Monthly Archives: May 2010

Summer Kick-Off

Like many, I think of Memorial Day weekend as the opening book end to summer, even though the Summer Solstice isn’t for another 3 weeks. We had an incredibly relaxing weekend in Maine. The weather was sunny and warm, not too hot. We spent most of our days outside split between doing chores and relaxing.

The weeds had a head-start on us in the month we were absent from Maine. We started every day of the weekend with some garden cleanup. I managed to tame the weeds growing between the pavers on the front walk. There’s plenty more weeding to do, but I made a good dent.

Weeding is hot work. One advantage of the shallow shores of our lake is that, even this early in the summer, the water was heated up enough for us to spend some time in the water. We didn’t put our heads under, but we did wade around. There were quite of few boaters, mostly kayaks and canoes, one kid in a paddleboat, fishing with his very calm dog. We even coaxed Bella into the water briefly. She did a fine dog-paddle for about a minute, then decided it was enough and swam directly to shore, refusing to return to the water.

In Maine, we eat simply but well. In the summer, we usually eat outside on the screened porch. We enjoy the fresh air, and the view of the lake. Because I love to make side-dish salads, we eat lots of those. We had carrot salad, potato salad, and corn salad. One day for lunch, I made an antipasto salad.

We had our first lobsters of the summer. On weekends, there is a guy who comes to a local parking lot with his insulated truck filled with lobsters, steamers and other fish. We’ve been getting our lobsters from him every summer. It is too early for soft-shell, so these lobsters had hard-shells. Howard went for a very large one (2¾ lb). He had to take out a hammer to break open the claws. He even had to hammer open one claw of my smaller 1½ lb lobster.

The local farm stand, Chipman Farm, was open. They only sell what they grow in nearby Poland, so choices were limited. We get a real sense of where things stand in the Maine growing season. In fact, other than plants, all they had on offer were Kirby cucumbers and rhubarb. I bought some cucumbers, which we ate sliced and sprinkled with spiced salt (salt, black pepper, and cayenne). The peel was very bitter, maybe because it’s early, but peeled they were very sweet.

I always bring a pile of books to Maine. This weekend, I finished an enjoyable book: Slow Love by Dominique Browning. I had read an excerpt from the book in the New York Times magazine when we were in New Jersey in April. I have also been following Dominique’s blog:

This memoir is written by a former magazine editor who found herself adrift when her magazine (House & Garden) closed its doors suddenly (a la Gourmet, another casualty of Conde Nast). Her entire adult life has been defined by her career. In the wake of losing her job, she sets out to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Without giving away the story of her journey, she finds the secret is to slow down life’s pace in order to find pleasures in life’s little things. I can relate to that. (See the John Ruskin quote at the top of my blog’s sidebar.)

Top 5 highlights of the weekend in Maine (all little things):
1. Abundant lady slippers in bloom
2. Hearing the loon’s crazy call in the night and seeing him swimming on the lake in the day
3. Several swallowtail sightings
4. A turtle sunning on the log next to a our dock
5. A frighteningly giant spider on the dock

French Carrot Salad
From this menu on No Take Out
Serves 6

1½ lbs carrots, peeled and grated
½ cup tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients until well mixed. Toss with carrots and tarragon leaves.

(We also made the Croque Monsieur (with ham) from the same No Take Out menu. We made them as directed, with cheese on the top of the sandwich. We also made them in the Panini press with the cheese on inside only. We preferred Panini-style. On taste, they got mixed reviews. I liked them, but Howard found flavor of the Gruyere cheese too strong. I also spread the cheese on both sides of a hamburger bun when we had burgers for dinner this weekend. I liked that too, sort of a French cheeseburger.)


Our First Lettuce 2010

We had our first salad from the lettuce in our garden. I snipped a basketful to go with dinner. The greens were very tender. I made our favorite basic salad: greens tossed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, seasoned generously with salt and pepper. It’s so delicious.

I just love that I can walk in the backyard and collect ingredients for dinner. I’ve been using the herbs in my herb garden for more than a month now, especially the mint, tarragon, and chives. Next on the list is a rhubarb dessert. This recipe for rhubarb upside-down cake looks particularly good.

We made a summery meal to go with the salad. We had Fennel-Garlic Chicken Legs (from the June issue of Food and Wine magazine) with a Mediterranean Couscous Salad of my own invention. The chicken was particularly good.

We get a package of 3 whole chicken legs (thighs and legs) with our monthly meat share from Chestnut Farms. We don’t really eat much chicken other than this. Kim’s chicken is such a treat. It tastes distinctly better than supermarket chicken, just as her ground beef tastes better than grocery store hamburger. And, we’re happy to know her chickens roam in the pasture and sleep in school buses on the farm.

Earlier in the week, I made the same grain salad with leftover quinoa instead of couscous. Both grains worked well, but Howard and I both preferred the quinoa. Independently, we though the quinoa had a fun little pop when you eat them, reminiscent of the texture of tobiko (flying fish roe) when you eat sushi.

One other note on the salad, I don’t really like raw onion. However, I read once that if you soak the onion in vinegar for 10-15 minutes, it will mellow the onion. I tried it, and it worked. So, if you share my dislike of raw onion, try this. Soak the diced onion in red wine vinegar while you prepare the rest of the salad ingredients. Drain off the vinegar before adding the onion to the salad.

“Tiny Grain” Mediterranean Salad
Serves 6-8

2 cups whole-wheat couscous or quinoa, cooked
¼ cup diced red onion (see note above)
1 cup diced tomatoes (this time of year, I use grape tomatoes)
2 Tbsp capers
½ cup Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
½ – 1 cup Italian parsley (flat-leaved), chopped

Toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl with Balsamic Dressing.

Balsamic Dressing:
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together all the ingredients until emulsified.