It was the biggest adventure of my young life. I left the Midwest to study art history in Europe…yes, how exciting was it to be a student in another country looking at art that I had only seen previously in textbooks. I could write many blog posts about that trip, but this one is about something that happened to me while I was staying at a tiny pensione outside of Rome on a steamy July day in 1969.
Believe me, this place was spare, sparse and run by nuns. But, there was a tiny…and I mean tiny, television in the lounge and on July 20th, all of the American students gathered around it. We watched as Apollo 11 landed on the moon…but the announcement was in Italian, we didn’t understand a word…we got the fact that the US had landed, but that was all. When I returned home I finally heard the words that Neil Armstrong had said on that historic occasion…”One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Such a simple, poetic statement.
He lived up the road from where I was born in Ohio. A man of values and courage from Wapakoneta. He stayed that way all of his life…unlike so many, he choose to remain humble and unaffected by fame. He taught at the University of Cincinnati where I went to college, and he lived in my community…all the time, remaining true to who he was. A real hometown hero.
On the news, the family said that if anyone wanted to know what to do to honor Neil’s memory, they should push boundaries and commit to causes greater than themselves. I thought that was worthy of sharing with you and your family and friends today. That’s a goal for us all, isn’t it?
Also, his family said the best way to honor his memory is “the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink,”.
OK Neil, I’ll be winking…I’m sure you’ll be smiling.
I grew up in the city, but I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks with my aunt and uncle in the country every summer. There I got to run barefoot in grass still moist and fragrant from just being cut. If it was obnoxiously hot (like this year) the sprinkler would be hauled out and it would start to make lazy circles in the grass. That was my clue to toss on a bathing suit and hop around in the low streams of water like I had fleas. God, what fun that was!
To get to their small cottage we would drive till the highway ended…then onto small, dusty country roads and finally a single lane gravel road where you had to pull into a driveway to pass another car. Along the roads were fields…fields of soy beans, fields of grazing cows, and lots and lots of corn. I was always concerned that it would be “knee high by the 4th of July”…and it always was. Later, that corn made its way to farm stands set up along the side of the road.
Now in Chicago we have wonderful farmer’s markets to choose from that takes the place of those roadside attractions. The one I haul my shopping cart to the most is on Division Street. There I find that the country has made its way to me and that makes my weekend.
This week at one of my favorite stands set up by the folks at Nichols Farm was something that I want to share with you for a couple of reasons. The first is that I don’t think that children always realize just what “food from the source” looks like when you buy it in a pouch and the second is that this is just plain fun…especially for the kids.
I walked over to the display of dried corn to find this sign.
And these little, yellow, dried cobs. OK, I’m game. I’ve never done this before, but I’m thinking that it will be fun and tasty, right?
So, how easy is this? Put a corn cob into the brown paper bag…I folded the ends a few times. Put it into the microwave for a few and out pops a treat for your Sunday supper for a fun appetizer.
I had to glam it up for us with some melted butter and truffle salt, but if you prefer, it’s great plain as well.
Corn on the Cob Popcorn Recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 1 minute
Cook Time: 2 - 3 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Fun to make, especially for the kids!
1 ear of popping corn
Salt to taste
Butter to taste
Place the ear of corn into a medium sized brown paper bag.
Place in the microwave and cook for 2 minutes. If not completely popped, you can cook at 30 second increments till cooked. I cooked mine for about 2.
Have an adult take the bag out of the microwave and shake popped corn into a container. Sprinkle with butter and salt, or eat plain, if you prefer.
Sometimes things that start badly turn out for the best. That’s what happened to us when we discovered a computer issue that we had to take care of while we were away. We had to drive a distance to Belfast, Maine where there was a computer store that would have the solution we needed. My tummy was growling as we walked out the door, so I grabbed a guide book hoping to find a restaurant where we could have lunch. There was a place that looked interesting practically right across the street…Chase’s Daily.
The guide book said that it was a vegetarian restaurant that also housed a daily farmer’s market…sounded up my alley. Even though I’m not a true “veg head,” I love to eat fresh, flavorful veggies and I believe that some of the most creative dishes can be all veg.
We walked up to the door and I noticed the large windows filled with flowers…a perfect introduction to the natural scene within.
Even though we arrived before noon, it was packed. We gave our name to the very friendly hostess and headed straight for the back of the restaurant where we found the market area…large galvanized containers were center stage and freshly picked produce was the star.
Folks were streaming in the back door and heading straight for their favorites…I so wish that I had a kitchen…it was kind of a tease…all of this fabulous produce and NO kitchen!
As we were being led to our table, we went by folks eating the most lovely pizza…you know, sometimes you just crave a pizza, right? Especially when you’re coming from Chicago…so you won’t be surprised by what we ordered.
This week’s Sunday supper was inspired by our visit and based on the concept of going to your local market or garden, finding the freshest ingredients and combining them for a light and flavorful meal. Fat, thick slices of red ripe tomatoes straight off the vine, tender sweet kernels of Silver Queen corn and lots and lots of bright fresh herbs.
I decided to experiment and use a packaged pizza dough for this recipe. I used the whole grain version, cut out individual-sized rounds using a bowl and a knife and followed the instructions that said that I should bake the dough for about 6 minutes before adding the toppings, then bake again for about 6 – 9 minutes. I found that the crust was crisp and the veggies were not overcooked. I sprinkled more fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.
I think that the next time I make this, I’m going to use homemade pizza dough, but if you’re pinched for time, you might want to consider the packaged version.
Fresh Herb, Corn, Tomato and Goat Cheese Mini Pizza Recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Straight from the garden to the table.
1 container of packaged pizza dough (I used whole grain) or use your favorite pizza dough recipe
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons good quality olive oil (to oil cookie sheet and add to top of pizza before adding the veggies)
4 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed from husk
8 oz. goat cheese
1/2 cup mixed herbs (I used basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme, removed from stems)
Olive oil to drizzle on top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Oil cookie sheet.
Roll out dough. For individual mini pizzas, cut out by pressing a 6 to 8 inch bowl down onto the dough, use a knife to cut around the bowl, then lift out rounds and place on oiled cookie sheet.
Bake according to packaged directions, remove from oven after 6 minutes.
On top of pizzas spread a bit of olive oil, then sprinkle on finely minced garlic, add sliced tomatoes, kernels of corn, goat cheese and herbs.
Return to oven and bake for an additional 6 or so minutes.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with more fresh herbs and drizzle with olive oil.
Every morning at breakfast we would discuss where we should go and what we should do that day. While placing something fresh from the oven on the table, our hostess would always have a great suggestion..usually followed by a welcomed brochure.
One morning was especially beautiful and we decided to go to the Beech Hill Preserve, a conservation property owned by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust located close by in Rockport. Our goal was to hike up the trail to the summit where we would find the romantic stone “tea house”, named Beech Nut. Along the way, we hoped to see some special birds (Beech Hill is known to have over 100 species) and admire the large fields of wild blueberries…the small, sweet kind found only in Maine.
As soon as we got on the trail, we spied a sign identifying the native Wood Lily. We were told that when these lilies appear in the fields, the blueberries are ready to pick. We searched and found one! OK, we see the lily, but where are the blueberries?
We were almost at the summit, and still no sign of them….then something on the ground caught my eye…was it…yes, yes, it was. Right there were very low growing blueberry bushes, not the sturdy tall variety I was used to seeing. We’d been walking by them all along and our eyes were focused up and not down. Now that we knew where to look, they sprinkled the hillside like fairy dust.
Beech Nut looks like an enchanted cottage…could someone inside be spinning straw into gold? It was designed by Norwegian landscape designer, Hans O. Heistad and built in the early 1900′s out of stone with a sod roof in keeping with Norwegian tradition. The Gribbell family of Philadelphia who developed Beech Hill, used to meander up the curving trail in their buggy, admiring the scenery and carrying picnic hampers groaning with all of the trappings of a fine Victorian tea.
After their journey, they would have their tea overlooking the wonderful panoramic views of the Camden Hills, Penobscot Bay and the St. George Peninsula.
At Beech Hill you are asked to stay on the trail and not to pick the blueberries or the lilies, this land is dedicated to conserving not indulging. There is one day a year (this year, it’s TODAY) that you can go up and pick the tiny, blue treasures. So, if you’re in the neighborhood….
I thought that it might be fun to have an “old timey” dessert for family and friends for this week’s Sunday Supper…something that they might have served at high tea at the top of that hill on warm summer afternoons.
On a dusty shelf in an old antique shop I found a well worn copy of The American Heritage Cookbook. This book is filled with time honored recipes of the past; such a grunts, fools and flummery. By now, you probably know that I’m drawn to simple, tasty recipes. I chose to adapt this one, and I’m glad I did. It has a light, fluffy, fruity taste with a hint of lemon.
Oh, and you top it with crumbled macaroons (not to be confused with French macarons). I found these almond macaroons at my local bakery, but if you can’t find them your way, you could use crumbled sugar cookies. I added fresh blueberries as well for another texture to enjoy.
Old Fashioned Blueberry Fool Dessert Recipe
Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
A light, fluffy, fruity dessert that is perfect for a hot summer evening.
2 pints fresh blueberries, reserving a few as garnish
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup crumbled macaroons (or sugar cookies)
Rinse berries (keeping a few for the garnish) add remainder to saucepan with 1/4 cup of water. Let simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or till the fruit is very tender. Remove from the heat and place in a strainer over a bowl. Work the berries through the strainer with a spoon. While the fruit puree is still warm, stir in the sugar and the lemon zest. Place mixture in the fridge to cool.
Now you are going to whip the cream and fold it into the fruit puree. I like to place my bowl and the beaters that I'll be using in the freezer to chill. Using chilled bowl and beaters, add heavy cream and whip cream till it forms soft peaks.
Remove the fruit puree from the fridge and whisk mixture a bit to loosen it (it will be slightly jelled). Then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon into serving bowls and place in fridge till you are ready to serve.
When ready to serve, sprinkle crumbled cookies and blueberries on top.
I don’t consider myself a sailor, but I just can’t go to Maine without getting out there on the water pretending to own a boat (at least for a few hours) and this trip was no exception.
It was up in the air as to which day we were going to sail, but we got the call and jumped at the chance to go out on such a beautiful summer evening.
We set sail from the harbor at Rockport on the Schooner Heron. The Heron is a 65 foot classic wooden boat hand built by Twig and Bonnie Bower (I know, can you believe it?). I thought it looked familiar…later I discovered that it was featured as “Sanderson’s yacht” in the Johnny Depp’s film, “The Rum Diary”.
On board were folks from England and Germany and soon everyone was chatting and enjoying themselves. One thing we all had in common was our love for Maine and the sea.
Soon we were out of the mooring and heading toward Penobscot Bay, but first we had to pass the Indian Island Lighthouse.
The billowing sails soon stood at attention like seamen in the presence of an admiral.
The landlubber in me was a bit relieved when the winds proved to be calm as the kitten “Monkey” who popped out of the hold to sniff which way the wind was blowing.
For their gourmet sunset sail the Bowers’ provide the hors d ‘oeurves, but you provide the drinks. We chose a nice Chardonnay which went very nicely with the selection of various cheese and fruit…but what I really liked was the crab dip.
Hours later we return to the Rockport harbor to find that the evening was just beginning for some looking to the ocean for their meal.
I thought that you might enjoy a bit of the sea to share with your family and friends for your next Sunday Supper.
I realize that not all of you have access to fresh crab…and neither did I when I returned home, but I did find this which was the perfect substitute at a local market.
Spicy New England Crab Dip
Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
For those of you who love crab with a bit of a kick.
1 cup mayonnaise (I use Hellman's)
1/4 cup Chili Sauce (I use Heinz)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (I used a rasp instead of a zester)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 dashes of Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup celery, minced
1/4 cup green pepper minced
2 tablespoons sweet onion, grated
2 tablespoons parsley, minced (I used Italian)
1 pound crab meat (if you use fresh, please make sure that you check it for any random shell bits)
In a large bowl, wisk the first 6 ingredients together (mayo, chile sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice and lemon zest) till combined.
Then add the next four ingredients (celery, green pepper, onion and parsley) and stir together till combined.
Finally, fold in the crab meat till combined.
Chill for an hour or more in the fridge. (can be made a day ahead)
Serve on toasted French bread or cucumber slices.