It's been a strange Summer, I suppose just as strange as the Winter in some respect. At first it seemed so nice, no extreme humid heatwaves, nights when we could sleep with the windows open and no air conditioner running...in July and August no less. Cool breezy days, my hair behaving every single day, wow! But then I noticed my basil, which had grown to about a foot tall, all of a sudden turned a light green with some brown on the leaf edges, the leaves drooped sadly and dropped off a bit, the tomatoes are few and far between, still small and green to this day when I should have been picking bushels by now. Frank didn't mow the lawn for two weeks and no one complained, including me. We barely sit outside as we usually do because it's either cloudy or cool or...I don't know what, and dry I guess. Then last night it rained, buckets of it. Parts of Long Island got 13" in two hours, I can't fathom such a thing. It seems its either feast or famine.
My flower bed by the side of the back porch is blooming like mad
including the wildflower seeds I just threw in to see what happened,
so far this, I think it's a zinnia, with promises of more to come atop 2 foot tall stems. Making up for the herbs and tomatoes I guess. It all feels a bit odd, somethings not right. Robin Williams decided to leave this earth yesterday and someone I am "friends" with on facebook proceeded to bash him endlessly by saying he didn't understand depression and that he was a coward, this is a person who's entire family I've known, and know that manic depression runs in it. Where is the humanity and compassion? I kept my mouth shut and shut down his feed.
There is a climate change in many ways. It scares me.
Crossing my fingers, toes and eyes. I am soooooo enjoying this Summer. The temperatures have been on the coolish side with little humidity, no horrible heatwave yet...yet. I'm sure it will come but in the meantime we'll wallow in perfection. The threat of Arthur didn't materialize much so the Fourth of July celebrations weren't ruined and it falling on a Friday has made for a glorious three day weekend. I am also cautiously ecstatic because I seem to have emerged from my long reading rut and hoping to start tackling the ever increasing piles and getting through entire book. The one that brought me back was "Gone Girl"; not a particularly good book filled with extremely unlikable characters but I rushed through it because the genius of it is that you need to find out what happens. At least I had to. So now I can graduate to better fare. I started the new Andrea Barrett short story collection "Archangel". I love anything she writes usually having to do with the earth, the sea, the land and nature. I've read the first one and since they are short stories I can enjoy them by reading one here and there while picking up other material in between. After that a collection of short stories by Fyodor Dostoevsky awaits, a bit heady for Summer so maybe it will be Fall before I get to it, there's plenty to choose from before then. A friend though suggested what I am finding to be an irresistible joy! "Mediterranean Summer" by David Shalleck. An autobiographical account of a chef cooking on a huge yacht which is cruising the Mediterranean one Summer. I am transported to the South of France,
and craving an Aioli platter
which consists of boiled potatoes and vegetables; I used green beans, artichoke hearts, carrots which I marinate in a little olive oil with some salt and pepper. Quartered tomatoes, same marinade. hard boiled eggs and poached cod served at room temperature with a heady garlic mayonnaise, Aioli,
made with 8 to 10 garlic cloves minced in a food processor with a pinch of salt, the juice of one lemon and 1 1/2 cups of olive oil drizzled in slowly in a steady stream with the machine going. This is one of my all time favorite dishes and perfect for beautiful Summer evenings.
And for dessert scrumptiously creamy vanilla bean ice cream.
So I'm standing there on Friday evening deciding how I'm going to make the fish tacos using the bluefish fillets my friend Alisa had given me that her husband had fished out of the waters of the Jersey shore last week when my phone makes that "it's a text sound". My boss is out of town and has a tendency to randomly text at all kinds of hours with random thoughts that pop into his ever thinking head, so I figure that's who it probably is. Wrong, it's my brother:
He:Are you guys going to be home tomorrow?
Me: Yes why?
He: We're in Philly today for Aida's daughter's wedding and thought we'd drive up tomorrow.
Me: OK, what time were you planning on?
He: Hadn't planned that far ahead. We're going to stay in Ewing, NJ which is about 90 minutes away.
Me: OK, will be running errands in the morning so afternoon is probably best
He: OK I guess we can stop by sometime after 12:00 noon
Me: That should work
He: We'll call when we're on our way
Me: Sounds like a plan
Me: She getting married in Philadelphia (they live in Princeton NJ)
He: getting married in Yardley
Me: Yardley very pretty. I love Philly we go there all the time. no cheese steak sandwich for me though yuck
He: That was lunch
Me: I saw the picture on fb, decided it best not to comment :)
He: But when in Philly for a day you got have Pat's
Me: Philly is even a better food town than New York, the Philly steak thing is like dirty water hot dogs, don't do it again.
Now, I haven't seen my brother since I last went to Miami when our Mother passed away, that was almost 4 years ago. He's not much of a phone person, talking I mean, so we rarely speak on the phone and then it's only if I call. We've had a couple of long texting sessions because that's what he does but not much else. Last time I think was on his birthday which is in February. And then my sister-in-law and I had a little bit of a falling out due to something enormously stupid that I said so everything had been a little bit strained, much to my misery. I had seen the pictures on facebook of the Philly steaks that she had posted and two of her friends so I thought it was some kind of girlfriend trip. So the above conversation was quite a surprise, a good one, a scary one.
They arrived somewhere between 12:20 and 1:00 PM, he never called, which was fine, our friend Mercy accompanied them. I couldn't sop hugging him
just as he once did me.
We talked and talked and talked and talked, ate the wonderful cheeses Frank had bought and the Spanish omelet I made
and chased after Max in the yard as he went chasing after a Mama turkey and her babies (unfortunately left the cameras inside) and then the Mama came chasing after us to protect her children. Other than that he was the perfect angel.
Then they left. And this song popped into my head.
Summer finally arrived this past Saturday, and in glorious fashion. Beautiful blue cloudless sky, temperatures in the mid 70s without an ounce of humidity. Pure perfection! So obviously we decided to spend as much time outside as possible,
because days like this are few and far between. The flowers from the side flowerbed are making a comeback
which thrills me no end considering that I thought after last years' trampling by the workmen they would surely not survive. Sturdy little critters.
So we sat, read, walked around the garden, admired our flowers,
and of course, dined outdoors...on this magnificent dish from the deteriorating Dining section of The New York Times. I think this one is quite redeeming.
Frutti Di Mare Rice Salad
1 1/2 cups short-grain Italian rice, such as Carnaroli or Arborio
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound cleaned squid, cut in thin rings
1 pound small mussels, scrubbed
1/2 pound slender green beans
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful of basil leaves, for garnish
2 tablespoons finely cut chives
Bring a gallon of well-salted water to a boil then add rice. Cook for about 15 minutes (as though it were pasta), until al dente. Drain and spread rice on a platter or baking tray to cool.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine shallot, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, vinegar and mustard. Let macerate 5 to 10 minutes, then whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook the seafood: Fill a medium saucepan with salted water and bring to a simmer. Add bay leaf and thyme. Add shrimp and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until just done, then remove and spread on a plate to cool. Cook squid rings for about 1 minute, then remove and spread on a plate to cool. Finally, simmer mussels in same pot, covered, until shells open, about 2 minutes. Drain and spread on a plate to cool. Remove mussels from shell if desired. (Reserve cooking liquid for another purpose.)
Cook the green beans: Boil a small amount of salted water (just enough to cover the beans) in a separate low pot or a skillet. Add green beans and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender but still firm, then drain and cool.
Put rice in a low salad bowl. Dress with half the vinaigrette and season lightly with salt and pepper; toss well to distribute dressing. Combine green beans and cherry tomatoes, then dress with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette, season lightly and scatter over rice. Arrange shrimp, squid and mussels over the top. Spoon remaining vinaigrette over seafood. Garnish with basil leaves (tear larger leaves into pieces) and sprinkle with chives. Serve salad at room temperature.
We needed a getaway. Nothing too elaborate or too complicated just some good old fashioned R & R that didn't take too long to get to but got us away from the city. Where we cold unplug, do nothing or do leisurely pleasant things and, of course, where we could bring Max,
who seemed to need it as much as we did. It doesn't take long to get out to the country in our neck of the woods. Just an hour north of New York City and you hit the stunning Hudson Valley which is part of the Appalachian Plateau, it is pure country, turn west into the state going towards Pennsylvania, maybe another hour and you're in the Catskills. I won't even touch that description, you can learn all about their charms here. Go west from where I live and in an hour and a half you're in New Jersey farmland with beautiful rolling hills, horses and cows everywhere and charming country inns. Too close though and most inns don't allow pet guests. A little further north and west and you're in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, north a bit more and we reach the Finger Lakes region of New York State, as far from New York City as you can possibly get, yet only a very pleasant four hour drive (except for the part where you have to go through Scranton but we'll ignore that). We have found our destination.
It really isn't very hard, we try to go there once a year. The Finger Lakes is New York state's prime wine growing region (sorry, North Fork L.I.). The areas surrounding the three main lakes, Cayuga, Seneca and Keuka are full of wineries. In between there are farms of all kinds, lots of dairy which means lots of fresh organic just made cheeses. And the restaurants are first rate mainly using local, organic ingredients and an adventurous, imaginative cooking style. We have been there quite a few times and it never disappoints. We usually rent a house which needs to on the lake, doesn't matter which one but we usually wind up on Seneca. We try to stay in different towns just to get a different feel. This time we stayed in Geneva which is a lovely college town (Hobart William Smith) on the northeastern side of Seneca in a small house on the lake.
with a big deck and a grill,
hopped it over to the local Wegmann's picked up some steaks, salad greens and some local wines and had our first dinner.
The next morning was time to explore the neighborhood so we went for a walk in the woods
and encountered all manner of incredible adorable wildflowers,
then Max made himself at home
and to the vineyards we go. First stop Fox Run.
Not only because we love their wines but they have an incredible cafe and we can have this for lunch,
and admire their really pretty gardens.
Next, Red Tail Ridge.
We discovered them recently and have been very impressed with their wines. They are also organic and probably have the most beautiful drive to the tasting room, through the vineyard.
Next, Hermann J. Wiemer, probably one of the most sophisticated tasting rooms & store.
Standing Stone is next, the best dessert wines in the area and probably in a lot of other places and a view that I can never get enough of.
And where's the food part? A trip to the Finger Lakes is not complete unless we go to The Stonecat Cafe,
with some of the most innovative cooking anywhere and a wine list to be envied. This year though we finally made it to Dano's Heuriger which is one of the most highly rated, recommended restaurants in the area,
not only is the food delicious, the place is an absolute stunner, and the garden? Well , here is some of it.
Well, all good things must come to an end and it was time to go, Max was not happy
and neither were we. Luckily we're only four hours away.