I’ve been feeling a little blog malaise. For a while, I was easily posting two, or even three, times a week. Then, last October, I joined an on-line cooking group, which gave me a certain topic for one post each week. Still, I was posting on my own topics during the week. This summer, I noticed that I’m not doing much more than the Friday posts for French Fridays with Dorie. I’m obsessed with food, and we eat very well at our house, so I started to wonder what was up with that. Why haven’t I had much to say?
I think I finally figured it out. As food-centric as our household is, in the summer, it’s not so much about the cooking. In fact, I don’t think I’ve tried many new recipes this summer. I wait all year for summer fruits and vegetables. From June through October, we frequent the local farmers markets. Favorites are the Tuesday market here in Lexington and the Thursday market in nearby Belmont. On weekends in Maine, we stock up at the Chipman Farmstand.
For the most part, we’ve been eating things as is, raw or steamed, without any fancy preparations. I am big on making chopped vegetable or bean salads, but I mostly make the “old favorites”, ones I can do without recipes since I’ve made them dozens of times: Howard will grill steak, burgers, or fish once or twice during the week, but we’re mostly vegetarian in the summer. Our meals are what Howard calls “grazing”. I think of it as a picnic at home.
With some ears of steamed corn, a plate of sliced garden-fresh vegetables, some cheese and fresh bread on them table, what more does one need? At the same time, posting about the first perfect tomato, the sweetest ear of corn, or the berries picked in the backyard seems like it could wait for another day, and so the malaise sets in.
Summer in New England is so fleeting. The local produce available is special, and we give it our full appreciation. I can already feel a hint of autumn in the air. As it cools off, I know I’ll feel the call to be nesting more, simmering pots of soup or roasting vegetables or baking cookies. There’s plenty of months in the year for that. In the meantime, I’m happy to graze my way though the rest of the summer.
Spiced Salt for Raw Vegetables
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
Stir ingredients together and store in a sprinkle jar. Sprinkle over sliced vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes.
As unlikely as it might sound, my favorite upscale suburban restaurant is in a hotel, an extremely stereotypical suburban hotel, at that. As a general rule, I tend to avoid hotel restaurants, but, believe it or not, the restaurant at the Burlington Marriott is really something special. It’s called Summer Winter, and it is run by Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, the creators of Arrows in Ogunguit, Maine.
These guys promote the locally sourced ingredient philosophy. You can see that in the menu and, of course, when you eat the food. Peek through the windows at the balcony that rings the dining room where you’ll see greenhouses filled with freshly growing greens and pots of tomatoes and other vegetables. While you wait for your meal to be prepared and served, it’s worth taking a stroll through the garden, weather permitting.
We don’t eat at Summer Winter frequently, but each time we do, I make a mental note not to wait too long to go back. This visit was prompted by an email promoting their Friday Night “Date Night” where they offer a three-course fixed price menu. The menu was appealing, so we made reservations.
The meal started with the largest bowl of soup I’ve ever been served in a restaurant. The word “Tremendous” comes to mine. It was butternut squash soup laced with maple syrup with a spicy chile relish, sort of like Srichacha sauce. The relish sunk to the bottom, so it provided hidden bursts of surprise heat as we ate. It was delicious, and as we’ve just entered squash season, I want to try to make something similar at home. The portion was large, and we were sort of full after the first course.
The only actual choice in the menu was for our main course. Howard picked one, I picked the other, and we traded plates for a while. He chose grilled trout with a red curry sauce and an Asian noodle salad on the side. It was a winner. I chose the braised short rib, which melted off the bone. It was served in a large bowl with the braising juices, with jasmine rice on the side. The meat was tender and tasty, though it felt awkward to be eat the meat and rice from separate dishes. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was expected to combine the parts of the meal.
Both were great meals, though I had a slight preference for Howard’s trout. Maybe it’s also because I LOVE trout, and we’ve been having a hard time finding fresh trout to cook at home. We’ve been told it isn’t a popular fish. I can’t imagine why; it’s one of my favorites.
Dessert screamed Howard’s name. It was a plate of chocolate truffles, six different flavors, for each of us. We were stuffed, so took most of them home in the little Chinese take out box they were served with. What a nice after-dinner treat on Saturday.
The Summer Winter menu also has a large section of what appear to be tapas-like “Small Bites”. One of these evenings when we want to go out, I hope I’ll remember that a few of those with a glass of wine would make a nice outing.