Monthly Archives: August 2010

Lemonade and thunderstorms

Where we love is home–home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. –Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

I quenched the homesickness I’ve been feeling recently with a visit home last week and a little lemonade. No matter where you move or travel, it is so refreshing to go home. There are memories, there, little pieces of yourself, tangled up in curtains and carpet and everyday things. And as I sat on the porch of my childhood home with warmth on my face and in my heart, I longed for lemonade and thunderstorms, two things I remember most from summers past.

I loved waiting out summer storms on our porch with my grandfather, curled up in a wicker chair watching the clouds in the sky churn and twist into a swirling sea of gray green splendor. The warm wind made the leaves dance themselves into a quiet frenzy moments before the sky ripped open with a loud crack and floods of rain washed away the sticky heat and made things new again. He would pour himself a fizzy Coke and I would eat popsicles and sip lime or lemonade my mom whipped up with crushed mint from our backyard. We would just sit. And watch. With no need to say a word. It was a lovely, lazy way to spend a summer evening at a time when I didn’t have a care in the world.

I think most people, myself included, could benefit from some of that childlike wonder and awe and a few stress free moments when we can pretend we have no cares in the world. This is no easy task, I realize, but let’s start with some lemonade. When in doubt, you can always start with something simple. Water, lemons and sugar seems like a good enough place to begin. When it comes to sugar, I have found that I crave less and less of the sweet stuff these days (disclaimer: chocolate is not included in this generalization; although I switched from milk to dark some time ago). I prefer unsweetened iced tea and black coffee. I water down Gatorade and juices and prefer seltzer water with lemon to soda. Most sugary childhood treats I once loved are lost on me now. This is impressive, I know, and makes me feel like I’m finally becoming a mature adult, or at least in terms of my palate.

So first thing’s first, I’ve cut the amount of sugar in my usual lemonade recipe by half and I’ve added some tart summer berries and a fistful of sweet basil to liven it up. Instead of making a simple syrup for a sure- fire homogeneous sweetener, I prefer to pulse the sugar and basil in a food processor until the basil becomes fragrant and flavorful and the sugar is ground to a fine powder that dissolves easily when whisked into cold water (the basil sugar is also quite tasty sprinkled over fresh strawberries). I reserve the blackberries to crush in individual servings with a dash of white sugar which preserves the homemade feel to the lemonade with free-floating fruit and basil and the faint sandiness of undissolved sugar. The resulting concoction is very refreshing with an herbal note and a natural fruity sweetness. It is also quite pretty to look at with a deep winey base of crushed berries giving way to a purple blush speckled with bits of green basil. And even though it’s a little more grown-up, it still feels like home and a simpler time that I like to revisit, if only for a moment.

Blackberry Basil Lemonade

1/2 gallon of spring or filtered water
1/2 c sugar, plus 8 teaspoons, divided
1 pint blackberries
12 basil leaves, thoroughly washed and dried and roughly chopped
juice from 7 lemons (about 1 cup juice) and 1 lime

Place sugar and basil leaves into a food process and pulse until basil is incorporated with sugar. Sugar will turn a bright grass green and basil pieces should be smaller than a pencil eraser.

Add lemon juice and basil sugar to water, and whisk to combine.

Add about 5 blackberries with 1 teaspoon sugar to a large glass. Using a fruit muddler (or back of a fork) smash berries and sugar to form a pulp. Fill glass with 8 oz of basil lemonade, mix well, and garnish with basil leaves, if desired.


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Bread, reincarnated

I have been eating tomato sandwiches for the better part of two weeks, now. Sometimes with a little fresh mozzarella or basil or cracked pepper but always with olive oil and sea salt on a slice of thick, crusty bread. Of all the strictly summer treats, it has to be my favorite and I’m taking full advantage while I can.

Last week, in my greedy tomato fever, I bought more bread than even I could consume crafting tomato sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And it went a little stale. A beautiful baguette past its prime usually ends up in a strata at my house. Eggs whisked with milk and seasonings revive stale bread hunks from their brick-like state quite nicely. Adding cheese and veggies to bubble and brown and mellow in the oven makes for a delicious brunch. But what about all those precious tomatoes sitting on my windowsill? I could cope with stale bread but rotten tomatoes were out of the question.

Is this how panzanella was invented? I tend to think so. Panzanella, or bread salad, in its simplest form appears as cubes of day-old bread mixed with chopped tomatoes and their juices, olive oil, salt and pepper. I have also seen it dressed up with cucumbers, tuna, anchovies or celery. The beauty of this dish is the ability to improvise and add what tastes good or what is fresh at the time. Each time I make it, it is never quite the same with subtle nuances depending on what I have on hand. This round was quite delicious, however, and I figured I should share the wealth of salty, toasty goodness.

A rule of thumb for panzanella made in my kitchen: you must fry, grill or toast the bread! While the bread is meant to sop up the juices of the salad, leaving the chunks uncooked will render lifeless blobs of mush, not unlike the pablam cereal I gummed when I required a booster seat to reach the dining table. Even old bread deserves a second chance, and its best bet lies in wait inside a bottle of fruity olive oil and a hot pan.

My Panzanella (Bread Salad)

Below is the exact recipe I used for my panzanella last week. Although you can really use any kind of tomatoes or other ingredients you have on hand, I do recommend using two different types of tomatoes for a dynamic flavor. The contrast of the tangy red cherry tomatoes and the sweeter, milder yellow tomato was very nice. Take advantage of the variety of heirlooms at hand and mix it up.

1 day-old (or more!) demi-baguette (about 12 inches long)
1 pint large cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 yellow heirloom tomato, chopped
1 medium ball fresh mozzarella, diced (preferably buffalo mozzarella)
1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives (reserve 1 tbs of olive brine)
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tightly packed basil leaves, chopped
3 tbs red wine vinegar
olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Drizzle about 1/4 cup olive over bread cubes, tossing to coat evenly. Place bread cubes in a large frying pan over medium heat, stirring until they are toasted to a nice golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside in the large bowl.

Place the tomatoes, mozzarella and olives in a small bowl adding the reserved olive brine and mix well. The brine serves in place of salt. If you don’t have any brine left over, you may add a little sea salt, instead.

Empty this mixture onto the bread cubes and add onions and basil. Add vinegar and pepper and toss all ingredients to coat. Test for seasoning. Allow salad to rest at room temperature for at least 25 minutes and toss well before serving for best results.

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You are never too old for a tea party

I had a vivid image flashback the other day of porcelain blue silk dupioni upholstery stretched across a gloriously curved whitewashed frame all balanced on whittled legs of intricate swirls and spirals. A picture so beautiful, I remember feeling a little guilty at the time for plucking it from its privileged home among gilded china and muslin-draped canopy beds, nestled in fields of lavender, and tucking it into a my grade school yearbook full of big perms and bad bangs. I was just a little girl but a gorgeous chaise lounge, of all things, caught my eye and imagination on the delicate pages of my mother’s Victoria magazine.

It has been a long time since I thought of that coveted piece of furniture but I was wishing for that Victorian beauty, recently. It was just last week during a horribly hot afternoon when I should have stayed in the oasis of my air conditioned apartment. A few people carried umbrellas to shield the sun from their faces and it brought to mind a world filled with frilly parasols, fainting couches and afternoon teas. I thought how lovely it would be to lie down my listless body on my very own chaise lounge right there in the middle of Broadway to sip some (iced) tea and have a little snack. Yes, I was probably somewhat delirious from the heat, but I’ve also grown up reading my mother’s magazines in a Victorian house with a sister who loves all things Jane Austen and an aunt with an affinity for Royal Doulton china and antique furniture. I suppose all things considered, it was inevitable that we would be a family of tea lovers.

No matter if it is my mother’s birthday, my sister’s bridal shower or just a visit home, we use every excuse to throw a tea party. And when I traveled to London, I refused to leave until I had a proper British high tea, snacking on finger sandwiches and orange scented scones with clotted cream at The Orangery in the beautiful gardens of Kensington Palace. The British are really on to something with their daily tea time–a chance to chat and nibble and enjoy good company and a warm cup of tea. How can you not indulge the whimsy of eating things like crumpets and scones and treacle tart? Frankly, I get a little homesick for my family just thinking of it. So after my feverish flashback, I decided to whip up a batch of scones, make a cup of tea and call my mom.

The “peachy keen” scones I decided on come from Tea Time magazine, a fun little house warming gift from my aunt. It’s the first recipe I tried from those pages, and I’d say it was a sweet success. After the initial chopping of some sticky ingredients, the dough comes together rather quickly with cold butter and cream cheese cut into sugared flour and enriched with peach nectar, whipping cream and dried fruit. Glazed with more nectar and sprinkled with sliced almonds, they are ready for baking. The scones are best right out of the oven, warm and crumbly and riddled with pockets of chewy peaches and bits of sandy ginger. Sweet and spicy, they are a perfect match for a cup of tea and a lazy afternoon. So break out your parasol, languish on your chaise lounge (or your tiny window seat, or lawn chair or whatever you have), and enjoy.

Peachy Keen Scones from Tea Time

I had a little trouble finding dried peaches at first. If I were at my parents’ house (or had unlimited space in my apartment for every kitchen appliance I’ve ever dreamed of) I would have used a food dehydrator to dry my own sweet summer peaches. I did eventually find a bag of dried organic ones at Trader Joe’s.

Also, I don’t have biscuit cutters and found that a widemouth glass does the trick. You can also roll out the dough into a circle and cut it in wedges, like a pie.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and diced
1 (3 oz) package cream cheese, cold and diced
1 (16 oz) package dried peaches, diced
1/4 cup candied ginger, diced
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup peach nectar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, light brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine.

Using a pastry blender, cut butter and cream cheese into flour mixture until mixture is crumbly. Add peaches and ginger, stirring to combine. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine whipping cream, 1/3 cup peach nectar and vanilla extract. Add cream mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a 3/4-in thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter (see above note), cut as many scones as possible, rerolling dough scraps only once. Place scones on prepared baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat scones with remaining 1/3 cup peach nectar. Sprinkle scones evenly with sliced almonds. Bake until light golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze until ready to use.

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