Quintessential Summer

What speaks to you of summer?  Doreen said it so perfectly last week.  For many, summer is swimming along sandy shores in salt water ... camping by clear mountain lakes ... picnicking in the woods ... biking and hiking ... reading stacks of books ... staying up late to watch the stars in the night sky ... spending time with family.  For us foodies, it is eating food fresh from the field, whether your own or a local farmer's.

The inspiration for this particular entry comes from fellow blogger Magda of My Little Expat Kitchen.  Her entry last week for Cherry Tomato Jam sent me directly to the St. Philip's Farmers Market to buy some fresh heirloom tomatoes – Brandywine variety.  Without her entry I might have forgotten that tomato season is upon us and that there is no time to be wasted!  Eat them while you can, I say, and in whatever fashion makes for your quintessential summer meal.  For Mark, it is simply slices of tomatoes still warm from the garden sprinkled with salt and pepper.  For my friend Marylou, it is tomato sandwiches eaten over the kitchen sink, summer's juices flowing down her arms.  For friend Susan it is a BLT on homemade white bread with thin slices of avocado.  For Mark and me, when we lived in Maine, it was a summer salad of fresh tomatoes, corn-off-the-cob, lobster and basil – a combination of flavors to make your knees weak.  But in my youth, it was my mother's tomato soup, hold the grilled cheese sandwich please!

Never have I had a tomato soup as simple and as pure as this one.  The flavors of thyme, parsley and bay are perfect compliments for the sweet, juicy flavor of garden-ripe tomatoes.  And water is the only stock you will need; the tomatoes speak for themselves.  I once tried making this with "vine-ripened" tomatoes out of season.  I shouldn't have – I should have known better – and I implore you not to either.  This is one of the true "eat local and in season" lessons that makes the concept ring loud and clear.  It has gotten to the point where, out of season, I only eat (hydroponic) cherry tomatoes and feel fortunate that their flavor is quite full and sweet, considering their provenance.


At Last . . .

Summer.  In the heat of the afternoon, a stillness has descended on the backyard.  The low drone of bumble bees buzzing in the garden, the neighbor's cat slinking across the grass.  My ambition extends no further than lazing on the porch with a good book.

Do you keep a book list?  I love lists.  To-do lists, book lists, the perfect wardrobe list . . . the very act makes me feel organized.  And so helpful, too, as more than once I've started a book only to realize I've already read it.  While perusing the stacks at the library, I discovered British author Anthony Capella.  He is, by his own admission, an Italophile and lover of all things culinary.  His novels are positively seductive. 

A few days ago I began reading "The Wedding Officer", set in 1944 Italy.  Which, of course, had me immediately craving pasta.  With the mint that grows wild in the corner of the garden, I made a simple sauce of eggplant and tomato.        


That's the Way the Chicken Crumbles!

As I write this, the market day in Cucuron, Provence, is just winding down.  The vendors will soon be returning home happily with a lighter load following the parade of marketers who have been coming for their produce and wares since the early morning hours. Cucuron has one of the most aesthetic market sites I have ever seen – the market wraps around a large reflecting pool centered in town, much the way New England towns have a green or common.  It was at this market that Mark and I, along with friends Susan and Towny, bought the most succulent rotisserie chickens I have ever eaten.  In addition to a great disparity in flavor and quality between these Provençal beauties and those from your local Safeway, there is also a huge psychological difference between buying one at at an outdoor Provençal market and popping into your local American grocer under buzzing florescent lights.  There, each freshly-roasted chicken is lovingly prepared, seasoned, roasted and then – when sold – wrapped as if it were a gift.  And, truthfully, it is a gift. 

We were in Provence for my 50th birthday two years ago, visiting Susan and Towny in their beautiful home in Lourmarin, Provence.  I loved our daily rhythm.  Mark and I started the day with a fresh croissant or baguette (and butter!) with our hot cocoa.  We would then join our friends and their daughter for the day's adventure.  This always began with a visit to the marché du jour.  Monday's was in Cadenet, Tuesday's in Cucuron, Wednesday's at Roussillon, and so on.  After  shopping, we woudl fortify ourselves at a market cafe and then head on to our midday focus: lunch.  In some ways, this meal was the main event of the day.  We would seek out a restaurant and, after three or four languorous hours (and several bottles of rosé), we would meander to our cultural destination – le Pont du Gard, l'Abbaye de Sénanque, the corkscrew museum, etc.  We knew that these places, flooded with tourists, should have been our daily foci, but the food and wine of Provence are so exquisite (and we are such food-driven folk) that all sights were forever set on the next meal.  We enjoyed everything we saw during those bright, sunlit afternoons – Provence is one of the most beautiful parts of the world.  After each day of adventuring, we headed back towards home as the golden afternoon light gently shifted to rake the fields of sunflowers that seemed to spread from horizon to horizon. 

Back at the house, myriad nibbles emerged from our market bags – sausages (really, donkey sausage?!?!), cheese, olives, fruits and breads.  Wine flowed freely and friends from town would stop in for a taste and a tipple.  In time, we would gather in one kitchen or the other (the two houses abutted) and dinner preparations commenced.  At some point – very near the beginning of the next day – great quantities of good food had been prepared, cooked, and eaten by candlelight at a leisurely pace in the courtyard under the indigo sky. With the kitchens cleaned up and lights out, each of us dreamt of the next day's adventure.



I'm a bit late.  Again.  While David is, at this very moment, working on his post for next week, yours truly needs the pressure of a deadline to produce.  Why is that?

Being a creature of habit, I typically have the same breakfast every morning.  Toasted focaccia drizzled with (yet more) olive oil, chicken & apple sausage, orange juice and - depending how foggy I am - tea for a gentle prod or coffee for a serious wake-up.  On the weekend, eggs with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt, or a rich, indulgent chocolate croissant from the neighborhood bakery.  Weekdays, however, are for toasted homemade bread.  Warm, comforting scent wafting through the kitchen, its chewy goodness filling your tummy.  The supply in the freezer was down to a few slices, so I baked focaccia today. 


Penny Candy & Apple Pie

I spent the better part of the past two weeks traipsing through childhood memories.  I was in Vermont, settling the estate of my aunt – my mother's sister – the last of her generation.  Each summer of my childhood, my family would spend three weeks in Fernwood Cottage on the shores of Lake Rescue in south central Vermont.  The cottage was at the base of Carpenter's Point, Carpenter being my mother's family name.  Our days included many hours swimming in the lake, on boats fishing for perch or hanging out in the Adirondack chairs under a canopy of fragrant hemlock trees, their short and soft needles carpeting the ground below.  It was also a time when we visited Mom's family, played in their yards and picnicked on their decks.

And each year we would make at least one, if not several, pilgrimages to the Vermont Country Store.  The original store is in Weston and there is also one in Rockingham near the Connecticut River a few minutes' drive from my aunt's home.  Today the Country Store in Rockingham is three or four times the size it was when we were young, but it was there we would stock up on family favorites such as maple syrup, corn relish and pickled watermelon rind.  And, for us kids, there was the penny candy counter.  Every imaginable type of penny candy was – and still is – available.  Some favorites include malted milk balls (which came only in one flavor then but now include dark, milk, peanut butter and espresso), licorice "all sorts," licorice bears, candy buttons, Nik-L Nips wax bottles, Smarties and of course maple sugar candy. I bought some of each when I was there last week, hating myself for ingesting all that sugar and loving every second of it.  By far, the original malted milk balls are still the best.  I don't think I ever need to have another Nik-L Nip or strip of candy buttons, though.  But my better half still loves his Smarties, and maple sugar candy is in my blood to stay.