Friday, September 12th, 2014

So it begins…

IMG_0043It’s easy to get cocky the first week back to school. Coming off the summer months, well-rested and pumped with vitamin D, I begin to forget what last June looked and felt like (dusty lunchboxes, forgotten homework, despair) and look forward to the return of the school year routine: The busyness (so many things to do!), the atmosphere (piles of fallen leaves at the bus stop), the freedom (the kids are away learning stuff while I sit here typing next to a snoozing dog). Which is not to say I haven’t screwed up already…

Just 20 minutes before the arrival of the school bus on Monday morning, Conor looked up at me (as I drank my third cup of coffee and stared out the window) and said, “aren’t you supposed to be riding the bus today?”

Frickin’ frick!

Yes, I had completely forgotten that I’d volunteered to help with weepy Kindergartners on that morning’s bus route. Don’t worry. I made it (with enough time to put a bra on) and all the Kindergartners arrived safely, if still a little weepy.

Forgetful hiccup aside, this joie de Septembre even extends to meal time. Meals composed of town pool snack bar offerings and backyard hot dogs are all fine and dandy, but the time comes to sit back down at a table, eat a meal with utensils, and make conversation. Of course I KNOW that come week #2 of back-to-school (yes, my kids go back to school later than everyone else on the planet) the drudgery will set in. Soccer practices will run late, homework assistance will be needed, it will be 5 o’clock and the chicken is nowhere near marinated.  But until then, I’m going to ride this wave of blissed-out beginnings. I’m also not going to try and knock anything out of the park; which leads me to what I think is the simplest and most satisfying dish you can ever make for a family weeknight meal: Pasta with Tomato Sauce.

It’s a classic meal that appeals to everyone, no matter what kind of family you’re feeding— from a passel of picky children to your on-a-budget roommate. It’s fast. It’s comforting. It’s filling. You can add meatballs but you don’t really don’t have to. A generous grating of pecorino is all you really need.

So my gift to you this back-to-school season is the 10-Minute version from KEEPERS, which I make time and time again, including already once this week. One of my favorite anecdotes about this dish is from a mom-friend with three boys, who had never before made tomato sauce from scratch until she made this version for her family. It’s now in her regular rotation and, even better, one of her boys asks for it by the name: “mommy’s sauce”.

SPAGHETTI WITH 10-MINUTE BASIC TOMATO SAUCE

SERVES 4 TO 6

If you normally rely on jarred tomato sauces, here are five reasons to make this sauce instead the next time spaghetti is on the menu: It’s fresher tasting, preservative-free, less expensive, requires only basic pantry items, and takes barely any more effort or time.

We find the quality of canned whole tomatoes is generally better and more consistent than the crushed version, so we usually buy the former. Caroline crushes them into the pan using her hands; Kathy prefers to crush them against the bottom of the pan with a potato masher. Either way, pierce them first to avoid spurts and remove any hard cores. Sometimes canned tomatoes can be very acidic; if you find this to be the case when you taste the sauce, add a pinch of sugar.

Salt

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for finishing the dish

2 large garlic cloves, minced

One 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes

Handful of basil leaves, roughly torn (optional)

Freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese

-Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and season it generously with salt; it should taste like seawater. When it returns to a boil, add the pasta, quickly stir to separate the noodles, then cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil again, uncover and boil the pasta until al dente, stirring occasionally.

- Meanwhile, in a large high-sided sauté pan, heat the oil, garlic, and 2 large pinches of salt over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands or a potato masher (see note above). Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until you can draw a line through it with a wooden spoon and it doesn’t fill in immediately, 5 to 7 minutes. The sauce should be light and fresh tasting, so don’t let it cook down too much. Check the seasonings (it should taste a little salty) and set aside.

- When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, then pour the noodles on top of the tomato sauce. Add a little more oil and toss to combine over medium heat. If the pasta looks dry, add some of the cooking water. Check the seasonings, add the basil (if using), and serve with the cheese.

Tip: Once you know how to make a basic tomato sauce, you can easily turn out a number of variations, including Spicy Tomato-Cream Sauce (opposite page); puttanesca (add some minced anchovy fillets with the garlic and capers and chopped olives with the tomatoes); and Amatriciana (cook some chopped bacon or pancetta and then onion before the garlic and add a generous amount of black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes). You can also cook the basic sauce down a little more and use it on pizza.

TIP: If you prefer a smooth sauce rather than a chunky one, instead of crushing the tomatoes, puree them with a handheld blender (right in the can, if you like and are careful).

 

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Friday, September 5th, 2014

5 Things You Can and Should Eat Before Summer is (truly) Over

IMG_3849Just because it’s September, and the interweb wants us to snap out of our seaside reveries and focus on things like school supplies, hurricane season, and New York Fashion Week, doesn’t mean I’m going to let it have its way. They can chatter on about the return of college football and hardy mums, but I’m not letting the hype put any distance between me and what remains of summer’s remaining ingredients. Because they’re still here! Tomatoes, corn, peaches, eggplant, summer squash…I’m just not ready to kick them to the curb for pumpkins and cardigans. My supermarket may already be devoting an entire aisle to Halloween candy, but I’m still wearing sandals and eating watermelon. So here’s a handy reminder of all the things still worth eating and making before it’s really too late:

IMG_00021. Ice cream.  If you’re an all-year-round ice cream eater then kudos to you, but in my mind, nothing can compare to enjoying a waffle cone (above filled with scoops of coffee and black raspberry chocolate chip) in the great outdoors on a balmy night. So I’m eating a lot of ice cream while it’s still light out after 5pm, seeking out the ice cream parlors wherever I go, splurging on hot fudge and extra sprinkles, and not feeling bad about it AT ALL!

IMG_37682. Tomatoes There’s not much time left, so brush off any tomato fatigue and roast them (above stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, anchovy, pancetta, and herbs), sauce them (I’ve been making batches of tomato sauce with a mix of gnarly-knobby heirlooms then freezing it for winter spaghetti and chicken parmesan), bake them (see THIS recipe), and of course, just slice them on toast with a generous slathering of mayo (add crisp bacon, lettuce, and a slice of sweet pickle and you’re really in business).

IMG_43913. Ratatouille Everything that’s you’ll need for this amazing concoction—eggplants, squash, tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, garlic, and basil— is available at your farmer’s market or CSA right now. I like to make this version, but then cook it down further so that the vegetables become caramelized, almost like a sweet vegetable jam.

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IMG_36404. Crisps It’s easier than pie (literally) and once you have a favorite recipe, it’s fun to improvise. Just combine any of summer’s remaining stone fruits—nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots—with blueberries, and top with a buttery-nut-oats-brown sugar topping…you’ll have something amazing for both breakfast and dessert.

IMG_42525. Corn As much as I enjoy eating corn right off the cob, two of my favorite KEEPERS recipes are for a raw corn salad and corn sauteed with brown butter and miso. Brown a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, add some shallots and cook until they soften, then add a spoonful of white or yellow miso and let it melt into the butter. Next add the corn that’s been cut away from 4 ears (including any of the “milk”, which you extract by scraping the stripped cobb with the back of a knife), and saute until the kernels are barely cooked (if the corn is fresh you don’t need to really cook it that much at all). Season with freshly ground pepper and the juice and zest of one lime (you probably won’t need salt because of the miso but taste for seasonings). Add the warm miso corn to soba noodles, salad, a veggie taco. Or eat it straight out of the skillet because remember: Summer isn’t over yet.

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Monday, September 1st, 2014

Labor Day Salad

freshpick_watermelonHAPPY LABOR DAY! If you’re been invited to a bbq, or are just planning on celebrating at home, I wanted to share a great KEEPERS recipe that is pretty much the perfect summer salad (in my opinion). It’s our watermelon-cucumber salad, and it’s featured this weekend on the healthy-living website Fitbie.

Not only is this summer-salad refreshing, tasty, and super simple to make (because who wants to labor on labor day?); chances are you already have all the ingredients in your kitchen. It’s also the ideal potluck-party offering because it travels well (just keep it chilled as long as you can before serving). The pecorino is optional if you’re skipping dairy; but if you ARE on the dairy train, then you can also substitute another salty-firmish cheese, like feta or manchego (which is especially good).

Hope you have a lovely and leisurely holiday! See you in September.

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Thursday, August 28th, 2014

M-A-I-N-E: The BLT Bar

IMG_4011I’m not lying when I say that, when it’s tomato season (so basically right now), I could happily eat BLT sandwiches everyday, perhaps for every meal. Is there a more perfect arrangement than crisp bacon, juicy tomato, leafy lettuce, and mayonnaise for putting between two slices of bread? Emphatically, no. Lately, I’ve noticed recipes that try to play or improve upon the classic combination, things like a “deconstructed BLT” or fried-green tomato BLT, and I think, “why? why!?”. Why in the world would anyone feel the need to mess around with the ideal thing. It’s nonsense! The most innovative I’ll ever get with my BLT is perhaps switching up the bread, or dusting the tomatoes with some flaky salt. That’s it. Although I do recognize that most people prefer to assemble their versions differently: The order in which they stack the lettuce/bacon/mayo, if the want the bread toasted, etc. To address this issue when we’re in Maine, I make a BLT bar, with all the ingredients arranged separately, so that everyone can assemble to their taste.

IMG_3111I find that a BLT lunch buffet is the ideal way to feed large gatherings, say when your family raids your summer getaway, because you don’t have to prepare a horde of sandwiches yourself, but it’s a little nicer than throwing a plate of cold cuts together. I also love doing this for a picnic—just pack all the ingredients separately and then arrange them on your picnic blanket so that people can help themselves (this also prevents soggy sandwich syndrome).

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IMG_3120This BLT was slightly radical for me because I made it on a baguette rather than my usual toasted white bread. There was a lot more bite and crunch to it, but it was still the sandwich of my dreams because all of the ingredients were at their best-ripest-tastiest. Even though I’m no longer in Maine, I’m going to continue to have my share before summer is out, you should too.

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

M-A-I-N-E: Little Shops

IMG_2578You may not think of the midcoast of Maine as retail heaven, but for a certain individual (Do you swoon over letterpress and good card stock? Enjoy fondling antique French farm linens? Swerve and stop anytime you pass a general store?) it’s truly a paradise. Visiting my favorite little stores in Maine has become as much a part of my summer trip as gorging on lobsters and marveling over the tides; and this year I even discovered a couple of new finds to add to my list.

My very first stop is always the stationary and home store Rock Paper Scissors in Wiscasset. Although I’ve been stopping at this artfully-curated shop (see photo above) for several years, this summer was the first time I was able to meet the owner and tell her how much I love her style (I’m a groupie). Her talent is not just in how she selects the stationary, pottery, art, books, jewelry and lovely notions to sell (here’s a photo of this year’s haul, which doesn’t include the Japanese toothbrush with charcoal bristles that I bought and which is now officially the best toothbrush I’ve ever owned…I’m serious):
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Her talent is also in how she arranges them into these mesmerizing tableaus…like her selection of ribbons:
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And then there are the shelves of doodads and whatnots behind the cashier’s desk…

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Right across the street is Marston House, an antique shop and bed and breakfast located in a charmingly rickety old home and carriage house. Paul and Sharon are the couple who own Marston House and they spend half the year in Provence searching for French antiques and renting out properties, and the other half of the year in Maine selling their accumulated wares and renting out their carriage house apartments. Clearly Paul and Sharon have it all figured out. There is much that’s desirable in their store because, like Rock Paper Scissors (whose owner worked at Marston as a teenager), it’s all so mesmerizingly displayed. I ended up buying two cushions made from vintage indigo-dyed fabric and filled with dried lavender, and Belle scored some tiny antique doll house plates.

IMG_2587I wish I had bought those green bottles in the top right corner

IMG_2588Vintage French kitchenwares

IMG_2589Stack of ribbons

IMG_2590A collection of vintage cutting boards

Like any good holiday, we spend a lot of downtime lying on the porch and reading. Luckily for us, our favorite used bookstore is a short walk away. The Lobster Lane Bookshop is not like any other bookstore. First, it’s only open on weekends and during the summer months. Second, it’s located in a former lobster cottage that is more like a shack with windows, perched on the water’ edge. The owner took over the business (which is more a labor of love than a business enterprise, most of the books cost only a quarter) from her mother, who for many years spent weekends filling and selling used books out of the cottage next to her summer home. Although the Bookshop is still an insiders-secret, there is a devoted following: Come Saturday morning, bookworms begin to arrive via bike, car, and foot and leave with bags of books on every imaginable subject, from train collecting to Scandinavian thrillers.

IMG_2647The Lobster Bookstore’s most devoted customer. Note the game face.

IMG_2648Big score: a picture book bio of Tom Terrific.

IMG_3237In the category of new finds that are not new, we took a mini road trip one day when the fog rolled in, to the towns of Freedom, Hope, and Liberty (how cool are those for town names?). In Liberty—a village that reminds me strongly of Walnut Grove— we visited two ancient stores: Liberty Tool Company  and Frapoli’s. Liberty Tool Company is located in an ancient building on the main drag and sells what appears to be every tool ever made. Filed, piled, and tucked away in drawers and baby food jars are thousands of bolts, nuts, screws and nails (see photo above). The arrangement reminded me of carefully organized hoarding, and I imagine that someone who loves screwdrivers and wrenches (the way I love stationary) would be in their happy place.

Frapoli’s is a deeply eccentric antique shop just down the street from the Tool Company, and the owner sells all manner of early-Americana tchotchkes, including vintage cast iron skillets in every size that I now regret not buying.

IMG_3306Last, but certainly not least, is the elegantly simple Trillium Soaps in Rockland. Now, this is not just a soap store—the owners also display and sell a select collection of Belgian linens, enamelware, furniture, art, and things for the home (see above and below):

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But when it comes to soap, they are truly artists…
IMG_3300I realize that not everyone (people I’m related to) can understand getting excited over soaps (which I realize are basically little squares that you use to wash your armpits). But Trillium’s soaps are all made by hand, with the most natural of ingredients including mint, grapefruit, lemongrass, lavender, pine, etc. They’re cut from large blocks that are poured in the workshop right behind the register, and packaged in simple white paper pouches that make a wonderful gift from Maine for a friend. Or a gift for yourself because we all deserve armpits that smell like grapefruit and other lovely things.

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