Yesterday was the kind of perfect August day in Maine that gives it the reputation for being vacationland. The sky was a deep blue without even one speck of cloud to worry it. The day was warm but not hot, and the humidity was blessedly low. Oh, summer!
I invited my friend Barbara Penrod over to celebrate her birthday, and I made her lunch, which we ate on the patio. I won’t lie. The gardens are, shall we say, a little frowsy by late summer. Most everything is gone by, and the foliage has a dry, ragged look. Still, the bee balm was enough in bloom so that we had a splash of red and a constant whir of feeding hummingbirds. The scarlet runner beans still looked lush and cheerful, and the backyard was filled with the songs of crickets and cicadas.
Here is what I served: chicken salad with dried cranberries, celery, and roasted pecans, all arranged on bed of lettuce bordered by triangles of tomatoes, local, of course; homemade cornbread; and green grapes. For dessert we had cream and cherry parfaits along with lemon-frosted shortbread. Barbara is a very appreciative guest and, I’m happy to report, a good eater. However, when she said, “That shortbread is to die for,” I knew the meal was a success. I also knew her gift would be a success as I had bought a blue-swirl plate from a Maine potter and filled it with some of the shortbread.
Eating and talking, we spent a good part of the afternoon on that sunny patio, with the dog alternately begging for handouts and running around the fenced-in backyard. After Barbara left, I felt happy and content. I had gotten up very early to make the cornbread, the shortbread, and the parfaits. The night before, I had roasted the chicken for the salads. All of the food was simple to make, but it took time, something that Americans never seem to have enough of, and ultimately what I gave Barbara was the gift of my time. And it felt good to give this gift.
Here is the recipe for the cherry parfait. I got the recipe from my friend Beth Clark, and she, in turn, got it from her aunt.
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 can of cherries (I used bing cherries canned in Oregon.)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
dash of salt
Whip cream with sugar, vanilla, and salt. Fold in sour cream. Alternate layers of cherries with whipped cream mixture in parfait glasses, beginning with cherries and ending with cream. Top with cherry. Chill.
The shortbread “to die for” is a recipe from the New York Times Cook Book (published in 1961), but I’m convinced that the secret to its deliciousness is the brand of butter I use—Kate’s Butter, made by the Patry family in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. (Their website is www.katesbutter.com) On the box of butter, it says that the butter is made without dyes or preservatives and that the milk comes from cows that have not been treated with artificial growth hormones. Whatever the case may be, Kate’s butter is quite simply the best commercial butter I have ever tasted, and once I went down Kate’s buttery road, there was no turning back. It is the only butter I use.