What I did this summer

I’ve been erratic about writing these last few months. That tendency, to be erratic, is probably one reason why I’m never likely to write the Great American Novel. Serious writers, in my experience, are highly disciplined and highly routinized—and that’s never been quite my cup of tea.

First of all, I probably ate too much ice cream, at Leo’s in Carlisle, PA. But if you had a taste of this luscious stuff, you probably would have indulged too much, too.

Save for a single weekend getaway—a reunion with some dear friends in Annapolis— we’ve spent summer at home. Considering that time with our precious Miss Puppy turned out to be so limited, I am very glad that we were home with her. Still, going into fall, everything feels a bit… fractured… which is a good word to describe today’s post.

I’ve been reading steadily, but after Frances Mayes’ masterful Women in Sunlight, everything has fallen short and—excepting my foray into Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie stories—has seemed way too sad. Thus, I’m really looking forward to Adriana Trigiani’s newest, Tony’s Wife, due in November. If you don’t know her writing, and you love a beautifully told story that is poignant and warm and always rings true—just as she does—you’ll want to put it on your reading list. See my previous post about her and her website, adrianatrigiani.com, where you can also read about the wonderful, life-changing Origin Project.

In the garden, the extraordinary amounts of rain have resulted in huge growth spurts for our shrubs and trees. For the first time in years, thanks to my daughter, we have tomato plants. I’ve rediscovered their unique scent and decided that, fo me, it’s the quintessential smell of summer.

 

There was quality time with kids, grands, cousins, and girlfriends—long walks, a picnic, visits to nearby gardens (one the work of fairies, as you can see in the cover photo), and an alpaca farm.

IMG_3679

IMG_3808

For entertainment, we finished the six seasons of Republic of Doyle. I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed this tightly written, sometimes hysterically funny nail-biter. The Doyles are father-son private investigators who get themselves and their entire family into all sorts of hair-rising trouble. The series was shot on location in Newfoundland, with fabulous ensemble acting headlined by Allan Hawco and Sean McGinley. All six seasons are available on Netflix although you can catch the first four on Acorn. Another winning Acorn series is Rake, starring Richard Roxburghan Australian series about a brilliant criminal defense attorney who is, to say the least, his own worst enemy. You will laugh copiously at this one. Both shows, by the way, have great soundtracks, and—like many other out-of-country programming—are better by leaps and bounds than 90% of typical US TV offerings.

In the kitchen, I’ve been determined to get out of my comfort zone. My next-door-neighbor Jamie joined me to try this zucchini galette, a King Arthur Flour recipe you’ll find here. It was a huge hit and went together in a flash.

IMG_3717

And that’s what I did this summer.

Just a note… I have always provided links to books via Amazon because it’s convenient and worldwide. After this post, however, I will be concentrating more on direct links to author pages and independent booksellers. Amazon has gotten way too big for my taste.  I’d rather support the writers themselves, or the “little shop around the corner”.  

 

 

 

Farewell, sweet friend

Cover photo: Miss Pup with her beau Rocko, who crossed the bridge earlier this year. 

Many hearts were broken just after midnight on August 23, when Miss Puppy’s sweet little heart—which was at least as big as Texas—just gave up.

Everyone lucky enough to have a loving dog understands intellectually that by human standards, their time with you is short. Pup was fourteen—she’d been with us for eleven of those years. We knew that she was slowing down, but she was still full of life. Then, in barely more than a week, she was gone. Although  grateful that she was saved the pain of a lengthy illness, we were shellshocked. Losing a pet we love, it turns out, isn’t much different from losing a person we love, as science has substantiated. Nor is it much easier.

Our kids, our extended family, our friends and neighbors, and all of the others Miss Pup encountered in her travels have felt the loss, too. Suddenly, the whole rhythm of our daily lives changed. Suddenly, we were out walking by ourselves…. no sweet Pup to nudge me out of bed at 6:30, then curl up on my pillow for another half hour’s sleep, or to take Hubby’s pillow till he came to bed…. no happy, smiling Pup in Hubby’s lap, being toweled off after her bath…. no crazy barking  when the doorbell rang…. no need to say, “Be a good girl, Pup. Eat your crunchies!”

Miss Puppy could hear me peeling a carrot  from anywhere in the house. Broccoli and green beans, cantaloupe and apples, peaches and pears—she loved her veggies and fruits and the crumbs of toast I shared with her in our morning ritual.

She was naturally, marvelously, curious, which is why she was Miss Puppy Clouseau. Her vocabulary was hug. Her Aunt Sue and Aunt Sue, when  providing her periodic “vacation spa getaways,” introduced her to shopkeepers around town and taught her to “look both ways” at corners and pick out her own treat at the Agway. When one of the Sues was interviewed by a local TV station, Miss Pup joined her in the shot, turning her head to the camera and then back at Sue right on cue. She loved rides in the country to see her “friends”—alpacas, goats, sheep, cows, horses—anything on four legs got her attention.

She made us smile, every hour of every day.

IMG_3775Miss Pup at her most regal… she owned every chair in the house.

IMG_0833She loved her shopping trips, probably because she got so much attention.

IMG_0054Checking out her favorite goats.

IMG_1479She owned the bed, too.

IMG_2924Woofer time!

Halloween fun and games with Aunt Sue.

IMG_1555Sunning herself on the green on an early spring day.

IMG_2913Where’s that toast?

IMG_1019Her seat on the patio, properly cushioned for her comfort.

IMG_2857.JPGOne of our very first photos of her… she was about three.

Note to my readers: Thank you for indulging me. I have tried to write this post for days, thinking that it would help us through the grieving process. I continue to be dissatisfied with every iteration—with every word, in fact—but I do feel a bit better now. On to the next task of honing down hundreds of pictures to make “a book of Pup.”

 

 

Summer brain

Hot, sticky days fracture my attention span and–quite frankly–make me flat-out lazy.

I hate that feeling.

Today I decided that I absolutely MUST get something done. So that I don’t feel like a complete slug, I’m going to recount just about everything I did today.

I. Fed Miss Pup.
2. Walked Miss Pup.
3. Went to our farmer’s market with Hubby. Brought home those gorgeous peaches.
4, Made us grilled cheese-and-tomato sandwiches. The farmer’s market tomatoes were sweet as candy.
5. Registered my new Nespresso Citiz and ordered capsules.
6. Successfully completed two online jigsaw puzzles of French chateaux, a meagre consolation prize for not being on the banks of the Loire.
7. Continued reading a pre-publication copy of Booked by my friend Marina Rezor. Happy to report that it’s every bit as charming as Fowled, her debut novel released last year.
8. Dusted the living room tables and washed the ornamental glass.
9. Shelled limas for dinner.
10. Walked Miss Pup.
11. Fed Miss Pup.
12. Contemplated whether I should make peach pie or peach cobbler or both with those gorgeous peaches. They won’t be ripe enough till Sunday, so I’m off the hook for now.
13. Signed up for a Netflix free trial so we can watch any episodes of Republic of Doyle that weren’t available on Acorn and catch the new release, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I loved the book.
14. Wondered if I should iron. Maybe later.

So that’s it so far. Oh, yes, I made the bed. I always make the bed.

Here’s Miss Pup telling me to get off my duff.

IMG_3728

Summer bounty pizza

Summer is a great time to make pizza. I’ve made pizza at home off and on for years but have never been truly satisfied with the end result. One day, hubby and I were roaming through a tiny neighborhood “Italian store” in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Normally, as you readers know, I am completely devoted to King Arthur Flour products; but I’d also been wanting to try a true Italian pasta flour. I saw this on the shelf; it called out to me:

IMG_3663

While the intent was to use the flour for pasta, I couldn’t help noticing the pizza crust recipe on the side of the package. The recipe made enough dough for several pizzas. I made one using my baking  stone and put the other balls of dough, individually wrapped in plastic,  in the freezer. The pizza crust was much, much better than any I’d made before. Weeks later, with an array of summer veggies on hand,  I decided to try again, this time using the sheet pan. I took the dough out of the freezer and let it defrost on the counter in the plastic wrap.

Meanwhile, I cut up fresh tomatoes, mixed them with good olive oil, basil from the garden and sea salt. I sliced fresh garlic (garlic before it’s been dried out—only available at the beginning of the season and just sensational—you can see it in the cover photo). I sliced an eggplant, drizzled it with olive oil, and roasted it lightly.

IMG_3628

When the dough was fully defrosted and ready to roll, I preheated the oven to 450 F (the recipe says 400—in my oven, I’ve found that 450 works better). I sprinkled semolina flour on my KAF dough mat and began rolling it into a rectangle. This time, I used a pasta technique–flipping it every so often during rolling. The result was a beautifully thin and pliable crust. I coated the sheet pan with olive oil and a sprinkling of semolina, then carefully placed the dough, stretching it gently to reach the corners. I drizzled it with olive oil and allowed it to rest for about 15 minutes.

IMG_3627

Next, I topped the pizza with the vegetables and added fresh mozzarella and a generous grating of parmigiano. Into the oven it went. In about 20 minutes, I had, at least by my measure, a perfect thin crust pizza. It was so good that I tried it again the next night, just to see if I could duplicate the results. I did. I celebrated.

I suppose you could try any 00 flour, but I had such good results with Anna that I’m going to stay loyal. It’s widely available and not at all expensive. Here’s the recipe:

IMG_3051.jpg

 

 

Summer blue

Nature works her magic everywhere. It’s up to us to appreciate her.

Even if you can’t get away, you can always find beauties to admire if you just get up out of your chair and look up.

Blue skies
Smiling at me

Nothing but blue skies do I see*

I have to remind myself of that when I’m wistfully remembering the pleasures of a particular trip or seeing friends’ photos of their travels, or reading about a place I either love or long to see.

My heart is often elsewhere—up north, across the pond, in the mountains or by the sea—but  Pennsylvania’s forests and rolling hills deserve my respect and admiration, too.

The bird with feathers of blue, is waiting for you,
Back in your own back yard.**

Enjoy the sampling  of blue skies below, and remember to get out and appreciate what’s close at hand while the weather’s so conducive to Sunday rides and long walks. It’s good for body and soul.

IMG_3560

A farmer’s field in the Cumberland Valley.

IMG_3647

In the gardens at Hershey.

IMG_3609

Late Saturday afternoon in Chester County.

And just for fun, here I am in my favorite summer hat. Thanks to my friend, novelist Marina Reznor, for this fun shot. Her debut Fowled is not only well crafted, but also hugely entertaining, and the next book in the three-volume series is due soon.
IMG_3656
*”Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin, lyrics © Irving Berlin Music Corp

**”Back in Your Own Backyard” by Al Jolson, Billy Rose, Dave Dreyer, lyrics © Bourne Co.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The make-up drawer

It’s always been my nemesis. Every few months or so, for years and years, I have taken everything out of it and discarded what’s outlived its usefulness or gone the route of what-could-I-possibly-have-been-thinking. I have meticulously cleaned out the drawer and the organizer and carefully put everything back in a tidy, logical way. Each clean-out always felt like an end to chaos… a fresh, new start that surely, this time,  I would be able to sustain.

Nonetheless, in a matter of days, that tidy, logically organized drawer had morphed into a mess. Note the chaos in the photo above.

Yesterday, after poking through the mess to get my face on, I unwrapped the latest free-gift-with-purchase cosmetic bag, Then it hit me. Why not just pitch the organizer and use the bags to store the make-up? After all, those compartmentalized organizers come and go—they break easily and the nooks and crannies are hard to clean. And they’re plastic, which is really not such a good thing. Moreover, I always seem to have cosmetic bags coming out my ears.

I did the requisite cleaning and pitching, then cleaned out the drawer itself. I put lipsticks and glosses in one bag; mascara, eye shadow, and liner in another; foundation and concealer in the third; blush in the fourth; brushes in the last. Absolute inspiration.

IMG_3548

Well, maybe. On day one, everything is still in its tidy little packet. We will see how long that lasts

Martha Pearl to the rescue

When I volunteer to “bring something,” my contribution is invariably an “old chestnut” whose outcome is never subject to question. For July 4th, a chocolate cake seemed the logical all-American choice. Given a miserable heat wave and the three loads of wash in progress, you’d think I would simply have thrown together my go-to, never fail “easiest chocolate cake.” But in a wave of what I can only characterize as heat-induced madness, I didn’t. I found a similar recipe in my Canadian Living: The Ultimate Cookbook—which had never disappointed me—and went for it, fully confident that it would be perfect and delicious.

Dumb.

I can’t blame the recipe because I took liberties with it. Forgetting that chocolate cakes are typically sturdier, I used the Southern-style soft wheat flour on hand, whose selling point, delicacy, is probably the polar opposite of the texture I would have gotten otherwise. Still apparently in that heat-induced fog, I sifted instead of whisked.

Dumber.

The batter was gorgeous, but the cake split in the last five minutes of baking. Meanwhile, despite having the AC at full tilt, the whole house felt dense and muggy. I took the cake out, confident that I could cover the veritable gorge sufficiently with icing.

Dumbest.

The cake was supposed to be cooled for 10 minutes, then inverted on a rack to cool completely, and inverted again on the serving platter to ice. I wouldn’t normally do this for a picnic–I would just leave it in the cake pan—but I wanted it to look nice and thought I’d give it a go.

I think you know what came next: the deconstructed chocolate cake, a messy plate full of crumbs and broken pieces. There was a time when I might have burst into tears, but at this point in life, I have finally learned the virtue of keeping calm and carrying on, as the saying goes. Plus, I knew I could rely on Martha Pearl.

IMG_3536IMG_3541

My Mother’s Southern Kitchen was the first cookbook of the southern collection that I started back when Nathalie Dupree had a southern cooking show on the then-new Food Network. James Villas’ book is a loving compendium of his mother Martha Pearl’s recipes, the best of which is her coffee cake. I threw it together in no time at all, as I’d done a week or so ago for a neighborhood event. This time, I knew that the soft-wheat southern flour would be perfect. I substituted buttermilk for whole milk, and threw in some fresh blueberries instead of walnuts. I suppose you could also use butter instead of shortening, but shortening does something lovejly for the texture, so I never mess with it.

IMG_3542

Martha Pearl’s coffee cake has a cinnamon streusel topping. 

The coffee cake was a hit, as I knew it would be. Unless you leave something out, it’s one of those perfect old chestnut, never-fail cakes—as Villas describes in the narrative. We’re munching on the deconstruction today, while I look for ways to “repurpose” it. I’ll update you if I find something.

All is good.