emigrate because of the crop failure.

But it's so sad to see the fields of diseased plants. Everyone at the CSA feels a huge sadness about it. But the fields are being cleared and new things (immune to Late Blight) are being planted.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reno Update

The COG asked what 'Reno' meant - fearing, perhaps, that I was looking into quickie divorces in Nevada. I rather reluctantly explained to him that it was short for 'Renovation'. He hasn't done anything divorce worthy since..... well, really, since forever. But I'm not sure I want him to know that - it might be good to keep him on his best behavior, worrying about Reno.Anyway, here's where we are, in the last slow stages. Most of the raw wood has been primed and, on rainy days, the painter will be back to work on it some more. You can see the patches where I'm trying out different colors. I've made my selections, now. I"ve got fabric for the window seat cushions and the window valances.
I set up a little table for the COG and I to eat on, because our big dining room table is covered with Stuff moved from this room. (Note to Self: get rid of some Stuff)
Once the painting is done, the fireplace is getting tiled and the floors are getting repaired and refinished. Then there's just some wiring and some plumbing/heating and installing the stoves. And the kitchen - painting cupboards and new counters and.... So, we are hoping to have it finished in, oh, another 6 weeks or so.


Look at this amazing moth, which spent a couple of days on our screen door. I don't know what kind it is, but it's like a text book example of camouflage, except, of course, it was on a screen door, not the bark of some tree.

Warm-Water Seabirds of Stellwagen Bank

The COG and I went on an outing with the Audubon society entitled, "Warm-Water Seabirds of Stellwagen Bank". Stellwagen Bank is a National Marine Sanctuary, that runs from Cape Ann (where Gloucester is) to the 'fist' of Cape Cod. We saw lots of birds, but, it turns out that we aren't very good bird watchers. Someone would shout, 'Phalarope at 3 o'clock' and we'd all rush to the Starboard side of the boat and peer through our binoculars and see little dark birds bobbing on the ocean, and be none the wiser. We saw 4 kinds of Shearwaters - Greater, Sooty, Manx and Cory's and we were told that was unusual - to see 4 kinds. And we saw a large number of Gulls and Terns and Gannets (which I can't say with a straight face since Monty Python) and some petrels. But it was all kind of wasted on the COG and I.

The real highlight for us was the whales, because the boat we were on was actually a whale watch, with an Audubon naturalist along for the ride.

The whales were absolutely awesome. We saw several Minke Whales, in fact, one of them emerged right by the front of the boat and then dived under it. But, far far better, were the Humpbacks. We saw two mother and calf pairs, one of which had a third whale as an 'escort' whale (which is apparently something whales sometimes do with mother- calf pairs). And we saw three other whales who were swimming together for a while.

All of them came up very close to the boat, and swam alongside the boat for a long way. One of them even swam back and forth under the boat a couple of times. Whales on the East Coast get names - usually for some physical characteristic that helps naturalists keep track of them. On the West Coast, they don't name whales, they number them. We saw, Scratch and her calf, Lavaliere and her calf (with an escort they couldn't identify), Circus and Shard, who were swimming with another whale they couldn't identify.

Circus is known to like boats, and he was incredible. He kept turning on his side right next to the boat so we could see his eye and his face. And he would put is 'arm fin' (whatever they are called). in the air and slap it down on the water as if he were playing with us. It was unbelievable. I only took pictures of the first Mother Calf pair (Scratch and her calf) because I couldn't watch and take pictures, too. But here is one picture, which only begins to show what we saw. Later they got even closer. And Scratch frequently would dive by bringing her tail all the way in the air, so we could see it fully.

BTW, we went out to sea 24 miles to see them, a round trip on the water of 48 miles.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Reef off Norman's Woe

Today, the COG and I went on an Audubon program on a boat out of Gloucester (more about that later). On the way out of Gloucester Harbor, we passed The Reef of Norman's Woe, where the real shipwreck that inspired the poem "The Wreck of the Hesperus" took place. I took a picture, but it's not much good, so I found this one, online. The trouble is that the reef is near shore, and it looks like part of the land, unless you see it head on. Our boat, thankfully, did not go at it head on.

You remember The Wreck of the Hesperus, right? Here are the best parts. Meaning, the parts I remember, and some parts I only kind of remember. Oh, and do I need to say that in the actual shipwreck, it was a middle aged woman who was found lashed to a spar the next day, not the Skippers little daughter. Unless he and she were a lot older than we are led to believe.

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintery sea,
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
Her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

(The Skipper notices his pipe smoke is going in all directions, but ignores this sign that Something Bad is Going To Happen and, then, he makes matters worse when he scoffs repeatedly at the Wise Old Seaman who had Sailed The Spanish Main, and who says

'Last night the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see'
and that means there's going to be a hurricane, yar, Skipper . (or wtte)

Scoff scoff says the skipper, who is still smoking that pipe for reasons that escape me. But he calls his daughter and says)

"Come hither, come hither, my little daughter
And do not tremble so.
For I can weather the roughest gale
That ever the wind did blow.

(famous last words, Skipper. Did you not have a classical education and learn about Hubris?)

He wrapped her warm in a seaman's coat
against the stinging blast.
He cut a rope from a broken spar
And bound her to the mast.

(She doesn't object because by this time it's pretty clear that the Wise Old Seaman was right.)

O father, I hear the church bells ring,
Oh say, what may it be?
(Oh it's nothing, says the father, pay no attention, or wtte)

O father, I hear the sound of guns,
Oh say, what may it be?
(Oh don't worry about it, says the father, no problem, or wtte)

O father, I see a gleaming light
Oh say, what may it be?
But her father answered nary a word,
A Frozen Corpse was He.

(Not so big-headed now, are you, Skipper?)

(Something something,something
Something that rhymes with Doe)

Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Towards the Reef off Norman's Woe.

(bad things happen)(if only the skipper had not neglected to study classical tragedy, had not had the poor judgement to ignore Wise Old Seamen, and was not such a tobacco addict that he didn't notice the smoke of his pipe,) Then:

At Daybreak on the bleak sea beach
A fisherman stood Aghast.
To see the form of a maiden fair
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes,
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed
On the billows fall and rise.

(this last bit bothers me, because clearly the little daughter is a blonde. How many brunettes do you know with eyes blue as fairy flax, cheeks like the dawn of day, and bosom white as hawthorne buds etc.?)

Anyway, finally at the end:

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow,
Christ save us all from a death like this
On the reef of Norman's Woe!

(fer sure, Mr. Longfellow. I have no quarrel with that last stanza. But we never find out what happened to that Wise Old Seaman, who had sailed the Spanish Main)(though, probably nothing good)

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, mostly, with comments by The Bride.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

COG, This is for you

The COG is discouraged because the photos he took last weekend are too chocolate box. So I just wanted to show him how easy this is to correct. I'm sure you'll agree that this is no longer chocolate box-y. And I didn't even use Photoshop.