I have a confession to make—Clif and I are crazy about fried food. For several years, Clif has been longing for a fryer to make home frying a little easier. Yesterday, his wish was granted. Dee and Shannon bought him a fryer for Father’s Day.
Was Clif happy? You bet he was. He immediately put the fryer to work and made French fries and crunchy chicken for dinner. We were joined by Mike, Shannon, and the dogs. Dee, alas, lives too far away to come just for the weekend.
Although the fries look delectable, they were a little soggy. However, the fault was ours, not the machine’s. We hadn’t thoroughly read the instructions and didn’t understand all the settings. In short, the oil wasn’t hot enough. Next time, we will do a better job.
Still the food was pretty darned good, as Clif the Yankee observed, and by the end of the meal, both plates were empty.
Now, Clif and I certainly know that fried food qualifies as a treat and shouldn’t be eaten every day. We plan to use the fryer once a week, probably on a Saturday night. We’ll primarily make fries, but we will try other vegetables, too. Crunchy chicken will also be on the menu from time to time. Then there is fried dough and maybe even donuts, that quintessential New England treat.
Today begins what counts as a feverish swirl of activity at the little house in the big woods. It just so happens that for the next four days various groups of family and friends will be coming for a visit. This, of course, means there is a flurry of cooking and cleaning.
Today, three friends from the library are coming over for granola cookies and strawberry ice cream, both homemade. We will be celebrating several things—the library’s new addition, reaching the project’s million dollar mark, and “only” having $41,000 left to go on the project. The four of us will clink our iced tea glasses together to toast all who have given to our beautiful library and to toast all who have worked so hard—for years and years—to make this project a reality. I hope the weather will cooperate so that we can eat on the patio. Right now the sky is is cloudy with small patches of blue. If it doesn’t clear, then never mind. It will still be a clink, clink, clink, and hooray kind of afternoon.
Tomorrow, different friends will be coming over for movie night, where we’ll be watching Monk with a Camera, a documentary about Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of Diana Vreeland, and how he decided to become a photographer. And a Buddhist Monk.
Sunday is Father’s Day, and that can only mean one thing—cooking for Clif, the special man of the house. Shannon, Mike, and the dogs will be coming over to celebrate, and Shannon and I will make what Clif has requested—fried chicken and French Fries, both homemade and cooked fresh. For dessert—strawberry shortcake made with Maine strawberries. (At last they are here.)
On Monday, my friend Barbara will be coming over for French donuts—actually nutmeg muffins dipped in melted butter and rolled in sugar and cinnamon. Barbara and her husband spend the summer in Maine, and I always joke that until they come to Maine, summer can’t be begin. It’s always good to see her.
Summer time, busy time, but good times. We always enjoy having guests come to our house, but we especially like to do so in the summer when everything is lush and green, and time can be spent outside.
On Tuesday, I received my first box of vegetables from Farmer Kev’s Community Supported Agriculture program—henceforth referred to as CSA. I’ve written about Farmer Kev many times in this blog. For new readers: He’s young, he’s energetic, he doesn’t come from a farming family, and he’s been farming on leased land since he graduated from high school. Go, Farmer Kev!
This year will be especially exciting for me and, I hope, for Farmer Kev. He’s become a sponsor, of sorts, of this blog. In exchange for writing about his vegetables and ways to use them, I get a free CSA share. (I will write for food, as long as it comes from a source I approve of, and I most definitely approve of Farmer Kev.)
For the next month, I will, of course, be focusing on greens because let’s face it—when those greens get going they come in an avalanche that can be downright alarming. What to do with all those greens?
I have some ideas, and I am lucky to have a good friend who is also a good cook. Her name is Alice Johnson, and when she heard about how I would be writing regularly about Farmer Kev and his vegetables, she jumped right into the fray and has been sending me wonderful recipes that will make short work of those daunting greens. (Farmer Kev, you are in effect get two heads for the price of one.)
But for this week, which is just the start of the greens avalanche and should thus be manageable, I am going to focus on the humble radish. Yes, yes, they are good in salads, and I’m sure everyone knows this. But they are also good on buttered toast, which is a relatively new trick for this Yankee cook.
I got this idea from JoEllen Cottrell, who is director of the Winthrop Food Pantry. A while back, she told me about toast and radishes and said this is something that is eaten in Germany. (She has a German daughter-in-law.)
Really, toast and radishes couldn’t be easier. Make a toast—the better the bread, the better the toast—and butter it. Top the toast with thinly sliced radishes and sprinkle with a little salt, if you like.
The butter and the toasted bread go very well with the crunchy, tangy radishes. I had this for lunch yesterday, and I had it again today. It’s strangely good.
Starting next week, I’ll begin posting recipes that use spinach, Swiss chard, and Kale. I even have an idea or two for salads. With the help of my friend Alice, we’ll show those greens a thing or two.
It’s mid-June in Maine, and after a hard, hard winter, we have had a pretty good spring. May was sunny and warm. The black flies were brutal, but mercifully their time here was short—two weeks at their swarming, biting peak. June has been somewhat rainy and cool, but there have been enough nice days so that humans don’t feel too damp and soggy. Best of all, the potted flowers outside look very perky—not a given in June. Sometimes it rains so much that the pots become waterlogged, and the plants never really recover. Who knows? If the good weather continues, then I might even get a decent bunch of basil.
However, today is a cool day, a soup day. (As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a good thing Clif and I like soup because in Maine you can eat soup nine months of the year.) I still have frozen vegetables from Farmer Kev’s winter CSA, and I have decided to make a Mediterranean soup with green beans and summer squash. I splurged on fresh rosemary along with Italian-spiced chicken sausage. We’ll add cooked pasta to the bottom of the soup bowl before ladling soup on top.
Biscuit muffins—one of Clif’s favorites—will round out the soup. Somehow warm biscuits, muffins, or bread round out most any meal.
The rest of the week is supposed to be sunny, and I am especially hoping it will be nice on Friday, when friends will be coming over for homemade strawberry ice cream and cookies. If the weather is rainy, then we will of course eat in the dining room.
But how much nicer to be on the patio, next to the Irises, which are still in bloom. To have the birds fluttering above and around us in the trees. To be held by the green hand of the forest. And high above, framed by leaves, a blue circle of sky.
So tonight, soup and biscuits with the hope the weather will be clear on Friday for friends and homemade ice cream.
Every day, it seems, is national something or other day, but June 5 just happens to be National Donut Day. I am a donut lover from way, way back, when I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts during those halcyon times when each store had honest-to-God bakers who made donuts fresh every six hours. I ate more donuts than I care to admit, but because I was biking to work—ten miles round trip—I was fit and lean.
In 2008, I wrote a longish essay called “Desperate for Donuts.” In honor of National Donut Day, here are some excerpts, slightly edited, from that piece:
The Good and the Bad
Ironically, they are the perfect shape—a circle, round like a mandala, the symbol of eternity—and this should make them the perfect food. But fried in oil, perhaps drenched in glaze, covered with sugar, frosted, or even plain, they are not good for you. Not even a little bit.
Then there is their status. Jill Lightner, a West Coast writer, has called them the “dumb blonde of the pastry world. ” Patric Kuh, another West Coast writer, described them as a “street thug…strutting past Madeleine and Éclair.” There are also all the donut/cop jokes that have become so ubiquitous they are now clichés.
But…there is something about fried dough that transcends its lowly status, that crosses class lines, that worms its way into people’s appetites, even though they might not like to admit it. Simply put, fried dough is delicious, and donuts are the epitome of fried dough. There is nothing more sublime, say, than a raised donut, newly fried, dipped in glaze, and eaten just as soon as that glaze has dried.
A Brief History of Donuts
“When it comes to donuts New England is a place apart.” —John T. Edge, Donuts, An American Passion
New England can reasonably claim to be the epicenter of the American donut world, and its donut tradition stretches all the way back to the Pilgrims, who, after staying in Holland, brought fried dough, which the Dutch called olykoeks (oily cakes), to the New World. These ur-donuts had no holes, were yeasted, and had raisins, apples, and almonds in them. John T. Edge…has described them as “deep fried fruitcake.” A daunting thought, but I would certainly give them a try if the opportunity presented itself. Naturally, as the Dutch settled New York, they brought their olykoeks to this region as well, and fried dough had a firm foothold in what would become the thirteen colonies.
According to legend, Sea Captain Hanson Crockett Gregory, from Rockport, Maine, invented the hole in the donut sometime in the mid-1800s. Out at sea, with a holeless, olykoek-type donut in one hand and the ship’s wheel in the other, he supposedly stuck the donut on the spoke of the wheel, thus inventing the donut hole. Is this true? Only Captain Gregory knew for sure, but he somehow managed to convince the Boston Post his story was true and was duly accorded fame for his “invention.”
From there, donuts, complete with holes, went international, and they did so in a most unusual way—they went to France during World War I with the Salvation Army. Here again, we have the stuff of legend. In 1917, four Lassies (as the women in the Salvation Army were called) traveled to the camp of the 1st Ammunition Train in France. The soldiers wanted pie, but there were no bake ovens for the Lassies to use. However, they did have a kettle, oil, and the ingredients for donuts. From that first day, when two of the Lassies fried 150 donuts, word spread, and other Lassies soon began making donuts for the troops. Eventually, Lassies, often only two of them, would go on to make as many as 2,500 in one day for the grateful soldiers. Hence, the term “doughboy” was born. You might die miserably in the trench or be poisoned by mustard gas, but at least there were donuts to be had before the horrors of battle. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
A Donut Tour
“We devalue the things that give us pleasure.” —John T. Edge
I have a dream, a fantasy of sorts, that John T. Edge, a food writer who hails from the South, would come as far north as central Maine and that we would go on a donut tour together. We would start in Augusta, at Bolley’s Famous Franks, early in the morning when their donuts…are still warm. Taking time to savor Bolley’s tender, old-fashioned cinnamon donuts, we would then hurry to Frosty’s in Gardiner…marveling at the oh-so-fresh honey-dipped donuts.
From there it would be off to Willow Bake Shoppe in Rockport, whose cake donuts are impossibly tender and whose chocolate donuts are satisfyingly rich. I would perhaps introduce “wicked good” into Edge’s vocabulary. After all these donuts we would need a bit of a break, and Camden, on a sparkling day, would be the perfect place to rest. Finding a bench in the park overlooking the shimmering harbor, we would discuss the various donuts we had eaten, and I expect Edge would want to compare them to donuts he has eaten in other parts of the country. But in the end, Edge would return to a line from his own Donuts: An American Passion. That is, when it comes to donuts, New England is a place apart.
Despite the scourge of blackflies, this is the time of year when I can hardly stand to stay inside to do household chores. I want to be outside, where even hanging the laundry is a pleasure. I force myself to dust, vacuum, and clean the bathrooms, all the while looking outside at the deep blue sky and the tender yet exuberant burst of green that surrounds the little house in the big woods.
My gardens come into their own in June and July, and right now there is not much in bloom. But never mind! There’s more than enough going on with the trees and the yard to keep this amateur photographer happy.
And because we live on the edge of the big woods, there are spring wild flowers to admire.
Even the dandelions. I like their sunny heads, and when it comes to the lawn, my philosophy is that if it’s green, then it’s good. No herbicides allowed in our yard! However, should dandelions stray into the flower beds, I must admit that I dig them out.
Then there are the ferns. I admire their green grace, and I have encouraged them to take root all around our house. Ferns do well in deep shade, which this yard has in abundance.
With so much time spent outside, taking pictures and working in the yard. there hasn’t been much time for cooking, and our meals have been very, very simple—baked, breaded chicken, wraps, scrambled eggs and toast. Last night I soaked some black beans, and I cooked them this morning. Tonight we’ll have black bean burgers—from a Mark Bittman recipe—with oven fries.
I’ll make the burgers this afternoon and put them in the refrigerator to chill. Then, after a satisfying day of taking pictures and yard work and household chores, I’ll have those burgers ready to pan fry.
Over the years, we have realized that our favorite way of celebrating special days and holidays is to cook together as a family. (The family that cooks together stays together?) Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and, of course, Mother’s Day all bring about a flurry of mixing and cooking.
Yesterday, Shannon and the dogs came to the little house in the big woods to celebrate Mother’s Day. With Clif, we were a small but mighty team of three humans—Mike had to work, and Dee lives too far away—and three dogs. (Both Clif’s mother and my mother have died. How we miss them!)
This lucky mother got the best pancakes in Maine, if not the United States; fruit salad; home fries; and delectable flourless, chocolate cupcakes, which I request every year for Mother’s Day. Clif made the pancakes—his truly are the best—and Shannon made the rest.
For the most part, Clif and Shannon wouldn’t let me help, but I did manage to sneak in a couple of things such as wiping the tables, inside and out.
“You’re not supposed to be helping,” Shannon said. “You’re supposed to be taking it easy.”
“Well, whose daughter is she?” Clif asked.
Shannon and I laughed. My mother couldn’t stand not helping, and it was a real effort to get her to relax. Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the saying goes, and it I will admit it makes me a little fidgety to sit while others bustle to prepare a meal. However, for the most part, I complied with their wishes and stayed out of the kitchen.
After brunch, we headed out to the patio so that the dogs could roam and sniff and we could enjoy being in the backyard. We were able to spend quite a bit of time outside before the black flies drove us in.
Even though it made me a little antsy not to pitch in and help, it was a treat to have someone else do the cooking and clean-up. We seldom eat out, which means I make most of the meals we eat. I am happy to do this, but it is nice to eat food that somebody else has prepared.
Somehow, it always tastes better.
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