Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summertime Suppertimes II


Fresh Pea & Watercress Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Whole Wheat Pasta Tossed with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Parmesan
Cod Cheeks Fried in Olive Oil
Fresh Pita 
Strawberry Shortcake

What do I love best about summer?  Maybe it's fresh local vegetables and fruit.  No, not maybe.  Definitely.  I took some of these photos as soon as I came home from the Portland Farmers' Market yesterday.  The peas are in--and they are gorgeous.  Dinner had to feature them, along with local radishes, watercress, scallions . . . and so much more.  

And so a salad was in order.  First, the vinaigrette.  When I know we'll be eating the whole salad in one sitting, I usually make my dressing right in the bowl.  I always use the same cracked, well-loved, wooden bowl.  This recipe is for a large salad for two or side salads for three or four.  

First, I smash a garlic clove and rub it all over the inside of the bowl.  I set the clove aside and save it to chop up for another dish.

Next, I squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.  To that I add 2-3 tablespoons of really fruity extra virgin olive oil.  I love Aria for salads.  It's a Greek oil that's fruity and just a little grassy.  It goes well with lemons.  Then I spoon in a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard and a half teaspoon of raw honey.  

Season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, then whisk.   

The result is a creamy, tangy, and slightly sweet dressing.  If you always use the same wooden bowl for your salads, and you rub it with garlic each time you make dressing (rather than adding minced garlic), you will get incredible depth of flavor in all your dressings.  I make many kinds of dressing, but this lemony one is my favorite in summer.  To it, you can add any herbs you like as well.  I tend to leave my fresh herbs in large pieces and I toss them right in with the salad.

So, on top of the dressing I added lots of watercress, a few handfuls of quickly blanched peas (I blanch them for about a minute then shock them with ice water to stop the cooking), thinly sliced radishes, roughly chopped mint and basil, a chopped scallion, and some shaved parmigiano reggiano.

Finally, I toss the whole thing to coat.  Confession: when it's just Mr. Magpie and me, we share it straight out of the bowl.  Who needs plates?

And last night we dipped in our dressing the most amazing pita bread I've ever eaten.  Just look at those pillows of floury goodness!  They are made by a local Portland baker, Ariel's Hummus, so if you live in Maine and want some incredible pita and hummus, stop by their table at the Wednesday market in Monument Square.  

Along with the salad and pita, I floured some cod cheeks and fried them in olive oil (not extra virgin, just ordinary cooking olive oil).  I kept them simple, just seasoning them with salt and pepper and squeezing a little lemon over them at the end.  I know it sounds weird to eat cod cheeks, but I promise you that they are delicious, tender, and flaky.  About the size of scallops, they have a very mild flavor that won't smell or taste "fishy," even to people who are a little afraid of seafood.  You can get them at any good fish market.  I buy mine at Harbor Fish Market

Last, but definitely not least, we had the quintessential summer dessert: strawberry shortcake.  For me, this means the strawberries go on top of biscuits--not cake, not sweet biscuits.  Just buttermilk biscuits.  And I have to whip my own cream with a little sugar and vanilla.  No cream from a spray can.  I'm a control freak purist.  

These strawberries came from Jordan's Farm in Cape Elizabeth.  That place is a little piece of heaven.

Speaking of heaven, we've got more strawberries in the kitchen, so I'm off to eat some straight from the bowl. Wishing my American friends a Happy Fourth of July weekend!  We have a houseful of nieces and nephews coming.  There will be baseball, two sets of fireworks, the beach, and, I'm sure, many, many practical jokes.  Should be a blast--literally and figuratively.  Hope you have a happy, safe holiday.  

xo Gigi 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summertime Suppertimes

The picture above is of one small corner in our kitchen amid the wonderfully floury mess of pizza night.  Note that none of the lines in the photo appear to be plumb.  That is because we live in a very old former rectory, and nothing in this house is plumb!  I like to think that it adds character.  :)  Included in the shot are a couple of random peaches awaiting their role in another meal, a bowl of cherry tomatoes, one of my Nigella cookbooks, my beloved mixer, and the "Frozen Foods" sign from my father's old grocery store.  When I was a girl, my father managed a downtown supermarket (remember those?), and this is one of the signs that marked the aisles.  An employee saved the signs after they'd been taken down and replaced during a store renovation.  A few years after my father passed away, that same employee gave the signs to my mother, who shared them with us kids.  I have cherished my "Frozen Foods" sign ever since.  It reminds me of some very happy times at my dad's store; it also reminds me of the days when small, local grocery stores were the norm rather than the exception.  

Central to my childhood--and to my life ever since--were home-cooked meals.  Both of my parents were wonderful cooks.  We ate good, healthy meals around the dining table together nearly every night of the week.  Mr. Magpie's mom is also a wonderful cook, and they also ate from-scratch meals around the table as a family.  Mr. Magpie and I don't have kids, but we love to cook, and we still sit down to our meals together.  When people talk about the challenges of married life, I often think that if more couples cooked meals together there would be more happy marriages.  Cooking is relaxing and sensual.  Working with all those gorgeous colors, textures, tastes, and aromas is like giving yourself--and your partner--a beautiful gift. 

I used to cook professionally, and my tendency is to be very bossy in the kitchen, but there is one thing that I leave entirely in the very capable hands of my husband: pizza.  The man makes gorgeous, crispy, flavorful, thin-crust pizza.  That's a shot of one of his pies above.  He makes his own dough and his own sauce.  This sauce is a simple one with a little garlic, some fresh herbs, olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, a pinch of turbinado sugar to cut the acid, and salt & pepper.  The toppings are olives, vidalia onions, and red peppers, topped with mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano.  

My contribution to the meal that night was a salad--but not just any salad.  This one comes from Nigella Lawson's Endless Summer, and it's a watermelon salad with feta, black olives, and lime-marinated red onions.  It is my current favorite.  If you try it, I have a feeling it will be yours, too.  You can find the recipe here.  Oh, and it calls for mint, and I used orange mint from my porch herb garden.  Heavenly.

We've been cooking up a storm around here lately, so I'll be sharing more summertime suppers with you soon!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice: The Promise

I promised you peonies.  Here, at last, are but a few of the thousands unfolding their hearts at Gilsland Farm right this very moment.  You'll notice that while many are planted and carefully kept in the gardens, others are allowed to grow among the wildflowers in the fields.  I love them grown both ways.  

Tucked in with the photos I've included a few translated haiku about peonies.  Wishing my friends in the Northern Hemisphere a Happy Summer Solstice.  I'm off to climb a mountain now.  A little one, but a mountain nonetheless.  

My rice bowl
filled to the brim
one peony


My hut garden
is narrowed by
blooming peonies

~Nabuti Sato

"The peony is this big!"--
the child's arms


In the stillness
between the arrival of guests--
the peony.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

I See the Moon (in Everything): My Obsession

Ember Grove
As Mr. Magpie and I were leaving the house last night for our evening walk around the neighborhood, I said, quite casually, "I think I'll bring my camera."  This, of course, is a little like a scuba diver saying, "I think I'll bring my oxygen tank," a fact I realized even as I was uttering the words, and which was confirmed by my husband's uncontrolled laughter.  Many of you know what I'm talking about.  Our husbands, friends, and families have come to accept that dinner won't be served until each dish has been photographed in just the right light with steam rising tantalizingly from the pasta/potatoes/risotto.  They know that any visit to a new restaurant will require shots of the decor, the specials board, the entrees, and the creme brulee.  They no longer bat an eye when we haul out our cameras at greenhouses, antiques shops, used bookstores, and, the big one . . . cafes--for who among us can resist snapping a foamy latte on a granite counter with a pretty heart fashioned from the milk froth?

Angela Adams
I'll come out and say it: I am an addict.  I'm hooked on the click, the frame, the snap, and shutter.  I'm hooked on light and color and control.  That's right, control.  I decide what to leave in, what to leave out.  I decide how bright or dim, how focused, how blurred, how washed out or saturated with color.  Most of all, I'm hooked on remembering moments--flashes of perception and thought and feeling.  A photo brings back smells and sounds and emotions.  It brings back physical sensations: the feel of cobblestones beneath my feet, the salt breeze coming in off the bay.

Squid and Whale Tattoo
Last night, as we made the long loop up the hill and around our neighborhood,  Mr. Magpie waited patiently while I snapped pictures as if our little world would disappear tomorrow.  The thing is, for me it would.  At least this version of it would, this twilit June night under a full moon when the air felt soft and still warm from the day.  The streets were quiet.  Nearly everyone was inside watching the Bruins beat the Canucks for the Stanley Cup.  As I framed a shot of the moon rising over our park on the bay, joyous shouts rose up and tumbled out the open windows of one of the old Victorians on the Prom.  The Bruins  scored their first goal of the night just as I took the shot below. 

By the time we made it home, I had taken 86 photographs.  Just like that.  Nearly half were of the moon.  But then, as I looked through the shots, I began to see the moon in all of them; circles emerged, full moons and half moons and silvery crescents.  I realized then another reason I'm obsessed with photography: patterns.  This fascination also lends itself to my love of writing and of art in general.  I love patterns--the ones I see in a field of daisies, in a well-wrought poem, or in a lovingly designed room.
Add caption
And so, it was there in the O's of a favorite restaurant's sign--the moon was in the spoon-- 

and soon, I found it in the patterns of windows . . .

Laura Fuller Glass
in the spectacles (or lunettes as in lune, as in moon) in a favorite studio

in the creamy white of a bloom . . .

Willa Wirth
Willa Wirth

in the display and sign of an amazing jeweler . . .

Otto Pizza
in the pies at a beloved hangout . . .

and strung on a line behind a neighbor's place.

The moon was everywhere at once, and it was up to me to find it.  And that's just it.  Camera in hand, I am both treasure-seeker and archivist.  And the treasure usually lies where I least expect it--in a mood or a color or shape . . . or something else I didn't see at all until I peered through the lens.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Blossoms and Rain

It's worth soaking one's new sneakers in the wet grass to get shots of these flowers after a storm, and with a brand new lens no less.  And then there are the groundhogs, wild turkeys, redwing blackbirds, American bluebirds, goldfinches, swallows, chipmunks, squirrels, frogs, and various other beasties to meet.  

All this after a beautiful weekend of friends and family.  Life is good.  Yes, indeed.  

This last shot is of just one of the many, many peony beds I've been promising.  I'll share them this week!  A few plants are already blooming, and the rest are coming soon.  What a show, and what a tease I am.  

I hope you all had a beautiful weekend.  I have been completely swamped with writing work, but I am making my way slowly around the blog world once more and am looking forward to seeing you soon.

In the meantime, if you are craving a writing exercise or two, fly on over to my writing blog, The Magpie's Pen, where I offer an exercise every Friday.  

Wishing you a week of curiosity and adventure . . .