This Last Day of July

Yesterday, it was so hot and humid that I barely had the energy to move from my desk to the kitchen to make a vinaigrette for our supper salad much less dust the bedroom. But I did indeed accomplish both tasks. My reward? A lemon popsicle and time on the patio—where it was a little cooler—reading Village School by Miss Read, aka Dora Saint. (Read was a family name.)

Each year, as an end-of-summer treat, I reread the Chronicles of Fairacre, an “omnibus edition, comprising Village School, Village Diary, and Storm in the Village.” Even though I look calm, I am a jittery person, and Miss Read has a way of calming my jitters. All three novels follow the main character, also named Miss Read, who teaches in a village school in the Cotswolds. The books are not great literature—does all literature have to be great to be appreciated?—but Miss Read’s love of the natural world, her shrewd yet sympathetic take on human nature, and her humor never fail to delight me. Dora Saint has won praise from both the New Yorker and the New York Times, and with them I shall let the matter of her reputation rest.

Next to the patio, the bee balm has been knocked akimbo by the driving rains we have had each afternoon this week. Last Saturday, when our friends Paul and Judy came over for cocktails, the bee balm stood tall and proud. Now it looks as though a large, heavy ball landed in the middle of the patch. Such is the force of the rain. But the bees don’t care—straight or akimbo, the bee balm is irresistible to them.

The bee balm, knocked by the rain
The bee balm, knocked by the rain

While I read, I took many breaks to watch the goings-on in the yard. Next to me, a daddy longlegs skittered along the  phlox, still in bud. Birds called as they flew from the trees to the feeders, and occasionally,  a large dragonfly would zip by.

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Last night, the weather broke, and today is fine and hot with a bright blue sky. A good drying day, as my  mother would have said, and I have two loads of laundry ready to be hung on the line.

With this last day of July, which will have a second full moon this month—a blue moon—we are officially two-thirds of the way through summer in Maine. I love August and the hot, dry weather it often brings along with the loud buzzing of grasshoppers. I love the black-eyed Susans, the Queen Anne’s lace, and the golden rod in the fields. But August is also a sweet, sad month, the last month with nights warm enough to sit without a jacket on the patio.

To borrow from my friend Burni, who squeezes more joy out of an ordinary day than most people manage in a whole month, I will squeeze every bit of delight out of the golden month of August.

Vegetables with Peanut Sauce over Rice—and a Blooper

Before I launch into a description of this week’s recipe using Farmer Kev’s delicious vegetables, I thought I would describe a little blooper I made in the kitchen last night. All right, it was actually a big blooper. I am sharing this because I believe it’s good to admit that even those who have been cooking for a very long time can still make mistakes. (So take heart, beginning cooks!)

Here’s what happened. I had marinated tofu. I had pea pods courtesy of Farmer Kev.  Why not stir fry them together, put them on rice, and drizzle a homemade peanut sauce over it all? Then, of course, sprinkle with crushed peanuts. This I did, and how nice it all looked.

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There was just one teensy-weensy problem, which Clif and I discovered as we started eating.

“Wow!” I said. “These pea pods are tough.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Clif admitted.

“And they don’t have much taste,” I added.

Then it immediately came to me what the problem was. These weren’t sugar snaps; these were peas to be shelled. Oh, how we laughed at Laurie’s mistake as we stopped eating to shell the slimy pods. Miraculously, even though the pods had only been lightly blanched, the peas inside were cooked enough to eat.

After the peas were shelled, the dish was pretty darned good, as my Yankee husband observed. So good that there weren’t any leftovers, even though there should have been. (Clif is what you might call a good eater, especially when peanut sauce is involved.)

Blooper aside, this dish, like fried rice, is wonderfully versatile. A variety of summer vegetables could be used: Broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, green beans, carrots. Shelled peas or sugar snaps, but probably not both.

I marinated extra-firm tofu in a homemade teriyaki sauce, baked it for 45 minutes, then cut it in cubes to stir-fry. This might be one extra step that a busy home cook would rather not take. Although the marinated tofu adds a nice texture and taste to the dish, it is not an essential element. Just vegetables could be used. Leftover chicken could be added.

The vegetables could be steamed or stir-fried. If stir-fried, then chopped garlic or onion could be added for additional flavor.

So this week, I’m not going to give a recipe per se. Just cook up some rice, steam or stir-fry some vegetables, drizzle with peanut sauce, and sprinkle with crushed peanuts. And for goodness’ sake, don’t confuse sugar snaps with shell peas.

Here is a recipe for the peanut sauce. It’s adapted from a recipe from Miserly Moms: Living Well on Less in a Tough Economy.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup of warm water (Use less for a thicker sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar—wine, cider, or rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes (More could be added for those who like it hot.)

Directions

  1. Whisk together the peanut butter and water until smooth.
  2. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and hot pepper flakes. Whisk again.
  3. Drizzle over vegetables and rice. Drizzle over vegetables and noodles. Use as a dipping sauce for chicken. This simple but tasty sauce can be used in a number of ways

 

 

Jurassic Park in My Front Yard

IMG_0448“Hostas can be difficult to work into a garden because they have a tendency toward pride, a self-assertion that can be offensive….they seem so much more physical than other plants, muscular: the heavy-weight champions of the garden.”
—Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid

I know what Stanley Kunitz means. I have a patch of hostas that have gotten so out of hand that it looks like Jurassic Park in the front yard. The hostas are elbowing the daylilies, which aren’t exactly slouches, and I have to pull back the hostas from time to time to give the daylilies some breathing room. I should divide the hostas, but I’m not sure where I’d put the divided plants, and I’d hate to just throw them out. Kunitz decided not to plant anything else with his hostas. That way, they could muscle each other. A smart decision, I think.

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Jurassic Park in the front yard

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When I’m sitting on the patio, I always sit closest to the bee balm, right now in glorious bloom. Bees are indeed buzzing among the flowers, and I try to take a picture of them with my little point-and-shoot camera. I am not very successful. They’re not called busy bees for nothing. Bumble, bumble, yellow and black. They seem so slow yet they never really rest. (That might be a description of me as well.)

Not too bad but not in focus
Not too bad but not really in focus

Hummingbirds are also drawn to the bright red flowers, and it’s even harder to get a picture of them. I’m not sure why I keep trying. I know the limitations of my camera, wee wonder that it is. But when those tiny will o’ the wisps are thrumming almost within arm’s length of me, somehow I can’t resist. A couple of times, a hummingbird has stopped in mid-flight to consider me, but only for a few seconds. Not long enough for me to get a good picture.

Fortunately for me, the flowers and plants stay in one place unless there is a brisk wind.

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Right now, my backyard garden is in peak bloom, and we had friends over for cocktails on Saturday. The weather was good enough for us to spend the entire time on the patio, where they could admire the flowers. Clif made his legendary grilled bread, and I made Maine mules.

Summer, summer, summer.

An End-of-July Contest: Three Sets of Three Library Cards

I follow a delightful blog called Mrs. Walker’s Art and Illustrations, where Johanna, who is originally from the Netherlands, writes about the beauty of everyday things. She is an artist, and she often features her own illustrations, which are both whimsical and down-to-earth, an utterly charming combination. Johanna also knits, and recently she featured three give-aways on her blog—a hat, a tea cozy, and a blue shawl.

As soon as I read her post, I knew I wanted to feature my own give-away. Like Johanna, I believe that it is good to give, and in everyday life, I make it a habit to give regularly. Our modest budget does not allow for extravagant giving, but I frequently give photo cards and baked goodies to friends and acquaintances. We also invite friends over for gatherings, which I view as another form of giving.

I must admit that I do not always find it easy to give. When money is tight, it is difficult to think of others. When I am busy, I often don’t want to take the time to give to others. But I give anyway because I think it is good spiritual practice.

In the end, to let go and to give is always worthwhile.

So here is my give-away: Three sets of three library cards—your choice of cards. My husband Clif took the pictures in our own dear Bailey Library. I found the quotations and paired them with the pictures.

In the comments’ section, all  you have to do is tell me you want to enter the contest and which three cards you would like.  The drawing will be held on August 10.

Here are the pictures for the cards:

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A final note, which qualifies as the cherry on the sundae: I won the beautiful hat that Johanna knitted, and I am so pleased. I don’t have many hats, and Johanna’s hat will be a most welcome addition. Maine has lots of cold weather, and when I wear that hat, I will think of Johanna and her generosity.

A Victory Party

Last night, Clif and I went to a victory party to celebrate the expansion of the Charles M. Bailey Library. It was a potluck—my favorite kind of party—hosted by Pearl and George Ames, two members of the campaign team.

The lovely backyard where the party was hosted.
The lovely backyard where the party was hosted.

The food, of course, was delicious, and I ate way more than I should have. I even indulged in a hamburger, and I can’t remember the last time I ate beef.  We don’t eat it at home, but if we go to somebody’s house, and beef is served, then we will eat it. I must admit that hamburger tasted mighty good.

But better than the food—and you can bet this foodie never thought she’d be writing that anything could be better than food—was the spirit of the campaign team. There are about fifteen people in the core group, women and men who not only love the library but who have been willing to work hard to make the addition a reality. And it was very hard work. To raise a million dollars in a town of six thousand people is not easy, especially when the town is a middle-class community—a macaroni-and-cheese kind of town, as I like to call it.

In the process of working together for over three years, of facing and overcoming setbacks, something rather wonderful happened. We have bonded together as a team and have become completely comfortable with each other. It doesn’t always work that way, and what a blessing when it does. It also goes to show what people can do when they work together, when they put time and energy into a project. This energy can be such a force of good when directed toward the right cause.

And the library expansion was most definitely a right cause. The other day, when I returned a movie, I looked around. In the reading area with its blue chairs and barn-board table, a man was reading the paper, and a woman was reading a book. Nearby, at the computer tables, there were few empty seats. People talked quietly together, and the library was filled with a happy sound. In the stacks, patrons looked for books. Bailey Library has always been an important part of this community, but now, with the expansion, it is truly the center of the community.

At the party, I chatted with various team members. I learned that Roger had been in the Peace Corps, and French was Bob’s first language. I talked about painting and art with Penny while my husband discussed biking with her husband.

As Mary Jane, the chair of the trustees, put it, “Along with helping to raise money for the new addition, I also made such good friends.”

How glad I am that I have come to know and work with these people, to call them friends. And how proud I am of what we have achieved together.

The entrance to our expanded library
The entrance to our expanded library

 

 

 

 

Mediterranean Scrambled Eggs

The greens are still a-comin’, but we are going to turn our attention to another vegetable that can sometimes be such a nuisance that friends will run shrieking if they see you approaching with a bagful. Or a bushel full, as the case may be. This might be apocryphal, but I have heard heartbreaking stories of how these vegetables are just abandoned on the steps of family, friends, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers. Sometimes with a note, most times not.

I am, of course, referring to zucchini—or, courgettes as they are called across the pond. Right now, in Maine, they are little and trim, almost sweet looking, and this week they were innocently tucked at the bottom of my CSA bin from Farmer Kev. But before long, in the garden, these sweet little veggies will grow and grow and if left untended on the vine, become large enough to be used as a murder weapon.

And let’s be honest. When it comes to taste, zucchini is definitely the bland cousin of the vegetable world. (Perhaps that’s why they grow so large. To compensate for their muted flavor.) While peas, corn, tomatoes, and delicata squash make us rejoice, all too often zucchini makes us sigh.

Nevertheless, zucchini has its uses. Grated, it adds a nice texture to muffins or bread, and its mild flavor complements tomato dishes. Last but certainly not least, zucchini is very economical. As indicated above, sometimes you don’t even have to pay for it.

While the zucchini is still in its slender, innocent phase, I decided to take what business people might call a proactive approach and find ways to use those little darlings.

I wondered, what if you grate a small zucchini, add some garlic, sauté the mixture in a skillet for a couple of minutes, add eggs beaten with milk, and sprinkle with basil? Scramble the whole mixture, then cover with grated cheese. What would happen?

I’ll tell you what happens. You get a dish so tasty your Yankee husband not only says “Pretty darned good” but also adds “This would make an elegant dish for brunch.” Now, how many times have you ever heard the word “zucchini” paired with the word “elegant”?

Best of all, despite the chopping, this dish goes together fairly quickly, making it a perfect week-night supper. Add some homemade bread and some sliced cucumbers. Maybe even a white wine with a fresh taste. (Don’t even consider a Riesling.) Not only will you have made use of zucchini, but you will also have a delicious meal.

Note: Fresh basil is absolutely essential for this dish. If you don’t have some growing in your garden or in a pot, then spring for it at the grocery store or at a farmers’ market.

As with all dishes, get everything mise en place.
As with all dishes, get everything mise en place.

 

Sauté the grated zucchini and garlic in olive oil.
Sauté the grated zucchini and garlic in olive oil.

 

Add the basil and the beaten eggs.
Add the basil and the beaten eggs.

 

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Scramble.

 

Sprinkle with grated cheese and cover.
Sprinkle with grated cheese and cover so that the cheese will melt.

 

Voilà! A dish so good you'll want to lick the plate.
Voilà! A dish so good you’ll want to lick the plate

 

Mediterranean Scrambled Eggs
Makes two hearty servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup grated zucchini
  • 1 cup grated cheese (I used a sharp cheddar)
  • 2 tablespoons of minced basil
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. On medium, heat olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the garlic and the zucchini for two or three minutes.
  2. Add the beaten eggs and the basil.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Scramble away.
  5. When the eggs are done, sprinkle with grated cheese, cover, and turn off the heat. Let set until the cheese is melted.
  6. Serve and eat immediately.
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