Food Friday: Pick Some Winners

Here it is, mid-October and I am finally wearing a sweater. A very light sweater, I admit, but it has two long sleeves and I pulled it on over my head. I am ready for the great apple gathering.

You can never have too many apples. I love having a big bowl of apples on the table in the kitchen. It looks artful and smells wonderful. It is less expensive than cut flowers, and is right there, out in the open, when I wander helplessly into the kitchen looking for something to gnaw on. Obnoxiously, some people say that apples are nature’s dental floss; how prosaic and demeaning for the noble apple, which has been captured in language that is so much more romantic and transporting.

Read these names, and see if you don’t suddenly have a yen to wander into your own kitchen to rustle up a sweet snack:
Allen’s Everlasting apple
Ambrosia apple
Beautiful Arcade apple
Beauty of Bath apple
Bedfordshire Foundling apple
Bloody Ploughman apple
Brown Snout apple
Buckingham apple – Pale yellow flushed and mottled with red, and striped and blushed with
bright red. The surface is covered with white dots. Shape is oblate and somewhat
irregular with tough thick skin is tough and flesh juicy, yellow, crisp and sprightly
subacid. It has a small core and a short stalk.*
Catshead apple
Cheddar Cross apple
Coeur de Boeuf apple
D’Arcy Spice apple
Doctor Harvey apple
Duchess of Oldenburg apple
Esopus Spitzenburg apple – said to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite!*
Fallstaff apple
Foxwhelp apple
Frostbite apple
Goof apple
Horneburger Pancake apple
Kentish Fillbasket apple
King Cole apple
Michelin apple
Nonnetit Bastard apple
Northern Lights apple
Northern Spy apple – one of our personal faves (There is also a Prairie Spy apple)
Obelisk apple
Peasgood’s Nonsuch apple
Pixie Crunch apple
Scotch Dumpling apple
Sheepnose apple
Sir Isaac Newton’s Tree apple
Twenty Ounce apple
Westfield Seek-no-Further apple

Visit this link to see even more poetic apple names. You may be inspired to do a still life painting of apples, or you can surely find a name for the pub you have always wanted to open:*

I digress.

Right now is an excellent time to stock up on apples that store well, either in your coolish back hall, in the fridge, or in your basement; someplace cool and dark. Apples that are ripening now in October have the best chance of keeping well. Pick wisely. Red Delicious, Winesap, Rome, McIntosh, Golden Delicious. Sort through your apple haul, and choose medium-sized apples, checking for bruises or broken skin. Eat the large ones now and use the bruised apples for baking or applesauce. Some apples will keep for up to five months, but you should check often to see how the ripening process is – there is a reason for some of those old sayings, and you don’t want to discover that one bad apple three months from now. More helpful hints can be found here:

Some apples are better for applesauce: Cortland, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Rome. Some are better for pies: Granny Smith, Sun Crisp, Pink Lady. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so start practicing your pie crusts!

There are more uses for apples that snacks on the fly, applesauce or pie.
Our kitchen god, Mark Bittman, has a deelish recipe for Apple Crisp, with oatmeal and cranberries:

And here are some others:

And the best use of apples (and oh, so seasonal) is apple cider doughnuts. Yumsters!

“And then there is that day when all around,
all around you hear the dropping of the apples, one
by one, from the trees. At first it is one here and one there,
and then it is three and then it is four and then nine and
twenty, until the apples plummet like rain, fall like horse hoofs
in the soft, darkening grass, and you are the last apple on the
tree; and you wait for the wind to work you slowly free from
your hold upon the sky, and drop you down and down. Long
before you hit the grass you will have forgotten there ever
was a tree, or other apples, or a summer, or green grass below,
You will fall in darkness…”
― Ray Bradbury

Food Friday: Lotsa Baked Pasta

Last weekend, as we were relaxing after an accumulation of hurricane stress (little realizing we were about to gird our loins for Hurricane Michael), Mr. Friday decided that he wanted to do some cooking. In his charmed life, Mr. Friday likes to cook to relax, and he produces some marvelous meals. I, on the other hand, like to think I should bake to feel creative and release my inner Thomas Keller. My baked goods are consistently disappointing. The last time I tried baking bread the dough never rose, and we sadly viewed the final results as I tipped them, thuddingly, into the trash.

I try to follow the rules. Maybe it’s because I once heard Martha proclaim that baking isn’t an art, but a science. I have scales. I have fantastic measuring cups. I measure precisely. I try to avoid humid days for rolling out fragile doughs — never mind that it is almost always pouring down rain outside the baking tent on The Great British Bakeoff, and they can still bake the most diaphanous sponge cakes and towering tiers of meringues. I find a warm corner of the kitchen and cover the bowl of dough with a crisp, fresh linen tea towel, and yet the dough refuses to rise. My cakes tilt. My cookies spread. Brownies always work out, but they are rather forgiving and basic. Not soul-satisfying to create. There is no magical thinking required when you bake a warm pan of brownies.

Mr. Friday, however, reads an oft-tested and trusted recipe, and decides that he can make it better. And on Sunday he took on Food52. Damn him. He made their very attractive and tasty Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragù for Sunday night dinner. Mr. Friday also made enough ziti that he has bundled two neatly labeled Tupperware containers into the freezer for future dinners. For a night when I have been overcome by existential ennui about the state of the world. He had fun in the kitchen and relaxed and effortlessly prepared a few great meals. He is kind and thoughtful. The next time I bake I will drop the resulting leaden loaf of bread on his foot as a signal of my impotent rage.

Baked Pasta wit Sausage Ragù

The substitutions Mr. Friday made:
• He halved the recipe — there are just the two of us, although Luke the wonder dog would be oh, so grateful if we pulled up a chair for him, too.
• Instead of using 8 cups of chopped tomatoes, he used about 4 cups of leftover, homemade spaghetti sauce.
• Instead of 2 pounds of sausage, removed from its casings, he broke up about 6 meatballs and 6 sausage links from the leftover spaghetti sauce
• Instead of 1 cup of heavy cream, he used about 3/4 cup of half and half, because, you know, every calorie counts.

And there you go. I made some aromatic garlic bread — because you can’t possibly have any other kind — and ripped open a bag o’salad. We splurged on a nice bottle of Hess Cabernet Sauvignon, and nursed headaches on Monday morning.

But, feeling like we have money in the bank, we now have two more delicious batches of Food52-ish baked ziti in the freezer, so we can confidently sally forth and be fueled while picking up the branches that fell when Hurricane Michael zipped through our back yard. Listen to your inner cook, and bend some rules to your own devices.

Have a great weekend!

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie,’ which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”
― Haruki Murakami

Food Friday: The Last Harvest

It is beginning to cool down, at night at least. The dogwoods look as if they are considering changing color as they rustle in the breeze. They’ve gone from dull green to slightly bronze-tinged this week. And our noble raised vegetable garden bed experiment has finally come to a seasonal end.

I looked out at the tangle of a garden that I have been avoiding assiduously for the past month, and realized that I needed to take pity on our neighbors, and take a machete to the jungle growth. It was a small 8 foot by eight foot garden bed, and we overloaded it with our ambitions and expectations.

It was a giddy day when we built the frame for the beans. We transplanted twelve seedlings in their precious little peat cups. The vines took off and grew like crazy, making us believe that Jack and the Giant would come tearing through the yard sometime this summer. We had a veritable curtain of bean vines. We picked exactly eleven individual beans. All summer. No Jack, no Giant, no golden goose. Just a lot of vines. There must be a reason for this.

After researching this problem, Google has a lot of answers for me.
I hesitate to think that we lacked pollinators, because the bee balm was abuzz all summer, and we had lots of visiting hummingbirds. So I am betting more on too much fertilizer, or too much heat. The garden got plenty of sun from eleven o’clock on, and the baking summer sun at that. Resolve: plant the seedlings earlier next year and actually analyze the soil.

We also over estimated the number of tomato plants that two people actually need. We started with a dozen small plants, but were clueless about how big they would get. It got Tokyo subway-crowded in that tiny little garden. There is science to be applied, and a lot of math, too, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Resolve: fewer plants in 2019

We also planted the basil farm, which is our favorite ingredient, this side of garlic. We had half a dozen basil plants, which were well-tended and yielded a hefty amount of basil through the spring and summer. The plants were all pretty leggy when I finally paid attention to things, but I managed to fill a gallon-sized Baggie with fragrant basil leaves to tide us over the long winter months. I am going to pop in another couple of plants until the first frost wipes us out. You can never have too much basil. Resolve: more basil in 2019.

The row of nasturtiums was shiny and bright with color for a few weeks. The plants did not self-sow, which was a disappointment to my lazy soul, because I never remembered to plant any more nasturtium seeds. And my neighbor had mentioned once that she just loved nasturtiums. Resolve: be a better neighbor, and plant more nasturtiums.

Our one triumph was the pepper collection. We planted half a dozen, and every week something edible was harvested. There was the one Sunday when I flitted down to the garden to get a pepper for the scrambled eggs. It’s funny how the jalapeno peppers looked exactly like the sweet peppers. Those were some eye-opening eggs! Resolve: better pepper labels in 2019.

The peppers in the illustration are the last harvest of 2018, unless I run out to the garden center and get some more basil plants this afternoon. I think I will. There won’t be a frost for ages! And this little bit of gardening should satisfy my primal urge to dig in the dirt, until the spring bulbs I’ve ordered arrive.

“It was a beautiful bright autumn day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it.”
― Diana Gabaldon

Food Friday: What’s in Your Freezer?

Ahead of the hurricane I heeded to my own advice, and cleaned out the freezer. I didn’t want to come home to thawed and possibly rotting meat because of the inevitable power failure. We were lucky enough to return to some downed tree branches, a yard full of leaves, and full power. We were amazed by our good luck.

Which leads me to think I have been given a second chance at freezer organization. It is harvest time at the framers’ markets, and a perfect time to start to stockpile for the winter. As I poked around the internet for some freezer guidance I found all sorts of curious nuggets and ideas for what to keep on hand as a resourceful cook.

Mark Bittman is someone whose cooking advice I respect. If he thinks I should save egg whites, then I am going to start saving egg whites. He also believes in using Baggies as a reliable storage unit – providing that you make a note in bold Sharpie letters about the contents and the date you tossed said Baggie in the freezer. One Baggie of crushed tomatoes looks a lot like another Baggie of cubed tomatoes. And this week’s leftover taco meat looks suspiciously like August 7th’s leftover taco meat. It will save a lot of money, and trips to the grocery store, if I pay a little more attention to what leftovers we have already generated. (Apologies for the New York Times paywall:

In our fairly cavernous and nearly empty freezer at this exact minute – and I have trotted to the kitchen with a notebook in hand – are:

Ice cubes

1 box Outshine Fruit Bars (Strawberry, Lime, Raspberry), my dessert on weeknights

1 Baggie diced tomatoes 9/24 – half of a 15-ounce can

1 Baggie chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce 9/24- half of a small can

1 large Rubbermaid container of Mr. Friday’s homemade spaghetti sauce, with meatballs and sausage (pre-hurricane, but kept frozen in evacuation cooler)

1 package hot dog buns 9/23

1 package hamburger buns 9/23

24 frozen chocolate chip cookie dough balls 9/23 (375°F for 12 minutes) because the geniuses at Food52 suggested freezing half of the dough, instead of cramming every last cookie in our greedy little maws. So we had some nice hot and fresh cookies on Sunday, and in a week or two, when we get the hankering again, all we have to do is slide the dough balls out of the freezer and into the pre-heated oven. I told you they are geniuses!

And now it is time to get serious about what to stash in the freezer – it’s not just for leftovers and the occasional sweet treat. Get some freezer Baggies, and a Sharpie, and get ready to make informed decisions about taking charge of your freezer. And double bag so you avoid freezer burn. A lot of money can be wasted if you can’t eat your stash. Here are some scientific tips:

Make some soup stock, chicken, beef or vegan. Put it in manageable containers, and label with contents and date.

If you cook grains or beans, cook extra for the freezer, so you can whip out a serving of rice in a couple of weeks, without waiting half an hour to cook some for a quick pre-PTA chicken meal.

Freeze dough, bread and pasta. Well-wrapped and clearly labeled. If you bake a cake, or some bread, freeze half. The birthday party doesn’t need to ever end! Make pancakes ahead. Fill up some tortillas for easy breakfast burritos and lunches.

Tomatoes. Tomato sauce.

Bacon. I love bacon. You love bacon. Wouldn’t we eat it more if we didn’t have to cook it every single time? Imagine wandering into the kitchen, longing for a BLT. Oh, look! There is a Baggie o’bacon in the freezer. You can feel so virtuous on the Sunday morning when you cooked 12 slices, and froze 6. You, too, can be a genius.

Fresh herbs. I have a pesto farm in the back yard: basil by the bushel. I am going to freeze it all so I don’t have to resort to flavorless dried basil, or worse, basil that costs $2 per fresh sprig in winter and driven across the country from California. Nope. I am going to be self-reliant. I will also freeze some thyme, and resolve to grow more herbs next summer.

Fresh fruit. Heavens. I looked at blueberries in the freezer at the grocery store the other day – $7 for about a pound of fruit. Mr. Friday likes blueberries on his cereal in the morning. I am going to freeze some fresh, on a cookie sheet, and see how he likes them on the dark winter mornings.

Also coffee. I understand that persnickety people say frozen coffee beans aren’t as tasty, but I don’t drink coffee, so I’ll never know. And I doubt any of my gentle guests would dare comment.

I had to laugh when Mark Bittman suggested freezing leftover wine. How amusing. But if you are interested in adding flavor to the sauce, consider freezing some wine.

Some more scientific tips on what to freeze and what not to freeze:

Get thee to the farmers’ market this weekend, and join me in stocking the freezer with easy peasy ingredients and meals. Not that ridiculous wine idea, but perhaps a meatloaf or two.

“’If you are careful,’ Garp wrote, ‘if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.’”
― John Irving

Food Friday: Relishing the Sauces

As summer comes grinding to a halt this weekend, we hope for cooler days as the leaves fall, and the crisp air lures us back outside. We haven’t started to wear our aprés ski togs just yet, so we are still imposing on Mr. Friday to do the bulk of the weekend cooking, outside on the grill. He is such a good sport, that we tolerate, nay, we encourage, his experimental cooking. He has taken a page from Ron Swanson’s book lately, and everything is about meat. And if we can wrap bacon around it, it is even better.

Ron Swanson was the blustering, endearing, meat-loving character on the network television show Parks and Recreation. Mr. Friday has had a Ron Swanson-sized hankering for ribs lately, but hasn’t quite hit upon the ideal combination: rubbed, braised or smoked short ribs? Grilled baby back ribs? What kind of sauce? Vinegary barbecue sauce that is the regional favorite of North Carolina? Root beer based barbecue sauce? Kansas City? Smoky? Tomato-y? Sweet? Savory? Piquant? Red or white? Heavens to Betsy.

Luckily, these sauces can also be used on chicken, so you needn’t worry about your heart stoppage from a massive intake of cholesterol via chunks of beef and pork. You could probably be creative with these and tofu, but I can’t go there.

Instead – let’s try the startling and unusual!

Root Beer Barbecue Sauce
1 cup root beer
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon mild-flavored (light) molasses
1 teaspoon liquid smoke*
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Cool slightly. Transfer to bowl. Cover and refrigerate. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead; keep refrigerated.)

*We do this recipe minus the Liquid Smoke – Mr. Friday has high standards. And when he is feeling adventurous, he’ll switch out the root beer for Cheerwine. Sometimes we lead a very intrepid National Geographic-kind of life.

There is a variation for smoked ribs, too. Mr. Friday has a smoker that gets lots of use in the winter. I might just be able to position myself as the chief salad maker all winter long if he keeps up his experimenting with ribs.

That being understood, we are fond of Vivian Howard’s Blueberry BBQ Sauce. It is her rather unique take on the vinegar-based barbecue sauces of Eastern North Carolina. We like to think we have mastered this recipe, but sometimes we delude ourselves. But it is nice to have blueberries for dinner, and we can do this in the oven all year long. I like having a bit of summery Maine in January.

Mr. Friday is fond of beef short ribs. I prefer pork baby back ribs. But I also recognize which side my bread is buttered on, so I will scarf down whatever he has decided to prepare. And I can get by licking the sauce off my fingers, no matter what the meat turns out to be. I even like barbecue-flavor potato chips, so that will tell you how deeply fussy I am.

Smoky-Sweet BBQ Beef Short Ribs This recipe link has a helpful video, too.

Here is a recipe with the best of two worlds – using both a rub and barbecue sauce. It is versatile and you can use it on beef, chicken and pork. They suggest that the rub can even be used on sweet potatoes. Hmmm. Let me know how that goes.

And finally, for a real change of pace, a white barbecue sauce. Crazy!

Enjoy the Autumn Equinox. And let’s say goodbye to a long, wet, hot summer!

“Leslie, you need to understand that we are headed to the most special place on earth. When I’m done eating a Mulligan’s meal, for weeks afterwards there are flecks of meat in my mustache and I refuse to clean it because every now and then a piece of meat will fall into my mouth.”
-Ron Swanson

Food Friday: Hurricane Prep!

The Spy Test Kitchens are facing a new challenge this week – Hurricane Florence. We are getting ready for the storm, and are planning our emergency supplies in case we lose power, or worse. The kayak might be our only reliable transportation in a couple of days.

Still, we are smiling through the stress as we check off the many lists. We lived for twenty-something years in Florida, so this should be rote behavior. Forgive me if you have already made your plans, or if you have Dade County Code-approved hurricane impact windows, motorized rolling hurricane shutters, or are conveniently located atop a hill with a generator and a big deep freeze full of home-grown delights. We felt we fended off hurricanes for a few years because we bought a second cat carrier. Laughably, we no longer have the cat, or the carrier, thus putting ourselves in our current pickle!

We do have to be responsible for Luke the wonder dog, so I have made sure that we have a new bag of kibble, plus a traveling bed, bowl and a baggie of treats in case we decamp to a hotel. He will also have a couple of gallons of drinking water.

This should make my heart sing, not having to cook for a few days. But absence does make the heart grow fonder. I am sure that after a couple of days of apples and peanut butter sandwiches I will be longing for complicated and subtle bouillabaisse: or boeuf bourguignon: Until then, it is survival of the fittest. And Dinty Moore beef stew, straight from the can. Yumsters.

Here are things to stockpile because you never know when bad weather will keep you marooned at home:

Water, juice boxes, Gatorade
Apples – they stay fresh without refrigeration for a long time
Peanut butter – or almond butter – and jellies
Long-life milk, rice milk or soy milk in individual or family-sized boxes
Pasta and rice
Marinara sauce
Canned ravioli
Canned veggies
Canned tuna, salmon

Dare we say it? – Spam
Protein bars
Pudding cups
Trail mix
Low-sodium soups
Ramen noodles
Mac and cheese
Packets of sauces: mayonnaise, mustard, catsup, soy sauce

Store everything up on high shelves. In case of flooding.

Don’t forget to check your batteries. The Dollar store is a good place to stock up on candles.

Fill a cooler with ice. Make extra ice by filling gallon sized baggies with water and then freezing. It never hurts to have extra.

Before the storm comes, clear out your fridge. The smell of rotting meat is something that you will never forget.

Boil the eggs, cook the bacon, make hamburgers. Have a pre-hurricane feast.

Be careful!

“The first rule of hurricane coverage is that every broadcast must begin with palm trees bending in the wind.
Carl Hiaasen

Food Friday: Fall Is Coming to the Spy Test Kitchens

School is back in session. The nest has emptied. The sun is setting earlier. And it is rising later. I have seen a hint of bronze on the green dogwood leaves. The autumn clematis has swept over the mailbox in a wave of white blossoms. It is still summer, technically, but I think we can embrace the notion that fall might be around the corner. Certainly if the Halloween decorations at Target are any indication of the relentless advance of shameless commerce, so Christmas should happen along any day now.

I haven’t gotten my sweaters out yet. Nor have I turned off the A/C, so I might be able to persuade Mr. Friday to continue at his post as grill master on the back porch. But I am itching to get back to the interesting baking that I keep reading about.

There are some cream puffs from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook that I am longing to try. Instead, I whipped up a batch of mix brownies last weekend. They were a jot easier; I just ripped open a Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Brownie box and added an egg, basically. I didn’t have the inclination to stand over a hot flame stirring up choux. But I bet the reaction when I finally do present the cream puffs will be worth the effort.

I am waiting for the The Violet Bakery Cookbook to come in the mail. I tracked down a second-hand version that is being sent via media mail, which probably means it will arrive along about Thanksgiving, when by rule of law, I can only bake the traditional pumpkin and pecan pies, and I will be yearning to bake Harry and Meghan’s elderflower wedding cake instead. A slightly scaled down version, of course. Maybe even cupcakes. We’ll see.

I have looked with yearning at a brand new, untested French bread pan I bought last year, when I felt sure that I was going to be a great bread baker. Instead, it has been tucked way back in one of the kitchen storage cabinets. Standing in the dark. The road to my personal hell is littered with lots of good intentions.

I was once given a tour of the vaunted Condé Nast test kitchens, before they moved their offices downtown, and I was enchanted by the space. Acres of pots, pans, stovetops, ovens, and turkeys being roasted in August for the Bon Appétit Thanksgiving issue. I was positively giddy feeling the zeal and enthusiasm for food there.

Bon Appétit has put out a lot of videos of their cooks and food editors in their shiny new 1 World Trade Center kitchens. I tried out this fettuccine recipe earlier this week. It was a keeper – no more fettuccine dripping high calorie heavy cream for us. This was practically health food! It was a warm pasta meal that I could make on a work night, with stuff I had actually hunted and gathered a couple of weeks ago.

I love a recipe I can prepare with food items already stockpiled in the kitchen. The less time I spend at the grocery store is good: there are books to read, and paintings to paint and falling autumnal leaves to await. I can’t wait for the weather to cool down, so I can have my own Spy test kitchen moments.

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
― J.K. Rowling

Food Friday: Farewell to Summer

Quick! This is it. It’s the last weekend of summer, and you have a lot to accomplish before you put your white shorts away for the season, and start looking through closets for your sweaters. (Frankly, I am excited to think about sweaters and tights and scarves – but I did live in Florida for an awfully long time and I still get a little giddy thinking about putting on layers of clothes.) I have even started to flip through the Bean catalogue, looking for the perfect black wool sweater, which has become my raison d’etre the last couple of falls. I want to be toasty warm (and stylish) when I am planting daffodil bulbs in November.

But as I anticipate the delights of the upcoming change of season, I am also thinking about the tasks I did not accomplish this summer: the books I didn’t read, the sunsets I missed, the European travel that we started to plan (but postponed until next year), the domestic travel we didn’t manage to shoehorn into our busy-with-work lives, the popcorn movies I didn’t see. It is going to be a busy weekend.

Labor Day Weekend To Do List:

1. Read Elana Ferrante quartet of books: starting with My Brilliant Friend,
I have only just started the first book. I will spend a couple of hours in the hammock with it before we pack the hammock off to the garage for the fall.

2. Have a crab feast. Whatever was I thinking all summer? You bring the beer.

3. Eat a soft serve ice cream cone. Outside. And let it melt and ooze down my arm, until it drips off my elbow.

4. Cook marshmallows over a campfire while counting fireflies. Is it too late for sparklers?

5. See at least one of the movies I missed this summer: “Eighth Grade”, “Bookclub”, “On Chesil Beach”, “Ocean’s 8”, “Won’t you be My Neighbor”, “The Spy Who Dumped Me”, “Crazy Rich Asians”. Better yet – find a drive-in movie theatre!

6. Run to New York City to see: “My Fair Lady”, “Aladdin”, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and then buzz up to Tanglewood to see the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. Sadly we have missed Shakespeare in the Park. We can pop over to D.C. to the Folger Library and sneak a peek at a first Folio: And the Scottish Play starts on September 4:

7. Have a lobster feast. You bring the beer.

8. Get the kayak out of the garage and put it in the water.

9. Get the hiking app AllTrails and go for a hike!

10. Go to an independent bookstore. Browse around. Chat up the bookstore cat. Buy a book.

11. Weed the tomato garden. For once this season.

12. Make a fresh strawberry pie. It is worth it for the crust alone!

10 ⅔ ounces/300 grams shortbread cookies (2 5.3-ounce packages)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup/55 grams unsalted butter, melted

2 ½ pounds/about 1 kilogram strawberries (about 8 to 10 cups), hulled
⅓ cup/67 grams granulated sugar
3 tablespoons strawberry preserves
¼ cup/30 grams cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)

Prepare crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine shortbread cookies, sugar, flour and salt and blend until you have fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a medium mixing bowl. Add butter and mix with a fork until crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip crumbs into a standard 9-inch pie plate and press them in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake until golden brown and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Prepare filling: Cut each of the strawberries in quarters or eighths, if they are large. Transfer 2 cups berries to a small saucepan and crush completely with a potato masher. Set aside the remaining berries in a large bowl. Add the sugar, preserves, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon water and salt to the saucepan.

Bring strawberry mixture to a boil over medium heat and then cook it an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add strawberry mixture and lemon juice to the strawberries in the bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared crust and gently tap it down into an even layer. Transfer to the fridge to set for at least 4 hours.

Just before serving, whip cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, if using, to soft peaks. Top pie with whipped cream.

There is no going back to strawberry shortcake.

13. Make some quick pickles.

14. Cook hot dogs on the grill. You know you haven’t done it all summer, and you really want to.

15. Play croquet.

16. Go to a baseball game.

17. You-pick-it: apples, blueberries, blackberries. Get in some training for pumpkin picking and corn mazes and zucchini dodging.

18. Turn on the sprinkler, and walk through it. Repeat. Delicious.

19. Stay up late. Sleep late. Take a nap.

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”
― John Keats

Food Friday: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It’s time for all the kiddos to go back to school. Everyone gets back into the comforting routine of an academic year, and the frightening reality of daily lunch obligations and responsibilities. Lunch is my favorite meal to have in a restaurant; I love a good turkey sandwich and please can I have some crispy, hot French fries? But that is my fantasy life – the one where I also live in a cozy little pied-à-terre in London, and get invited to paint watercolors with Prince Charles a couple of times a year. But I digress. Lunch.

Lunch can be a wonderful treat, or the slough of despair. You can take all sorts of time and imagination stuffing little bento boxes with cleverly crafted Where the Wild Things Are broccoli-based creatures, or you can assemble lunches using the items from Columns A through F. These are practical, nutritious and will make you life easier. Because then you can spend more time reading with your own Wild Things, and less time in the kitchen. Print this list and keep it handy whenever you troll the grocery store.

This is the time-honored Spy Test Kitchens Back to School Sandwich Ingredients List. Enjoy!

It is just as timely today:

Column A
Let’s start with bread:
Ciabatta bread
Rye bread
Whole grain breads
Hard rolls
Portuguese rolls
French baguette
Italian bread
Flour tortillas
Challah bread
Naan bread
Focaccia bread
Pita bread
(If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.)

Column B
Next, the spread:
Dijon mustard
Honey mustard
Italian dressing
Russian dressing
Cranberry sauce
Pesto sauce
Sour cream
Mango chutney
Hot sauce

Column C
Swiss cheese
American cheese
Blue cheese
Cream cheese
Havarti cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheddar cheese
Provolone cheese
Brie cheese
Cottage cheese
Goat cheese

Column D
The main ingredient:
Corned beef
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
Scrambled eggs
Corned beef
Italian sausage
Roast beef
Egg salad
Tuna salad
Ham salad
Crab salad
Chicken salad
Turkey salad
Lobster salad

Column E
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Shredded carrots
Cole slaw
Sliced apples
Sliced red peppers
Sliced pears
Artichoke hearts

Column F
Finger foods:
Green Beans
Rice cakes
Melon balls

Be sure to check with your school about peanut policies.

Nobody will ever complain about lunch again if you can remember to jazz it up a little. My son, who lived for at least an entire year on (requested) white bread, bologna and yellow mustard sandwiches, is now a strapping 6 feet 4 inches tall. Imagine how far into the clouds he would stretch if we had thought to make him fig, goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwiches.

From the people who have time to recreate literary masterpieces:

And don’t forget dessert!

“A party without cake is just a meeting”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Easy Peasy Pasta

(Mr. Friday has whisked me away on vacation this week, so I have reached into the Spy Way Back Machine for a suitable column for your edification and enjoyment. Happy August!)

Here we are smack in the middle of a blazingly hot summer. I am still trying to keep my distance from the stove. But sometimes, even I realize that we cannot live on watermelon alone. Sometimes we need to feed the pasta craving. And for that, we need to boil water.

Last weekend we found a way to enjoy wonderfully gooey gobbets of melty mozzarella without compromising my seasonal standards. We did not dine on a wintery lasagne, which delivers molten strings of ropey cheese in a very satisfying fashion – albeit after much time is spent cooking in the oven. Instead we tossed hot fusilli into a large bowl over the nest of fresh burrata. Then we added a few fistfuls of fresh-from-the-back-porch basil and another of mint, with a smattering of crunchy pine nuts and a satisfying jolt of garlic, and topped it with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Wowser. Fantastic. This has been added to our summer repertoire.

There are so many tomatoes tumbling off their vines right now. We have a small bowl on the kitchen counter, spilling over with the daily harvest from our own modest tomato farm. Since you are a better gardener, you must have truckloads of the ruby red fruit ! And look at the wonderfully arranged pyramids and cardboard containers of tomatoes at the farmers’ market. Outstanding. You will have to remember these glorious days of summer when winter comes, when all that will be available to us in the grocery store will be weak, watery, hot house tomatoes.

I read a story this week about the musician Gillian Welch. She compared vinyl recordings of music to digital recordings as being like, “fresh basil and dried basil.” Suddenly, I understood her perfectly. Fresh basil for me, please.

In the summer we are devoted to three ingredients: tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic. Vampires shun us. This recipe involves a little more time spent standing and stirring at the stove, but it is worth the effort. And why else did I buy a comfort mat to put on the floor in front of the stove? So I could whine as we sit down to a wonderful dinner that took a few minutes of my time. Sheesh. It’s not like I was kneading bread for hours. Or piping dozens of perfect macarons.

There is a recipes from Martha that has been in our summer rep for years: I cook the pasta in the morning before the world heats up, and add the rest of the ingredients, and then let them all stew together all day long. By dinner time it is a magnificent melange of richness, redolent of garlic, which, to quote Martha, “Is a good thing.” Add some bread and butter, a small green salad and lots of cool cheap white wine. Winter is coming.

“You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook’s year. I get more excited by that than anything else.”
-Mario Batali