Saturday, August 19, 2017

I'm Not on Vacation, I Live Here






 I have to get up pretty early in order to get anything accomplished in the summertime.  If any items on the chore list can be checked off, it will need to happen before 9:00 am, long before the pull of a sunny day begins to nag at me to get outside and enjoy it.  When you have school age kids, summer is only two months long: July and August.  It's fleeting and fast.  Before I know it, there is only a week or two left of the days when anything is possible and adventure awaits.
  Summer mornings are jammed with activities: early morning swim lessons in the cool ocean, basketball camp, writing class and when all that ends, it's "Mom, can I go fishing, will you bring me to the beach and can you see if anyone else will be there?"
  It's a mad dash from early morning until late afternoon.  Then there is dinner to prepare and clean up as well as all the other household chores: shopping, vacuuming, laundry, bills and walking the dog.  Life on Cape Cod in the summer may seem like a vacation but dishes still pile up in the sink while I take a moment for a dip in the salty water and briefly sit with my feet in the sand before I need to get up and pay attention to the rest of my life.
  Those of us who live here all year, clamor for summer sunshine as we trudge through February snowstorms and bone chilling, wet spring weather.  Because of the long wait for warm, sunny days and sunsets after hours at the beach, the push to enjoy it all while its here can get exhausting.  We don't want to waste a single minute or take any of it for granted but the constant running to take it all in is enough to make me wish for a day full of rain.  And not just a little drizzle. Declan will remind me that overcast days are still good for fishing off the dock.  He will beg me to bring him down to the now abandoned beach, to meet his friends for a wiffle ball game.  What I need is a downpour to keep everyone indoors and under the covers.  A serious deluge that lasts from morning until night so that I can get the beach towels washed and the bathroom cleaned.  Perhaps even curl up on the couch with a good book for an hour.
  But Mother Nature has been kind this summer.  Just enough rain, but not too much to keep us from packing in the fun.  So, the ever growing to-do list has barely an item crossed off.   I tell myself that there is plenty of time to go thru the stack of magazines in my office that began piling up back in March, re-organize the plastic container cabinet before it all busts out onto the kitchen floor and finally clean out the old, worn clothes from the kids' drawers.  It's time to get rid of the pants that are three inches too short.  I will get to all of that in September when the kids go back to school and all the fun is over.  But in reality I know I am really just lying to myself.  Post Labor day brings its own hectic schedule.  I will probably have to wait to clean the closets when a snow day is called next February.
 
  In order to get a second wind to unpack the beach cooler and throw something together for the dinner table, I need an after beach pick-me-up.  After yelling at the kids to get into the outdoor shower and wash off the sand and salt before entering the house, I am ready for a moment of peace before round two begins.  It's time for a cold jolt of something slightly sweet and a little caffeinated. (Not too much to keep me up past my  9:00 pm bedtime.)  I want a refreshing drink just like the kind you can order at the fancy coffee place with the mermaid logo but without the astronomical price tag and the line that ends outside the door in the summer heat on Cape Cod.  This easy recipe fits the bill and I can sip it in my big chair under the shady tree in the yard, maybe catch a minute of silence before my children begin to ask, "Mom! What's for dinner?"  Did I mention that I need a vacation?

 
 Frothy Coffee Drink
(serves one)

1 handful of ice cubes
1/3 cup lowfat milk (fancy coffee places usually use 2%)
3/4 cup black coffee (leftover in the pot from this morning)
2 squirts of agave syrup or honey

Add all ingredients to blender or cup of Magic Bullet.  Blend until smooth.  Drink immediately.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Farm to Table at Highfield Hall and Gardens





 There have been some requests for the recipes from the Farm to Table class I was asked to teach at Highfield Hall and Gardens*, the restored mansion and gardens that was once a summer retreat for the illustrious Beebe family.  It's former gardens now thriving and original stunning home welcomes visitors to to view art, listen to music and taste delectable foods as well as many other forms of entertainment and education.  Gail Blakely, Culinary Director and longtime food columnist for our local Falmouth paper, The Falmouth Enterprise, invited me to join in the fun for two classes featuring seasonal produce where I got to also answer lots of questions about growing up in Falmouth, specifically at 540 Old Meeting House road where I learned pretty much everything that shows up on this blog thanks to Val and Dick.  You may know these two as my parents as they are featured prominently in all my stories.
  Some of these recipes have been adapted from famous cooks and bloggers.  Some are my own and some are from Val's recipe file.  All of them are easy and delicious crowd pleasers.  This is the perfect time to make them as the summer bounty of zucchini, green beans, cucumbers and fresh berries is upon us now in the middle of July and August here on Cape Cod.
  Enjoy!

*  http://highfieldhallandgardens.org/

Notes from Val’s Kitchen Recipes

Minty Peach Sangria
Makes about 10 cups

1 (750 milliliter) bottle rose wine
¾ cup vodka
¾ cup peach nectar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 ripe peaches
1 small package fresh raspberries
2 cups club soda or seltzer, chilled
1 pint peach or raspberry sorbet
Fresh mint leaves (about 2-3 full stems) for garnish

Combine first 4 ingredients in a large pitcher.  Add peaches and raspberries.  Cover and chill for 3 hours.
To serve: stir in club soda or seltzer.  Add a small scoop of sorbet to each glass.  Pour sangria over sorbet.  Rub mint leaves between your fingers to release oils.  Add a few leaves to each glass for garnish. 

**Garden Fresh Herb Sauce
Serves 6-8

1 large bunch fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro or a combination
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 pinch red pepper flakes
pinch of salt and black pepper, to taste

For Serving:
Greek Yougurt (about 10 0z.)
Salt and Pepper Kettle Chips (or any sturdy chip)

Remove all stems from herbs and place leaves in a Cuisinart with blade or small chopper.  Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Puree mixture.  If leaves are not moving around, add more olive oil to loosen so that the mixture moves around in the chopper.  Once, leaves are pureed into fine pieces, adjust for taste.  Mixture can be saved in an airtight container in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Spread Greek yougurt on a plate leaving 2” border.  Create a well in the middle of the yogurt leaving 1” border of yogurt.  Dollop the Herb Sauce into the well in the center of the yogurt.  Scatter the chips around the edge of the plate and serve.



Summer Vegetable and Herb Goat Cheese Tart
(Adapted from Ina Garten, “Zucchini and Goat Cheese Tart” www.foodnetwork.com)
Makes 2 tarts

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
10 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
5 tablespoons ice cold water
1 ½ pounds zucchini, sliced 1/8 inch thick (small zucchini are best for this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces plain, creamy goat cheese (room temperature)
1 teaspoon thyme leaves (or other fresh herbs)
Zest from ½ lemon

Place the flour, ½ teaspoon salt and the butter in a bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse 12-14 times, until the butter is the size of peas.  With the processor running, pour the vinegar and cold water through the feed tube and continue to process just until the dough comes together.  Dump dough out on a floured board, form 2 disks and wrap in plastic, individually.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the sliced zucchini in a colander and set over a plate.  Toss it with 2 teaspoons of salt and set aside for 30 minutes.  Spread the zucchini out on a clean dish towel, roll it up and squeeze gently to remove some of the liquid.  Put the zucchini slices in a bowl and toss with olive oil.  Using a fork, mash together the goat cheese, herbs, lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Set aside.

Roll out the dough on a floured board to an 11-12 inch circle.  Place each rolled out piece of dough on a separate sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Spread the dough with the goat cheese mixture leaving ½ inch border.  Lay the zucchini slices in tightly overlapping circles, starting over the edge of the goat cheese (the zucchini will shrink as it bakes).  Continue overlapping circles of zucchini until the whole tart is covered.  Sprinkle with pepper. Turn up edges of tart to slightly overlap outer edge of zucchini and goat cheese. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the dough is golden brown.  Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Variations:
Substitute full fat ricotta cheese for goat cheese, mix in 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped oregano along with lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Top with 12 oz roasted red pepper (jarred) cut into ribbons.

Spread tart dough with 6 oz. spreadable herb cheese such as Allouette.  Top cheese with 1 cup ricotta cheese mixed with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs and zest from ½ lemon, salt and pepper. 




**Crisp Streusel
(Adapted from “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, by Jeni Britton Bauer)
Makes about 3 cups

2 sticks butter, cubed and chilled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put all ingredients except oats into a bowl and blend by rubbing the dry ingredients into the butter with your fingertips.  Work quickly so that the butter does not melt.  When the mixture looks like coarse sand, add the oats and mix well.  Spread on an ungreased baking sheet.  Break up any large chunks into crumbs, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch size.  
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until toasted and browned, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, especially in the corners and to turn over the unbaked portions.  Let cool completely, use right away or freeze until ready to use.  The streusel can be frozen up to one month.

(Serve with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries)



Cucmber Salad with Creamy Garlic Dressing
Serves 8

4 medium to large cucumbers
1 small red onion
Dressing:
¾ cup Hellman’s Manyonaise
¼ cup buttermilk
1 large garlic clove
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Slice cucumbers into  quarters then, into ½” size pieces.  Cut red onion in quarters and slice each quarter thinly.  Add both to a large serving bowl.  In a small bowl, mix mayonaise and buttermilk.  Grate garlic into mixture.  Add salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Pour over cucumbers and onion.  Chill and serve cold.



Quick Pickled Cucumber and Red Onion
Makes about 2 cups

1-2 pickling cucumbers, sliced (about 1 ½ cups)
1 small red onion, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon pickling spice
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 dried bay leaf
1 cup cider or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Place cucumbers and red onion in a heat proof bowl (plastic or glass).  Place pickling spice through salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Heat until sugar and salt dissolve.  Strain mixture over cucumbers and onion.   Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Refrigerate in liquid for up to 2 weeks.


**Warm Chicken Salad with Green Beans
Makes 4-6 servings

2 large boneless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1/2 pound fresh green beans
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons light vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Use spray oil to grease a small baking dish.
Place chicken in dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Cove dish with foil.  Bake 25-35 minutes until chicken is cooked but still very moist.  Cool chicken enough to slice.
  Meanwhile, wash and pick green beans by removing the stems. If they are long, snap them in half.  Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.  Blanch beans in boiling water for 1-2 minutes until they turn bright green.  Drain immediately and plunge beans into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Let rest for 5 minutes and drain thoroughly.
  Mix the dressing: combine celery seed through vinegar.  Add honey and whisk to combine.  Slowly add oil while whisking.  Add sesame seeds and mix thoroughly.  Place sliced chicken and green beans in a large shallow bowl or baking dish.  Pour dressing over ingredients and toss to coat.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


**Basil Rouille
Makes one bowl of dip


2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
Zest from 1/2 lemon
Juice from 1/2 lemon

Mince garlic cloves and transfer to blender.  Add basil and olive oil.  Puree, stopping to scrape down sides, if needed.  Add mayonnaise, anchovy paste, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Puree until combined.  Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

(Serve with assorted fresh vegetables for dipping.)









Sunday, July 23, 2017

Best in Show



 The end of July signals a big event in our home.  It marks the middle of summer of vacation and elicits excitement, joy and sometimes, tears when the Barnstable County Fair is set up for a week at the edge of town.
  The barren land of the dry, dusty fairground becomes alive with the Zipper, Ferris wheel, fun houses, games with loud hawkers trying to get anyone to play for a huge stuffed animal and most often, lose.  Carnival treats: cotton candy, fried dough, Dell's Lemonade, ice cream sundaes, pulled pork, fried chicken and french fries.  Vendors show off everything from handmade silver jewelry to hot tubs and vacuum cleaners.  Livestock barns filled with cows, horses, hatching baby chicks, rabbits and exotic petting zoos.  Even live acts of has-been or up-and-coming singers and bands entertain the crowds.  But none of that is on my kids' minds.
  They are ready for competition.
  Adult and youth exhibits of amateur artwork, gardening, cooking, needlepoint even 4-H and science are set up in the halls just inside the main gate.  This is where the action really happens.  Ava and Declan allow me to bring in a few pieces they make in art class through out the year and Declan may decide to build a project out of Legos but where the kids really want to shine is in the baking department.  And it can get ugly in our kitchen.
  I know I have myself to blame.  I am the one who can't wait to bake something I deem to be spectacular and enter in the Adult exhibit, hoping for a top prize of my own.  Val is the queen of blue ribbons, state awards and Best in Show prizes for everything from her homemade sliced white bread to expertly knit baby blankets and garden grown raspberries the size of a giant's thumb.  So, I thought it would be fun to get my children involved.
  Not the greatest idea.
  These two are close in age, going head to head in the same group.  Their competitive natures rival Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Superman and Lex Luthor.  And this year,they both wanted to make cupcakes.
  This is understandable as Ava, last year, created a cupcake that Hostess would be proud to market.  The silky frosting, creamy filling and devil's food cake won her not only a blue ribbon but also a Best in Show for the kids' baking category.  No small feat.  We were all very proud.  Ava was elated.  She had not only beaten the competition but best of all, she blew her little brother's entry out of the water.
  But this year, Declan had his heart set on such a prize. I was fearful for him to go up against the cupcake champ.  But he kept insisting.  He wanted to make a cupcake with a toasted marshmallow on top.  I did not think it was worthy of top prize.  Ava wanted to make a chocolate cupcake that had M&M's hidden inside.  The candy spilled out after the first bite much like a pinata after being hit hard enough and breaks open.  This sweet treat, topped with fluffy buttercream and a sprinkling of M&M's was sure to garner praise.  But a cupcake with just a marshmallow on top?  Declan was sure to be disappointed and I did not want to deal with the moodiness and potential tears.
  He was not convinced when I suggested a brownie entry.  Not just any brownie, something fancy.  Like Rocky Road, studded with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows.  The judges would surely think it was a hit.
  Declan was not convinced.  He wanted a huge marshmallow toasted on top.  This was his vision.  He wasn't about to budge.
  We compromised.  A brownie with graham cracker crumbs on top and, O.K. a huge toasted marshmallow on each square.  We tested it out.  They looked and tasted pretty good.  I was just glad he would not be in direct competition with his 13 year old sister who is becoming quite a baker.
  On the first night of the fair, we did our usual routine.  Straight through the main gate to the exhibitor halls to check to see if anyone won anything.  Then off to a dinner of way to much junk food and lots of rides to work off our meal.  I tried to pace the kids to look at all the artwork as they became excited over a red ribbon for Declan's Lego fidget spinner and Ava's blue for her clay birdhouse.  But they ran ahead over to the baked goods display.  I wanted to be the buffer, just in case of disappointment.   I really wanted to avoid the whole thing all together.  It's hard to be exited for a winner and console the one who fell short, when they are both your children.
  Shocked and excited, the kids both won blue ribbons for their individual categories. As their mother I was relieved that no one would be mad or sad while we spent a night at the fair.  But wait, I felt this wave of relief to soon.   Ava had the look on her face that only comes from being angry at her younger brother.  My eyes followed her icy stare and landed on Declan's beaming face as he pointed to the large, red, white and blue ribbon for his marshmallow topped brownies: Best in Show.



Super S'Mores Brownies
(Make 9 large brownies)

6 graham crackers, crushed
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 teaspoon baking powder
5 jumbo marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8x8 pan and sprinkle 1/2 of the crushed graham crackers as if flouring the pan. Reserve the rest of the graham crackers for the topping.  Melt butter in a medium sized sauce pan.  Remove from heat.  Add sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Beat to combine.  Add cocoa, flour, salt and baking powder.  Mix well.  Pour batter over crumbs in pan.  Top batter with remaining graham cracker crumbs.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Do not over bake.  Cool completely.

Cut brownies into desired serving size.  Place each brownie on a lined baking sheet.  Cut each marshmallow in half horizontally and place 1/2 on each brownie with the sticky side down.  Place brownies under broiler for 3-5 minutes until marshmallows are golden brown.  Cool and serve.  Enjoy!

-Declan Norris, age 11


M&M Piñata Cupcakes
(Makes 12)


For the Cupcakes:
3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
⅓ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¾ cup brewed coffee, still hot
¾ cup bread flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


For Vanilla Buttercream:
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons whole milk
½ cup Crisco


Make the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners. Place the chocolate and cocoa in a medium bowl. Pour the coffee over the mixture and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
Whisk the oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla extract into the cooled chocolate mixture until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake cupcakes until set and just firm to the touch, 15-20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the tin on a wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Remove each cupcake from the tin, set on the wire rack, and let cool completely before filling and frosting, about 1 hour.
Assemble the Cupcakes: Using a small, sharp knife, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes, going about two-thirds of the way down. Save the part you cut out. Fill the cut-out insides with mini M&Ms. When filled, the M&Ms should almost reach the top of the cupcake.
Once all the cupcakes have been filled, slice off the smooth top of the piece you cut out. Replace the smooth top over the M&Ms.
Make the Buttercream: Use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk and Crisco.

After filling the cupcakes, Use a frosting knife, spread a good amount of frosting on top of the cupcakes, being careful not to move the removed cupcake top around. No need to let the frosting set, but any cupcakes not being eaten right away should be stored in an airtight container, and if it's the summertime, in the refrigerator.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Fireworks

 Around here, the July 4th fireworks are a big deal.  Money is raised all year by gathering dollars and loose change in covered coffee cans at the cash registers of small businesses all around town and the selling of t-shirts and hats to commemorate the event.  This cash collection funds the barge full of pyrotechnics that will be towed out into Vineyard Sound in the hazy summer afternoon before letting off the massive display after dark.  Hoards of people descend along the beaches on that side of Falmouth. From Menahaunt, Bristol, Falmouth Hieghts and Surf Drive beach and everywhere in between, there is not an inch of sand to be had as the throngs arrive to claim their turf as early as 5:00 pm, hours before the event takes place.  People lay out towels, blankets and coolers full of beer and juice boxes.  These campers are here for the long haul.  The first burst of fireworks won't begin until at least 9:00 pm, well after they have drank through all of their supply and past everyone little person's bedtime.  There will be lot's of crying and the occasional fight will break out over space or loud comments and everyone will need to use the bathroom.  But they will persevere.  And the show will be fantastic, exhilarating and loud, as long as the fog doesn't roll in to spoil the view.  After the show is a test for all men, women and children. The traffic is unreal.  At least an hour of gridlock snaking down every windy beach road to finally get back on the highway on the edge of town.  They might get home by midnight, if they are lucky.
  I can't stand it.
  It's not that I don't like the sensational burst of patriotic red, white and blue in the night sky, feeling the boom in my chest as each one goes off, anticipating the glorious burst then watching as it drips and drops into the soft edges of the skyline.  Once, Rob and I were on our way back to Val's house after seeing a movie when we spotted fireworks being shot off in the distant sky.  We quickly pulled the car over and enjoyed the show on a grassy hill of the golf course adjacent to the theater.  Other people did the same: a couple here, a family of four there, spilled out of their cars to catch the sight.  All gathered at the spur of the moment to enjoy just that- a fleeting moment in time.  No haggling for space or hours waiting.  A surprise fireworks show glimpsed between the trees on a warm summer night.  Now that's my kind of experience.
  So, I say "No, Thank you." to the damp, salty, night air, the whiny, tired children, the loud drunks and the sand fleas.  I will avoid the massive crowd at all costs again, this year.  Perhaps, from another part of town, in my travels this summer, I will by chance see some explosions of color in the night sky.  Until then, I will continue to listen to the Falmouth fireworks in the far distance on the 4th of July.



Patriotic Fireworks Bark

1  12 oz. package white chocolate chips (Ghirardelli)
2 packages red Pop Rocks
2 packages blue Pop Rocks

Heat oven to 300 degrees
Pour white chocolate chips onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Heat chocolate in oven for 3-5 minutes until the chips begin to melt.  Remove from oven and smooth out chocolate with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle Pop Rocks on top.  Slide chocolate covered parchment off pan and allow to cool completely.  Once cool and dry, break up chocolate into large pieces.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ruthless Gardening



 I am impatient, critical, when all I can really do is let it all go.  I want everything to be perfect.  As if I know what perfect is.  I long for my house, my life, my world to be organized, neat and tidy.  And because I am the one who plants, weeds and waters, I want my garden to be exactly as I envision it: in neat little rows.  These delusions are my potential downfall.  Especially when it comes to nurturing plants outdoors.  Every year, I think that if I control the variables, or at least try to, that I will be guaranteed the results I seek.  But just like any living thing, plants will behave exactly as they need to in order to survive or die according to Mother Nature's plan.  No one ever consults me.
  I thought I was so awesome, planting cucumbers from seed.  I started them early, indoors.  I misted them daily with a spray bottle.  I rotated them in the sun.  I finally planted them into the ground and waited for them to grow.  After some heavy rainfall that seemed to last for days and days, I inspected them last Saturday morning to find that the tender leaves had been eaten on most of the fledgling plants. Only a stem left.  Dammit all!  I called Val immediately.  I needed answers, solutions and remedies...FAST!  She is far more knowledgeable and sympathetic in this department than Google could ever be.  In the early days of the internet, before Google took over the world, me and all my friends used to refer to her as "askval.com". She has proven to know what you need when you need it and give you a pep talk over the phone as well.
"It's probably slugs.  I will send Dad over with some diatomaceaous earth.  Sprinkle it all around your plants.  The tiny particles will lacerate their little bodies and they will crawl away and die."
I think her favorite part about giving gardening advice regarding pests is describing how they will suffer.  Disturbing.
  Within ten minutes, my dad was knocking at my door with an extra large Quaker Oats container labeled in black Sharpie: DIATOMACEAOUS EARTH  NOT POISONOUS  Still in my pajamas, teeth yet to be brushed, I was so mad at those leaf eating slugs, I dumped more than the Val recommended amount on and around those cucumber sprouts.  It looked like there was a King Arthur flour accident in the tiny garden.
  Aside from a wet and cold spring, my little garden is limping along.  Every morning, I get up, pour a cup of coffee and peek out over the deck in my stocking feet to inspect.  I don't know what I expect to see differently from the night before.  Perhaps some sort of miracle growth spurt like Jack's bean stock?  But I know what I don't want to see.  I don't want to see a rabbit hopping away after enjoying a breakfast of sweet pea tendrils and tiny pea leaves.  "BASTARDS!" I yell as I grab for the phone to place my call.  This time I am instructed to head to the local garden center for something that will irritate the nostrils of any four legged, cotton tailed intruders.
The lady at the cash register inspected my purchase as she rang it up.
"You should have a dog that can help you with this problem." she said
Yeah, I know.  Although our sweet dog, Stella is almost 15 and gets a pass on every dog "duty" now that she is old, she was never any good at keeping rabbits, squirrels or chipmunks away.  I couldn't wait to get home and shake my new pest eradicating product all over the remaining plants in my garden.
I am becoming ruthless and irritated over this process of growing seeds and plants.  It may be all in vain.  But I wait and coddle, weed and threaten anyone who dares step on a seedling.  Maybe, just maybe I will be able to harvest something soon out of all of this madness called gardening.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Baseball vs. Rainy Days




Mother Nature has finally released us from winter.  The flat faced pansies, the song of the peepers, red and yellow tulips have emerged.  Lush green grass, tiny leaves on tree branches are everywhere I look. The days are finally long enough to begin looking forward to the end of school and dare I say, "warmer weather"?
  But Declan couldn't be more frustrated.  So many soccer practices and baseball games cancelled due to rain, rain and more rain.  When it finally stops raining, the playing fields are so saturated, the powers that be keep the kids off the grass for fear the landscaping will be torn to shreds. 
  Like tonight.  The sun finally came out, warmed the air and created the perfect weather for an evening baseball game.  He packed his bag with sunflower seeds, the baseball player's healthier alternative to chewing tobacco.  After searching through his desk drawers cluttered with the odd birthday party favor, beach finds and pencils worn down beyond use, he found his "baseball" sunglasses that he hasn't needed since last summer.  He scurried around the house gathering his gear, anticipating that the game could possibly finish under the lights, if the innings stretch out that long.  Wait.  Cancelled.  Again.  Declan is devastated.  He longs so much to get out and play.  The tears are barely hidden under the brim of his red and white cap.  Oh, Mother Nature what an eleven year old boy has to go through to swing a bat and shag a few fly balls with his friends!
  I remember back in high school when I was dying to get outside and run around the fields after school instead of my winter time routine of heading home on the bus for another boring afternoon of homework and soap operas.  The chilly spring air stinging my face, my freezing cold, raw, red hands gripping my lacrosse stick.  I didn't care that my entire backside was covered in splashes of mud from running up and down the wet field in my cleats. To finally get outside, run until I was out of breath and laugh with my friends in the fresh air; I never felt the cold on my bare legs.
  I used to trudge through the school day. My only motivation for being there was all the good stuff I got to do afterwards.  Monday through Friday, at lunchtime, I crossed my fingers and looked out the cafeteria windows hoping to see the sun or at least just cloud cover, praying against the rain.  If the weather looked alright to my untrained eye, I was happy and went about eating my lunch, looking forward to slamming my locker shut at dismissal.  But if the announcement belted out on the loudspeaker declared, "ALL OUTDOOR PRATICES CANCELLED FOR TODAY" followed by the response of a collective heavy groan, I was left in a funk.
  Today, I am addicted to the weather app on my phone.  I check the radar hourly, making my own interpretations based on the patterns on the screen, not wanting to rely on the inaccuracy of those weather people who have no idea how to make predictions for Cape Cod.  I constantly put it out to the Universe for heavy rain clouds to drift north or be blown out to sea.  At the very least to provide light rain showers only in the middle of the night so that the kids can get on the fields the next day.  I don't know if this obsession does anyone any good but it comforts me, as if I am somehow doing my part to let Mother Nature know I mean business when it comes to baseball vs. rainy days.



  I'm sure the Falmouth High School cafeteria ladies made this cake year round but I connect the memory of it with springtime.  Yellow cake layered with thick, white frosting, topped with a heavy hand of yellow and orange sprinkles.  It was served in large squares cut from rectangular sheet pans.  I could never get enough of the sugary sweetness and bright colors.  It always made my day when I saw "Sunshine Cake" featured on the menu, especially if rain was in the forecast.  These cupcakes pay homage to that dessert.





Sunshine Cupcakes
makes about 24



*Cupcakes:
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups 2% milk

Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup Crisco
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

orange and yellow sprinkles

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  In another bowl, whisk flour baking powder and salt.  Add this mixture alternately to butter mixture with milk, beating well after each addition.
Fill prepared cups 3/4 full (just shy of 1/4 cup batter, each).  Bake 15-20 minutes or until a pick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pans then remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Make the Frosting:
In a stand mixer, combine butter and Crisco.  Slowly, add powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Alternately, add one tablespoon of milk.  Add vanilla and salt. Mix well.  If frosting is stiff, add a few drops of milk, if loose, add more powdered sugar, one tablespoon at a time.  Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles while frosting is still wet.

Cupcakes will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

*Cupcake recipe adapted from Taste of Home "Yellow Cupcakes Recipe"
 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just Get it on the Table Season



It's baseball season, spring recital season, everyone get outside because the weather is finally nice and the flowers are blooming after a long and dreary winter season.  There is absolutely no time to cook and sit down to dinner unless you want to eat at 10:00pm.  Which means how the heck will I get everyone fed without making myself absolutely nuts?  I could just eat crackers and cheese, pour myself a glass of wine (counts as a fruit/vegetable, right?) and be done with it.  But my children look at me with their big hungry eyes and rub their growling tummies.  Long before any sane person should even be thinking about an evening meal, it happens every afternoon just as the bus doors close.  As they burst into the house, they yell,  "What's for dinner?"
Short of offering them something prepackaged and microwavable, there is not much I can do unless I want to be cooking dinner at 800pm and washing dishes from 9-10pm.  Everyone knows I like to be in bed far before that snuggling up with the same book I have been trying to get through for the past six months.  Oh the exhaustion of motherhood!  I have reread the same page over and over again, before I drift off to sleep midsentence.
Of course, there is the trusty Crock Pot.  However, my picky eaters don't really like soup or stew.  A meat entrée usually still needs some starch like mashed potatoes or boiling up a pot of rice and maybe even the addition of a vegetable....I need it to be easier than that.  Even rice takes 30 minutes on the stove top.
In a moment of sheer genius, I placed skinless, boneless chicken thighs and 1/2 a bottle of BBQ sauce in the crockpot and set it on low.  Stopped at the store for sandwich rolls and a bundle of fresh kale.  Yes, that's right.  KALE for children who always complain about what is on the plate.
It's shocking, I know that my picky eaters might even try a kale.  But I tricked them.  I baked kale chips.  Chips sound like junk food, like something forbidden.  So at least they might try it.  Now here they are devouring the whole bowl before I can get a handful for myself.  Even more surprising is that I actually like kale chips.  I have always hated kale, was angry about those "Eat More Kale" t-shirts and bumper stickers.  Yes, I have finally came around to the kale craze.  Late to the party but ready to celebrate.
Especially because kale chips can be made ahead and served at room temperature.  I actually left them on the cookie sheet I used to bake them right on top of the stove.  Crockpot on low with the BBQ chicken inside.  Now I feel like super mom.  Now, I am ready to watch a  two plus hour little league game and know that I can crawl into bed to try and read, uninterrupted by whining and complaining while my people devour their dinner.

Easiest BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
makes about 8 sandwiches

1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.5-2 pounds)
8 ounces BBQ sauce of your choice (I use Stubb's)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
8 sandwich or ciabatta rolls
8 slices deli cheddar cheese

Spray inside of Crock Pot with cooking spray.  Place chicken in a single layer inside Crock Pot.  Pour BBQ sauce over chicken.  Make a slurry out of cornstarch and cold water by mixing both together until smooth.  Add to BBQ sauce and swirl to combine.  Cover Crock Pot and cook on low for approximately 5 hours.  Once cooked, shred chicken and stir back into sauce.  Serve on toasted rolls or ciabatta bread.  Top with melted cheese, if desired.



Ridiculous Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
cooking spray
salt
pepper
garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.  Remove kale leaves from stems and rip into small pieces about 2"-3" long.  Scatter kale pieces in one layer over the cookie sheets.  Spray kale leaves with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Bake kale for 15-20 minutes until crisp and dark green and slightly browned on edges.  Serve immediately or leave out for people to snack on.  Great with cocktails!!