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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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A farmer’s field in the Cumberland Valley.

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In the gardens at Hershey.

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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.
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*”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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Grand hotel: Wentworth-by-the Sea

 

The greatest charm of that now-near-vintage Christopher Reeve movie, Somewhere in Time, was the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, where it was shot. As Reeve’s character explored the hotel, he magically found love in another century, to the tune of stirring romantic strain of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagannini.

But my near-obsession with grand hotels goes much farther back. I will never forget my first glimpse of what is now the Omni Mount Washington in New Hampshire,  in 1969. Oh, it was breathtaking!. We haven’t been lucky enough to stay there—not yet—but it remains on our list.

Last week, however, my daughter and I were lucky enough, however, to stay in another of New England’s gracious old hotels, of which, at one point, there were reportedly about 400.  Wentworth-by-the-Sea near Portsmouth, NH. Check the link to read its history, which, of course, is part of the charm with these grande dames. Over decades, centuries even, important people walked their halls; and important things, sometimes not so nice ones, happened there.

We had a lovely two-night stay in this serene location overlooking the water. The weather was picture-perfect, and the shops, restaurants, and landmarks in nearby Portsmouth were, as always, a joy to explore.

Decor-wise, the hotel had an ultra-modern look that, against the backdrop of the 19th Century architectural deals didn’t quite work for me. Eclectic is fine when well done, and I have no objection to updating; but the modern furnishings seemed a bit odd and out-of-place, and the feeling of stepping back in time was completely lost in the execution.

The view and gardens are magnificent. Enjoy the photos!

 

 

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The meadow down the road

Sometimes, a pretty picture is enough.

There’s a  meadow near us that’s destined to become a township park. The acreage was graded clear some time ago, but since then tall grasses, thistles, and Queen Anne’s lace have sprung up, creating an oddly lovely border. Against that what-is-so-rare-as-a-day-in-June sky, the bright green contrasts so nicely with the patches of soil.

All of that graceful rawness against the cloudless, brilliant blue seems almost intentional. It’s ours to enjoy till the bulldozers return, to make it tidy and planned and useful, I’m grateful for the permanently preserved green space but will miss that bare-bones meadow, which this time of year is resplendent with fireflies. I expect we’ll lose that bit of magic when the park is complete. More’s the pity.