Our Gathering on the Fourth

In central Maine, the Fourth was not sunny. Instead, it was overcast, but it didn’t rain, and it wasn’t blindly hot. Friends and family came over, and we were able to spend much of our time on the patio.

A toast with family before friends arrived
A toast with family before friends arrived

Alice brought two packages of her homemade sourdough bread, which Clif grilled. We fell upon that bread like hungry crows, and soon nothing was left. Jill brought a flag appetizer, and that, too, was promptly eaten. One thing is certain; we are all good eaters. (Jill, that semicolon is for you.)

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A sweet, patriotic appetizer

Unfortunately, as hostess, I did not have the chance to take as many pictures as I would have liked. However, I did get Alice’s salad in shells, and I am hoping a recipe will follow.

Alice's salad in shells
Alice’s salad in shells

We talked about many things—movies and the upcoming Maine International Film Festival was a big topic of discussion—but I am happy to report that we discussed the Declaration of Independence, the ratifying of the constitution, and George Washington’s reluctance to become president.

I was also able to tell a fun library story. The day before, on July 3, I was doing errands around town and listening to National Public Radio. On the way to the town’s transfer station, I heard an interview with Joseph Ellis who in his book The Quartet tells “the unexpected story of why the thirteen colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew. ” Ellis “argues the Constitutional Convention and creation of a viable nation-state was a top-down process, instigated and orchestrated by four prominent leaders.”

Sounded like an interesting book to me, and after going to the transfer station, I went to the library where—lo and behold—The Quartet was available.  I was very impressed that within a span of ten minutes, I had heard of this  book for the first time and then had it in my hot little hands. At our Fourth of July party, I was even able to share a George Washington quotation from the book: “I am so wedded to a state of retirement and find the occupations of a rural life so congenial with my feelings, that to be drawn in public life at this advanced age would be a sacrifice that could afford no compensation.” (It seems he was truly reluctant to become president.)

So there. Food, family, friends, and a bit of history about the founding of our country.

And, of course, beer, courtesy of my son-in-law Mike who works at Craft Beer Cellar in Portland.

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Between the beer and the Moscow and Maine mules, ’twas a very merry Fourth of July.

Happy Fourth of July: Celebrate with a Maine Mule Cocktail

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Red, white, and blue ice cream pie

Even though it’s only July 3, this morning I woke up listening to the various folks at National Public Radio read the Declaration of Independence. They have been doing this for many years, and somehow hearing the Declaration of Independence always gives me a thrill. I love the beautiful language of the piece, and while I am mindful about the many deficiencies at the time of the founding of our new country—slavery, women’s rights, voting rights in general—I am also mindful that the Declaration of Independence was a start, the beginning of a journey toward freedom that is continuing still. It has been a fitful journey with many setbacks and with roads that shouldn’t have been taken. Even today, it seems that we slide back and forth between progress and regression. Still, there has been progress, and I have seen it over my lifetime.  When I was in my twenties, I never would have imagined that a black man would be president, but there he is, and I am so happy I have lived long enough to see this happen.

At the little house in the big woods, we will be celebrating the Fourth the way we usually do—with food, friends, and family. It looks as though the weather is going to allow us to have our celebrations on the patio, where Clif will make his legendary grilled bread. This Fourth, he will be making it with Alice’s homemade sour dough. We’ll also have, among other things, hot dogs, a “baked bean” lentil dish, and red, white, and blue ice cream pie.

In addition, we’ll be serving Moscow mules, a historic cocktail made from vodka, ginger beer, and limes. We are even going to branch out and make a cocktail of our own devising—a “Maine” mule, with vodka, seltzer water, maple syrup, and lime. And, yes, Clif and I are quite proud of coming up with this simple but delicious cocktail. It is slightly sweet with a maple flavor but dry and refreshing. The lime gives it just a touch of zing and finishes the drink.

In the meantime, for American readers, a very happy Fourth. And for readers everywhere, a very happy Saturday.

Our very own cocktail---a Maine mule
Our very own cocktail—a Maine mule

 

Maine Mule

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce of vodka
  • 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup, the darker, the better.
  • 6 ounces of seltzer water
  • A lime wedge

Directions

  1. In a Collins glass—or a glass similar in size—add the maple syrup.
  2. Add the vodka.
  3. Next comes the seltzer water.
  4. Squeeze in lime juice from lime wedge.
  5. Stir gently with a swizzle stick.
  6. Add ice.

 

Pasta with Greens, Homemade Croutons, and Roasted Almonds

The greens from Farmer Kev are starting to slow down a teensy bit, but I still have bags of Kale and Swiss chard in my refrigerator. (I love those greens. What good keepers they are!)

This week’s pasta and greens recipe is a dish I could eat every week. It has all the elements I’m crazy about—pasta, greens, garlic, nuts, and bread cut in little cubes. Oh, and olive and lemon oil. It doesn’t get much more Mediterranean than that, does it?

As if that weren’t enough, this recipe goes together quickly, and it tastes just as good the next day as room-temperature leftovers. If you add a glass of wine, some garlic bread, and head to your deck or patio. then you can pretend you’re somewhere in the Mediterranean where the sun is shining, and the olives are ripening.

An important note about the croutons: Please, please, please don’t use store-bought croutons for this recipe. Make your own. It doesn’t take long at all, and bread cubes fried crisp in olive oil are, in a word, delectable. Obviously the better the bread, the better the homemade croutons, but even standard sliced bread will be a huge improvement over those hard, overspiced things that come in a box.

Dry roast the almonds. Flip and watch carefully or else they will burn.
Dry roast the almonds. Shake and watch carefully or else they will burn.

 

Sauté the cubed bread in olive oil. Add more oil as needed.
Sauté the cubed bread in olive oil. Use a fork to flip the bread, and add more oil as needed.

 

Sauté in olive oil the greens, garlic, red pepper, and lemon juice.
Sauté in olive oil the greens, garlic, red pepper, and lemon juice.

 

Voilà! Pasta with greens. (I used a leftover grilled chicken breast in this version.)
Voilà! Pasta with greens, roasted almonds, and homemade croutons. (I used a leftover grilled chicken breast in this version.)

 

Pasta with Greens, Roasted Almonds, and Homemade Croutons

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of loosely packed greens—kale, spinach, Swiss chard, even a touch of arugula—coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
  • Pinch of red pepper
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup of toasted sliced  almonds
  • 2 slices of bread, cut in cubes
  • Olive oil for toasting cubes, a tablespoon or more
  • 9 ounces of penne or pasta of your choice
  • Parmesan, Romano, or Asagio cheese for grating on top
  • Cooked chicken or sausage, optional

Directions

  1. In a large dry skillet over medium heat, roast the almonds, flipping and shaking them frequently so that they cook evenly. When they are browned—but not burnt—set aside in a plate or bowl.
  2. Carefully wipe the skillet with a paper towel, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and return to medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cubed bread. (More oil might need to be added if the pan becomes too dry.) With a fork, flip the cubes so that they brown on all sides. When they are done, drain on a large plate covered with a paper towel and set aside.
  3. In a large pot of salted water, cook the penne according to directions. Save a cup of the pasta water.
  4. Meanwhile, using the same skillet that was used for the almonds and the bread cubes, add a tablespoon of oil and heat over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let it sizzle for 30 seconds or so until it barely begins to turn brown. Add the chopped greens, the salt, the pinch of red pepper, and a few squeezes from the half lemon.
  5. Sauté until the greens are wilted, a few minutes or so. Taste and add more salt, red pepper, and lemon juice, if desired.
  6. Toss the greens with the pasta and enough of the pasta water to make a nice saucy mixture. (I used about 1/2 cup, but more or less can be used, according to taste.)
  7. Stir in the toasted almonds.
  8. Place the mixture into a large bowl. Add the toasted croutons and grate some cheese over the whole thing.
  9. Makes 4 or 6 servings, depending on appetite.

 

 

The End of June, 2015

All in all, it has been a very good June. In Maine, June is typically rainy. Way back in the old days, I remember my father complaining about rotting beans in his garden—sometimes he would have to replant—and my friend’s father wondering anxiously if the weather would hold for haying.

A couple of years ago, it rained for twenty straight days. The slugs and snails blissfully chewed their way through my gardens, and I participated in what can only be called slug and snail genocide. (A jar of soapy water filled with the little slimers is truly a disgusting sight.) But finally I gave up. There were just too many of them, and by July many of my plants were in ribbons.

In disgust, I took this picture of my own wet feet, which looked this way too often two Junes ago.

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From two Junes ago

But this year, June has given us a break. Yes, it has rained, and this is good. We need rain. But we have also had a number of sunny days, and at the little house in the big woods, everything green is flourishing—the herbs in my small garden, my potted plants, the flowers. There have been slugs and snails, but so far their numbers are few, and the hostas, for the most part, remain unscathed.

Our green room the end of June
Our green room the end of June

The other day, as I was at the kitchen sink, I looked out the window and saw two downy woodpeckers, about the same size. However, one was feeding the other, a parent with a fledgling. Soon the parent will no longer be feeding “Junior,” but as my husband noted, Junior now knows where the feeder is. I will be sure to keep it full.

The lightening bugs have made their luminous appearance, and at night, as Clif and I sit in the living room, we see them on the screens on the windows. A little blinking glow in the dark night.

As lovely as the backyard looks, it is not always a peaceable kingdom. Female hummingbirds fight fiercely for control of the feeder, filled with a sugar and water mixture. (Jodie Richelle recently wrote about this on her blog.) It seems to me that they spend as much time fighting as they do feeding. Yesterday, my husband and I watched in fascination as over and over, the hummingbirds dived bombed each other. It didn’t look as though any blood was spilled, but it must be exhausting to fight like that.

“If only they would cooperate,” I said sadly. “There’s enough for all of them.”

“It’s not their nature,” Clif replied.

I guess it’s not. Unlike, say, crows, hummingbirds have evolved to be highly competitive, and I suppose it has served them well. But still.

July is just around the corner. Two more sweet months of summer. I try to enjoy each day to its fullest, to spend as much time outside as I can, to take pictures of the burst of flowers, the insects, and the rush of green.

Ah, summer, summer.

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Daddy longlegs on a green fern

 

 

A Rainy Sunday in which We Drink Margaritas, Eat Salad, and Marvel at a Grasshopper

Yesterday, our friends Jim and Dawna came over for dinner. We had hoped the day would be fine so that we could eat on the patio and Clif could make his legendary grilled bread. Unfortunately, the weather gods had other ideas, and it rained, rained, rained. Not just a light soaking, but instead a downpour.

So in we stayed. Dawna brought margaritas and chips and a hot cheese appetizer. Very tasty! Even though it was more a soup day than a salad day, I stuck to my original plan of a salad meal. However, the grilled bread was out, and I made a pan of cornbread. For dessert we had homemade chocolate ice cream.

With Farmer Kev’s delectable red and green lettuce, I made a salade niçoise, sort of, using a recipe by the inimitable Mark Bittman as a guideline. My salad niçoise had, along with the lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, sliced radishes, sliced cooked potatoes, sliced tomatoes, and tuna. (Note: Tuna is overfished, and we only eat it once or twice a year on salade niçoise.) I made a homemade vinaigrette to go on the salad. Capers would have been a good addition as would have olives and green beans.

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I also made a Greek pasta salad to go with the salade niçoise. The Greek salad had mini penne, which are adorable, feta, tomatoes, Swiss chard, basil, mint, and several squeezes of lemon. It’s one of my favorite summer salads.

Dawna, Jim, and Clif are all accomplished photographers, and whenever we get together, at some point the talk inevitable turns to photography. I am the novice of the group, and I always learn something from these discussions. Yesterday was no different, and the advice I got from Dawna was “watch where you stand,” which apparently comes from the Ansel Adams quotation: “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” (In Adams’s case, he often stood on the roof of a vehicle to get his sweeping photos.) Yes, indeed. Some angles are better than others, and distance from the subject is also a concern.

I gave Dawna a few of my photo cards, including one of the grasshopper that stole the show on my most recent Wordless Wednesday post (6/24/15). We marveled at his eye, at his tiny wing, at his little black feet. “It looks like he’s wearing shoes,” Dawna said.

It’s not every friend who brings margaritas to your house and marvels over a photograph of a grasshopper. But Dawna is that kind of friend.

How lucky I am!

And for those who missed the photo, here is the grasshopper in all his (or her) glory.

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When the Greens Cometh, Make a Quiche with a Cracker Crust

Summer’s bounty is starting to come in, and my refrigerator is stuffed with greens from Farmer Kev’s CSA.  But luckily, my friend Alice Johnson has come to the rescue yet again with another delicious recipe—Summer Greens Quiche with a Cracker Crust.

Some thoughts about making pie crust: I enjoy rolling dough and making pie crusts.  This might come under the category of tooting my own horn, but I’m pretty good at making pie crusts, and I am of the firm opinion that a bad crust can ruin a pie. However, I must also acknowledge that making homemade pie crust takes a fair amount of time and makes a bit of a mess. When you come home from work at 6:00 p.m. or so, the last thing you probably want to do is dig out your rolling pin to make a pie crust.

So what to do? You could make a crustless quiche, but a quiche without a crust is like a cake without frosting. It’s all right, but when you cook, you want something that is more than all right. You want something that is delicious and, on a work night, not too time consuming.

Enter the cracker crust. If you take 1 1/2  cups of cracker crumbs—Ritz, Saltines, Club, most any nonsweet cracker will do—and add 1/3 cup of melted butter, then you will have a tasty crust with a minimum amount of fuss. No, it’s not as good as a regular crust, but it certainly beats no crust at all.

Best of all, this summer greens quiche with the cracker crust reheats beautifully, with the leftovers tasting just as good as when the quiche was first cooked.

I count this recipe as a triple win. First, it uses greens. Second, the cracker crust goes together pretty darned fast. Third, it reheats beautifully. Oh, and fourth—it’s delicious.

So grab that rolling pin after all, but instead of using it to make pie dough, use it to crush cracker crumbs. (I use a large Ziploc bag to contain the crackers while I’m crushing them.)

Happy Eating!

The cracker crust
The cracker crust

 

Cook the greens and the garlic
Cook the greens and the garlic

 

The uncooked quiche
The uncooked quiche

 

Fresh out of the oven
Fresh out of the oven

 

Ready to eat
Ready to eat

 

Summer Greens Quiche with a Cracker Crust
Adapted from a recipe by Alice Johnson

Ingredients

For the cracker crust

  • 1 1/2 cups of cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup of melted butter

For the quiche

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of loosely packed greens—spinach, Swiss Chard, or kale or a combination
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup of feta
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cracked pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine melted butter and cracker crumbs. Press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes or until it puffs up and browns.
  3. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the greens. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds—don’t let the garlic get too brown. And greens and sauté until wilted. Remove from pan into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl, wisk eggs and heavy cream. Stir in the cheese, nutmeg, and pepper. Spread greens’ mixture on baked crust. Pour egg mixture on top.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes or until the mixture is set, and the top is golden brown. ( A knife inserted off center should come out clean.)
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