Friday, August 24, 2012

On Friendship

Here's what Ben gave Ava for her birthday. He spent ages on the Cape looking for the perfect stones and shells. It was the counterpoint to her Christmas present to him, which she'd made from rocks she'd found on a beach in Ireland.

Ben and Ava, 2012

Ben and Ava, 2005
There's nothing quite like a long friendship, is there? They're like a pair of old slippers. With teenaged feet inside them. Sigh.
Meanwhile, there are some other things I've been enjoying in these last days of summer.

This summer pasta with corn, zucchini, lime, and mint, for one. Not to be immodest, but it is just insanely fragrant and summery and delicious, and so perfect for nights when you've got a couple zukes, a couple ears of corn, and loads of fresh herbs.

Wild grapes, which, if you live in New England, are happening early, as in now.

This lip balm, which I've now given to a couple of people too. The color is perfect; it's fragrance-free but smells great; it's very nicely moist; everybody loves it.

This book, which is like a classic quietly apocalyptic middle-school coming-of-age story crossed with a more loudly apocalyptic global-warming story. I know. It doesn't sound good, but I absolutely loved it, and then Michael loved it too. Don't worry--it's not at all like those urban end-of-the-world stories where everybody's lurking around a burnt-out New York in the dark with guns and rabid dogs. It's more like everyday misery refracted through the end times. Hm. Still not sounding quite right.

And this book, mostly because Tracy Clark is such a gorgeously inspirational photographer and writer, and also because I have a teeny little thing in it.

We've been watching Arrested Development with Ben every night, late, and while I'm not exactly recommending it, boy, are we laughing a lot. Come on!

Ben, who starts middle school next week. I will be catatonically depressed about the end of the summer. Please stand by. Dear friends, do. Stand by me.


Friday, August 17, 2012

camping / granola

What? That doesn't look fun to you? Sleeping damply under a parking-lot-sized piece of blue plastic while the rain hurls itself from the clouds like giant clots of wet, suicidal lemmings, even though it has, to date, been the driest summer on record? Well aren't you strange! Because it's especially fun in the moment right after it starts to pelt water, when you and your partner are out in the rain stringing the tarp to the trees, because that's just the kind of situation that lends itself to a kind of absolute harmony: a oneness of vision and purpose that brings everyone closer, like putting together an IKEA futon frame or putting up wallpaper or cleaning up your barfing kids in the night, if you know what I'm saying (and what I'm saying is: lack of harmony).There was a moment when we had the edge of the tarp draining onto a boogie board that was propped up against a plastic bin that was set up on another tarp right by the ditch we'd dug with a miniature plastic beach shovel to encourage the water to drain awaywards rather than towards.

Campfire under a tarp: good idea or not?
And yet. It was fun, even during the worst of it, and I'm not even sure why. Maybe it was the game we invented--the one where each person takes a turn standing up with a hand to their breast and making up the national anthem of a made-up language? (This only became unfun briefly, when I realized that our Russian neighbors were looking over at us offendedly. "Oh no!" I said. "I think they think we're making fun of them!" And Birdy said, "Well, we did get the idea from listening to them talk." Which was, I'm ashamed to say, true. But as you know, I khev Russian blood in my veins, so ees okay, yes?) Or maybe it was all that cozy reading in the tent. Or the wet day at the bay.

Or the excuse to clam-shack it for dinner. Or the game that we bought for $1.50 at the Brewster Library book sale. 

I'm Sorry! Did we steal your game idea? What an Aggravation! So Sorry. (That's a photo I lifted from ebay, lest you thing we brought a metal-framed bed camping.)
Or the fact that we still didn't miss a single day of pond swimming.
Our own private pond.
Or the fact that when the weather did turn, and turn glorious, nobody could have appreciated it more than we did.

Much intrepid boogie boarding was boogied.
Of course, we ate well, because that's what we do. Classic camp dinner (see the last photo here), to which I added diced zukes; goat-cheese and basil and cucumber sandwiches at the beach; tuna and pickled banana pepper sandwiches at the beach; fire-melted Raclette with tiny boiled potatoes and cornichons (because it's a longstanding tradition); fried scallops; 

Us at Arnold's, where the scallops make my eyes water with happiness. Also: a giant stuffed quahog, like chowder crossed with Stove Top, in a good way.
dip cones; birthday cake;

Are you dying a little because our tablecloth is so nice? Me too. I splurged on two yards of this fabric. I didn't even hem it or anything. It's so lovely.
and, for breakfast, a beautiful bass, caught, gutted, and fried in bacon fat by Ava's dad, Jonathan.

And lots of granola. I am republishing this recipe for two reasons: 1) because it's awesome and I still make it all the time, and 2) because I've changed it the slightest bit with the addition of bran cereal. I always add it now, but it is especially great for camping, in that keeping things moving along way, even though you risk spending less time in the fascinating insectarium of the bathroom. So that might be kind of disappointing.

2008. The granola still looks the same, though Birdy doesn't.
If your family doesn’t share a titanic aversion to sunflower seeds, please feel free to add them here. Along with cinnamon, which is another normal granola additive that I don’t like and don't add. If you want fruit—raisins, those date rolly things, or dried cherries—wait until the granola has baked and cooled, then stir it in. 

6 generous cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup bran cereal, ideally the twiggy kind that looks like something a guinea pig would eat (I use Trader Joe's High Fiber Cereal)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped raw nuts (I use a mix of pecans and sliced almonds)
1 ½ cups shredded coconut (mine is the sweetened kind)
¼ cup each pumpkin seeds, whole flax seeds, ground flax seeds, and wheat germ
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or blah as much blah blah blah)
1  stick butter
1/3 cup mild-tasting honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat the oven to 300. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a very large bowl (hands are nice for this, as are children), then melt the butter and honey together in a small saucepan, add the vanilla, and stir it into the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon (preferably one that doesn’t hold an aromatic memory of garlic or cumin) until everything seems well moistened.

Now spread the granola evenly on two very large rimmed baking sheets (I think mine are called “jelly roll pans,” and they’re 12 inches by 17 inches) and bake for 15 minutes. Now take the pans out of the oven and use a spatula to stir the granola around—the edges may have started to brown a bit, and the idea is to move it often enough that all of it browns without any of it burning; be especially wary of the wheat germ, which likes to hide out at the bottom of the pan where it can char in peace. Put the pans back in the oven (switching their positions), and bake another 10 minutes, then stir them around and return them to the oven. After another 10 minutes (35 minutes altogether), evaluate the granola for doneness: it should be fairly golden and toasted-looking; if it’s not, return it to the oven for a few minutes at a time, stirring at each checking until it’s done; bear in mind that it will continue to toast a bit in the hot pans after you remove them from the oven. Allow the finished granola to cool completely before storing in a large, lidded, airtight container or, if you're camping, in a gallon-sized ziploc.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Any-Fruit FroYo or Ice Cream

This version was made with peaches and 2% Greek yogurt.
I make tons and tons of ice cream and frozen yogurt all summer long. Sometimes. It’s like doing yoga or making mozzarella or taking fish oil capsules: a passion that I get all evangelical about—until I forget about it for months or years on end, and you’re like, “Do you want to go to that hot yoga class you totally forced me to become addicted to and now I’m obsessed and broke and exhausted all the time?” And I’m like, “What? Nah.” But this has been a big ice-cream summer for us, and we've loved it.

If you put out healthy toppings, such as fruit, toasted coconut, and slivered almonds. . .
. . . then you can let everyone top their bowls just how they like. . . 
. . . and it will be delicious. . . 
. . . and you can call it "dinner"!
I’ll make a custard base for vanilla or chocolate ice cream. But for fruit, I pretty much always use a version of the same, super-easy recipe: "Any Berry Ice Cream" from the late, great Barbara Tropp’s scrumptastic China Moon cookbook (longtime readers: this is the cookbook whence comes the famous, mandatory green vinaigrette). I love it because it’s perfect, it’s fast, it’s not obscenely rich, and it’s a lovely, light showcase for gorgeous, fragrant summer fruit. Plus, you don’t have to cook anything, and once you get the gist of the formula, you really can use pretty much any fruit. Okay, maybe not really any fruit. But any berry or stone fruit will work--peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.--or, even, flavorful melon or very ripe pears. Or you can also use citrus juice and some grated zest, boosted with extra sugar, to make incredible sherbet. Earlier in the summer, I made tons of strawberry ice cream and cherry ice cream. For the cherry, I whapped some of the pits with a hammer (like this) then included the kernels for their divine almondy flavor. Yum. I am planning to make raspberry ice cream later in the week.

We buy big bags of cheap, burstingly ripe scratch-and-dent peaches (aka "utility" peaches) from a local orchard and use the rest for jam.
photogenic detritus
If you don’t have an ice cream maker, and you have room in your freezer, at least during the summer, to store the inner container (it needs to be frozen before you use it), then this is the ice cream maker I recommend. Otherwise, I'll bet that Googling "how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker" would get you some pretty helpful ideas. It goes without saying: homemade is a much, much cheaper way than buying it to end up with a quart of fabulous ice cream.

Any-Fruit FroYo or Ice Cream
Make 1-plus quarts

Adapted from China Moon. This is a very flexible recipe: you want a shy 4 cups total mixture, but you can vary the amounts of fruit and dairy. You can use all yogurt, for excellent frozen yogurt (use whole-milk or 2%, since lower fat starts to get a bit thin and depressing), all half and half, for excellent light ice cream, or a combination. Or, for a more sherbety situation, you can use more fruit overall and less dairy. Barbara Tropp recommended sieving the fruit mixture to get rid of the seeds. Guess whether or not I do.

Enough very ripe berries or stone fruit to make a shy 2 cups pureed (about ¾ pound berries, weighed after trimming, or around 5 peaches, or around 1 pound of melon flesh, etc.)
½-1 cup sugar (to taste)
1 or 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice
1 or 2 optional tablespoons of a complementary liqueur (Amaretto goes beautifully with peaches)
2 cups half and half or plain (whole-milk or 2%) Greek yogurt or a combination

Pit, hull, or seed your fruit, skin it if necessary, and cut it into pieces, as needed, to smash and measure it. If your peach skins are thin and not to fuzzy, you can simply scrub them and not worry too much. But if they seem like they're going to make a nuisance of themselves, then you can halve the peaches, and use a juicer to ream the flesh from the skins. This is untraditional but effective. If you're measuring soft berries, such as strawberries, smash them down in the measuring cup with a potato masher to get a better read of the amount. Melon can simple be cut from its rind and chunked.

In a blender or food processor, whir together the fruit and sugar until smooth. Add the lemon or lime juice, optional liqueur, and yogurt or half and half and whir again. Now taste. The flavor should be rounded and just a bit too sweet so that it will taste perfect when it’s frozen. Add more lemon juice and/or sugar, whir, and taste again.

Ideally, chill the mixture, covered, for an hour or longer before freezing. But I usually don’t leave myself time for this. Freeze according to the directions of your ice-cream maker. If you can’t get it firm enough, scoop into a glass container, cover, and freeze until firm.

I use the untraditional juicer method for peaches, which works just fine.
And I use either blender or food processor, depending on which is clean.
I like to give it a bit of time to firm up in the freezer.
Ben has to taste it before deciding exactly what balance of toppings he wants.