Tag Archives: recipes

Just Peachy

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We’re really hitting the peak of the produce season here in New England, and finally getting ripe peaches in the markets and farm stands.  Several years ago at around this time of the year, Roy took me to Fabulous Niagara Falls. Which were, certainly, quite fabulous and worth a story in their own right.  But one day of our trip we abandoned the Glory of the Falls and hared off cross-country to Niagara-On-The-Lake, which is a very cute town smack in the middle of a very surprising wine country.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t usually associate words like “Canada” or “New England” with words like “Vineyards” and “Good Wine”.  Martha’s Vineyard notwithstanding, but that’s got very little to do, at present, with grapes.

As it turns out, however, Niagara-on-the-Lake (I am told) possesses a micro-climate very similar to the Burgundy region of France, which makes for some surprisingly tasty wines.  And the ice wines, of course, are superb.  The denizens have chosen to make maximum use of this micro-climate and the vineyards by installing Sonoma-style wineries on site, including vineyard tours, shops, gorgeous buildings, and some very, very excellent restaurants offering dining right there in the vineyard.

We dined that night at Trius and had a meal to remember for at least, oh, five years based on the dates from my pictures for that trip. I remember the entire meal as ranking right up there with any that I’ve had in France, or Italy, or Manhattan, or San Francisco, or Houston – all dining heavens of the first water.  The first course, however, seized my attention as something I had never previously encountered.  It was some sort of corn-peach-white wine soup, and I spent the months after our trip to Niagara attempting to recreate it in my own kitchen.  I came close, but I never quite hit it.  The resulting dish is nonetheless one I turn to at least once a year, when the corn is high and lying in heaps of light green ears on the tables at every farm stand in the countryside, and the peaches are growing soft, ripe, and juice.

Here it is:

6 ears corn
1 onion, chopped finely
2 good cloves garlic, pressed, or minced
3 large ripe yellow (not white) peaches
6-8 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream

If your peaches are not ripe enough to peel with your fingers, they’re not ripe enough to make this soup. Put a bowl in the sink, and peel the skins off with your fingers, catching all of the juices in the bowl. Pull out the pits. Use your fingers to crush the peaches up nicely, and put them in the bowl too.

Strip the kernels off of the ears of corn, and put both the kernels and the cobs in a large stewpot. Put the onion, garlic, peaches, enough stock to cover everything and bring to a boil. If you are feeling adventurous, add a generous pinch of cayenne pepper or ground chipotle.  Turn down to a fast simmer and cook, uncovered, for at least a half hour, although you can go quite a bit longer, and extract more flavor from the corn cobs every minute of it. Cool, then remove the cobs. Run everything else through a blender to puree. Stir in whipping cream and serve warm.

SOOOO GOOD.

While I was working on this one, and doing research on the web for it, I ran across another wonderful thing to do with peaches. This one is more of a stew than the previous recipe, but SOOOOO GOOOOD.

1 onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 lb ripe red tomatoes
2 big fat yellow peaches
½ C cream
½ t salt
tarragon

As before, if your peaches aren’t so ripe that the skins are basically falling off, they’re not ripe enough for this dish. Put a bowl in the sink to catch the juices, pull the skins off over the bowl, remove the pits, and crush the peaches with your fingers.

Pour boiling water over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. When the skins start to split and fall off, drain them, and holding the tomato over the bowl with the peaches, pull the skin off with your fingers. Be sure to catch all the juice and seeds. Pull the tomato cores out and discard, and crush the tomatoes with your fingers.

Heat the butter in a stockpot, and saute the onions until they start to turn translucent. Empty the bowl of peaches, tomatoes, and fruit juices (because, remember kids, tomatoes are a FRUIT) into the stock pot. Sprinkle a generous amount of tarragon into this, at least a tablespoon, maybe more depending on your taste. Add the salt and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the tomatoes disintegrate.

Let it cool a bit, then puree it thoroughly in a blender. Stir in the cream. Serve hot or cold. Top with more chopped tarragon.

SOOOO GOOOOD.

The Little Back Dress of the Kitchen

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Every woman has one in her closet.  It may be a blouse, or a pair of jeans, or a skirt, or a jacket, or something else entirely.  It’s the garment that she knows that, when she’s having an I Hate My Body Day, she can put it on without making things worse, and might even wind up feeling better about things. It’s the garment that, when she’s having a I Look Good! Day, she can put it on and feel like a million bucks, and connect with that feeling like maybe she can stop traffic or kill the conversation in the room just by walking in. It’s the garment that she knows that, when she’s got a fussy situation – a job interview, a first date, an awkward conversion scheduled – she can put it on, and never worry for one second about being distracted by a poky tag, or a weird seam, or something riding up, or something slipping down. It’s the garment that has Confidence woven directly into the fabric. It’s the garment that takes whatever is going on, and makes it noticeably better.

Every woman has at least one, and if she doesn’t, she needs to get a couple of good friends and go out and get one. It doesn’t have to be expensive. I had one of these from Target, once, and I paid $17 for it. Before that, it was one I ran up myself, on the household sewing machine. Money isn’t required. Paying attention, and knowing that such things exist, is.

Which brings me to tonight’s dinner. The recipe that goes anywhere, does anything. The recipe that is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and leaps buildings in a single bound.

You know those nights when you drag in from work and you’re completely exhausted, you sure as hell are too tired to go to the grocery, and too tired even to think about ordering out, and don’t want to order out anyway, because Junk Food, and you’re too tired to cook, but you know that if you go to bed hungry, you’ll only be Extremely Sorry later? Those nights when you’re really wanting to do Right by the kids, and give them a balanced meal, but soccer, and laundry, and a clogged toilet?

Or maybe it’s those mornings when you wake up, thinking maybe you shouldn’t have had that third martini last night? Or you have a houseful of family, and not enough breakfast cereal and milk? Or maybe you’ve invited six people over for brunch, and just can’t face making a batch of crepes?

This is your recipe. I have had this recipe in my cookbook for so long that I have completely forgotten where I got it, or when, or how. I have this recipe like I have hair on my head, or the ability to read. I think sometimes I may have been born with this recipe.  And now, I am going to pass it along to you.

The version of this recipe I have in my personal cookbook is this:

1 lb. fresh tomatoes
butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T parsley
4 eggs
2 T basil
¼ C milk

Cut an X on the bottom of each tomato, and drop into a pot of boiling water until the skin cracks and starts to peel.  Remove with slotted spoon and plunge into dish of ice water.  The skin should fall off directly.

Melt some butter in a medium skillet.  Cut tomatoes into pieces and put them into the melted butter with the garlic.  Add parsley.  Cook over medium-low heat until tomatoes melt and cover the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, beat eggs with basil and milk.  As soon as the tomatoes have melted, add egg mixture and allow to cook through, stirring occasionally.  Serve with toasted french bread.

The real recipe is this:

Take however many tomatoes you have.  Peel them using the blanching technique described above, because, really, it is the absolute best possible way to get the skins off tomatoes.  Cut them up into a couple of pieces, discarding the super-hard bit around the stem area.

Pick a fairly large pan and melt some butter in it.  Or ghee.  Or coconut oil, although that’s really not the best, or olive oil, again, not the best.  Butter here really is optimum.

If you have some garlic, peel it and chop it up, or, better yet, run it through a garlic press.  How many cloves depends on 1) how big the cloves are, and 2) how garlicky you like things.   We had a run of really crappy garlic here that had cloves the size of toenail clippings from the nail salon.  You’d need about 30 of those things to get a good garlic flavor.  Or, if you have them, use a half-cup or so of chopped-up garlic scapes.  Or if you don’t have garlic, and you do have shallots or scallions, chop 2 or 3 of those, finely, and use that.  Or, if you don’t have anything fresh at all, but you do have dried garlic flakes, use a half-teaspoon of those.  Saute any actual vegetables in the butter until they soften up. If all you have is garlic flakes, add those to the tomatoes.

Once your Seasoning Vegetable Of Choice has softened up, dump the cut-up tomatoes in the pan and turn the heat down to medium-low, and go give the kids a bath, or fold the laundry, or sit down with your feet up and drink a cold beer.  Let those tomatoes cook softly until they’re basically melted into a mush.

Then take some eggs.  How many eggs depends on how many people you need to feed.  For me, if I’m cooking this for my own dinner and not eating anything else, I use about 3 or 4 eggs.  If I’m cooking brunch for my ten closest friends, I use about 4 lbs of tomatoes, and most of a carton of eggs.  Use enough eggs to feed the number of people you need to feed.  Put the eggs in a bowl, and dump an herb into it.  Dried basil, dried thyme, oregano, fresh basil, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, all of these work really well.  Add a bit more herbs than seems sensible.  When I made this tonight, I added four tablespoons of herbes de provence, which is – in my opinion, the Best Possible Herb for this dish – to the eggs.  Beat it all together.

Take grated cheese.  If you have shredded parmesan or grated pecorino, that’s the best.  If you just have the parmesan out of the big green canister with the top that wheels back and forth between “shake” and “pour”, that will do too.  If you have grated cheddar, OK.  Dump a good quantity of that into the eggs.  How much depends on how well you like the cheese you’re adding.  Beat it all together for a half-minute.  Then pour it into your melted tomatoes.

Now let it sit.  Once in a while, as you’re unloading the dishwasher, or pouring a bath, or changing the laundry over, or mixing bellinis for your brunch guests, give it a stir.  Cook it until the eggs are as dry as you like.  Serve with whatever bread you have.  Slices from a three-day old sourdough loaf work fine.  Chunks torn off a baguette work fine.  Pita works fine.  Naan works fine.  You do, pretty much, want to serve this with some kind of absorbent bread-like substance.

Eat happily, knowing that even though you spent a minimal amount of time on this, and didn’t focus on it any more than you’d focus on Flea Market Flip, you’re eating a relatively nutritionally complete meal…and if you’re serving it for brunch, just prepare yourself for the Inevitable Question: “Is there any more of this?”  because – if you’re dining with good friends – that question will arise.

I Know It’s Important, But It Doesn’t Feel Like Enough.

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I had a great date tonight with my husband.  We left the bustling metropolis of Northampton (pop. 28,370) for the Rustic Countryside of Sunderland to dine at the Blue Heron.  This is the kind of restaurant that everyone thinks writers lie awake imagining for their faux travelogues, but that no one thinks actually exist.  The town is the home of the Corn Maze and Cider Donuts of the Gods, and the restaurant occupies a 150 year old building that formerly housed Town Hall.  I give the food an A+ – this is food that would have New Yorkers fighting in the streets to see who could bribe the hostess for a table first.  And the building itself has significant artistic interest and provides a delightful setting for a nice Saturday evening out.

And we did appreciate it roundly – last Saturday was non-stop storm prep, and not at all fun or restful.  Today was much better, but the memory of the events of the past week isn’t gone.  I’m getting a slew of e-mails from many of the Vermont inns at which we’ve stayed over the last nine years, and every one that is e-mailing is telling me the same  story: We’re OK!  We didn’t flood!  We have power! We are open! Come see us! I pretty much know what the story must be for the inns that are not e-mailing me. Not good.

And for the inns that are, and for Okemo, who is declaring loudly that their various attractions are open! Come play golf! Come ride the mountain coaster!  Come stay at the lodge!  I must have the same answer:  There’s nothing I’d like more than to go rusticate in the hills and hike in the Green Mountain State Forest, and eat the cheese and ice cream from fat and shiny Vermont cows, and drink the amazing Vermont microbrews!  But I can’t.  Because I can’t get there from here.

See, you really can’t.  That’s the official information about the state of the roads in Vermont, and as you can tell from the situation in the south and the center, the only place it looks like you can go from Massachusetts is either right up I-91, or to Manchester.   You can’t get into the interior of Windham County, no matter how many awesome inns are open that you’d like to visit.  From the east, you can get to Brattleboro, but the main road from Brattleboro has sections that look like this:

Someone's else's picture, because, obviously, I'm not able to get there from here.

Our Secret Ninja Route into Windham County involves a trip up 30 to West Dummerston – you can’t see the name of that town on the 511 map, because it’s covered up with a big damned red circle with a white stripe for “CLOSED!”  Unfortunately, I can tell that they haven’t labeled all of the washed out roads on 511, because this portion of our Secret Ninja Route isn’t marked on that map as damaged:

Rinse, lather, repeat for every other route we know of into this area.

This was all brought back home to me, again, this evening on our way to the date.  We passed a flurry of billboards advertising the constellation of attractions that is typically available if you drive 30 minutes north to Brattleboro and then hang a left.  It was like having lemon juice rubbed into a paper cut.  They were all so…bright…and shiny…and appealing.  Now they’re just reminders first, that you can’t get there from here, and second – and at least as important – how freakishly devastating the long-term effects of this destruction are going to be for the people who live there.  Vermont has lots of colleges, lots of agriculture, and lots and lots and lots of ecotourism – presently, moribund for lack of accessibility.  This is a time when dollars should be pouring into the local economy, not getting hoovered out of it.

Now, from the sounds of it, the Vermonters are doing a bloody awesome job of pulling themselves out of this, but I don’t see any reason not to help.  I’ve been piddling money into the hands of the charitable agencies who are in a position to provide stuff like food, clothes, and shelter, and I can only hope that there are plenty of other people like me who can cut loose with $20 or $30 through Paypal.  In the event that you’ve gotten this far, and you’re one of those people, here are some of the outfits I’ve been shooting my spare cash to:

Wilmington Vermont Flood Relief (the town we all watched wash away on YouTube)

Black River Good Neighbor Services (a little bit north, but still in a badly-hit region)

and, of course, the Red Cross, an outfit whose services I hope never to personally require.

I do not vouch for any of these charities, but I found their efforts worthwhile enough to support now. I don’t own a gravel pit, I don’t employ a fleet of giant earth-moving machines, I’m not in a position to take anyone who was affected by this storm into my house, I don’t have any children’s clothing or suitable shoes to spare, and I couldn’t get them up there even if I did.  I hate all of that.  I hate it that the only thing I can do is throw small amounts of money at this, and hope that it helps. It is, really, all I can do…and it doesn’t seem nearly enough.

As I suspected, the flooding around my own town wrought destruction on the winter squash crop. I hope that these pictures are not the closest I get to a barrel of vitamin-packed Squashly Goodness this fall.

The local Farm Stands that are open after the bloody flood are starting to sell mums! They don't look as good as this...yet...but they will, and soon!

We’re still bringing in the late summer harvest, so here’s another terrific summer soup.  This one can be made vegetarian by substituting Not-Chicken Broth, but I don’t vouch for the results. I’m a big fan of chicken broth in otherwise vegetarian soups.  Gives them a little more body than they’d have, otherwise.  I love this soup, and I don’t even like eggplants.

Grilled Eggplant Soup

olive oil
2½ lb eggplants, peeled and cut into 1” thick slices
1¼ lb tomatoes, halved and seeded (but not peeled)
3 carrots, peeled and diced
5 shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
½ T ground cumin
1 cup white wine
5 C chicken broth
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ C plain fat-free Greek yogurt

Heat grill to medium hot and brush or spray grate with oil.  Brush eggplant and tomato halves with oil and run onto skewers, or just lay directly on the grate.  Cook for ten minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from grill and cool. Remove and discard tomato skins. Chop the eggplant slices coarsely.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots and sauté 5 minutes. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme and cumin and sauté about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer to blend the flavors, about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree. Wipe the cooking pot out, then pour the soup back into the pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through. Serve in bowls and add a spoonful of yogurt to each.

Serves 6 to 8.

Well, The Sky Really Is Falling, Now…

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Holy cow. The last two days have been absolutely exhausting!  The last time I went through a Tropical Event was Charlie, I think in 2003, in Orlando, and there wasn’t any “getting ready” for it because 1) its appearance in central Florida was a complete surprise to everyone including the meterologists, and 2) I was at Disneyworld in a hotel, and not going anywhere even if I had wanted to.  So I let Disney “get ready for it.”  I wish I could have done that this time, too.  Disney’s logistics are unsurpassed, and they have absolute armies of bodies to direct at various tasks.  We did have about 18 hours notice on the storm, and the entire place was swarmed by Maintenance Ants taking down anything that might fly, pruning the heck out of trees that might drop branches, and getting ready in every other imaginable way.  I don’t think we even lost power in that storm, and the afternoon after it passed through, we were watching a movie at Downtown Disney as if nothing had happened.  Of course, it did basically flatten a lot of the airport, and we had to drive to Jacksonville to get out, which is when we learned that Vital Lesson:  always fill your gastank before it hits, because after the power is knocked out everywhere but Disney, most of the pumps won’t work, and for stations with ancient equipment where the pumps do work, they’ve been drained for chainsaws, generators, and four-wheel vehicles.

Since, despite my desires, I do not have Disney on-call to fix this stuff up for me, I had to take care of it by myself.  I did have some help from my guy, but since he’s using our experience with Charlie (a small but intense, fast-moving storm) as a baseline upon which to formulated his expectations, his input was not as useful as it might have been.  His shining moment has been doing – and finishing – the absolute mountain of laundry with which we returned from Maine.  Since our washer and dryer are in the basement, which I expect to experience Water at some point, this is not trivial. He was at it positively all day on Saturday.  His second contribution – non trivial – was in locating and procuring two five-pound bags of ice with which we can turn our freezer into an ice chest when the power goes down.  Which – at this point – the National Weather Service is telling us directly is a matter of when and not will.

For the last two days, I have been grocery shopping like a demon, laying in gallons of water, batteries, bungee hooks (for trash cans and other potential aerial missiles), bringing in the detritus around the house, performing a Public Information Officer for the other people living in our building, only one of which has personally experienced a Tropical Event before.  She’s from Miami, and has been through hell and back on this front, and I’ve been grateful for the backup.  Because – as always seems to happen – we did have a small contingent of the it won’t happen here folk.  The ones who are certain that the media is over-hyping things, etc.  Not that the media doesn’t do this, but this storm is so damned big that when the astronauts on the space station took a video of it, you can actually see it curving with the earth. It’s not really possible to “over” hype something like that.  Also, my grasp of risk management indicates that even if you consider the probability of a negative outcome to be small, if the outcome would be catastropic if it did occur and you were unprepared, you. prepare. for. it.

Zzzooo.  I spent yesterday morning cooking for four or five days, making soups that can be served at any temperature, and making the Fritatta of the Gods.  This would be the recipe I provided in my last post, only doubled or tripled.  The bloody thing is three inches thick if it’s a millimeter.  AND we had to bring stuff up from the basement, AND tidy the outside again AND stake the heck out of the tomatoes with velcro and prayer. AND put the cars in the municipal garage where they will be (I hope) safe from flying debris and rising waters.  I was also very happy to hear the roar of chainsaws around my neighborhood, as sensible people took down branches rather than leaving them to fall.

Ah.  Now there’s the rub.  Rising Waters. NWS is telling us to expect a flood because, duh, we’re getting the biggest and slowest moving tropical storm that anyone has seen in decades, and the ground here is already saturated because we’ve had a very wet August. And me, I’m thinking, OK, 3 inches of water in the basement.  What a PITA that will be.

We started to get the little outlying rain bands yesterday afternoon.  Just a tease, really.  The rain started in earnest several hours ago.  But the center of circulation is still far off enough that we’re not getting any wind.  It’s hot, sticky, wetter than water, and flat calm.  Creepy, in a way, like being in the Eye is.  My friend who is staying for the Duration and I took advantage of the Calm Before The Storm to take her dog for a walk.  I got a chance to check out the Storm Sewer Action, and…urk…aagh…let’s just say I spontaneously and dramatically revised my expectations for what kind of water to expect.  The sewers – even at that point – were already running 18″ below the grate, and they were absolutely thrumming with the volume of water that was moving through them.  Parking lots were already starting to get standing water. Now the bottom of my street is getting standing water. “Ponding” I believe is what the weather service calls this.  And – crud – the wind still hasn’t kicked in.  NWS thinks it will start in a few hours, and then things are going to be very nasty.

Per their update yesterday afternoon, the NWS gave us the Final Warning, and said that “Final preparations should already be underway” and reminded us that by the time the wind starts up, it will be Too Late.  The latest updates don’t mention “preparations” at all, and just warn us that anything outside that is not tied down is going to become airborne and destructive, and – this kills me – actually said right out that the power lines are going to be coming down. Period. Not like this is a surprise.  Verizon’s cell network started to go Ka-Blooey by 4pm yesterday, and Sprint’s data net has been mostly out of commission in this area since yesterday at 5.  I haven’t even bothered to turn the phone on this morning, because I can’t imagine that this situation is going to get better.  The power company sent out an e-mail last night to all their customers telling us that they have as many people on hand and on call as possible and that they’ll be dealing with the problems that they expect to arise as quickly as humanly possible.  I’m sure they will, too.  I have huge respect for anyone who winds up in a cherry picker during a storm.  It’s not a job I’d be willing to do, and I’m deeply, unspeakably grateful, that there are people who will.

I really hope my street doesn’t go under water. I really hope that the Connecticut River doesn’t breach the levee.  I hope that no one here dies.  School was supposed to start on Monday, but the administration dealt with that decisively and sent out an e-mail saying that unless you were living in the residence halls already – this is move-in weekend – or working for the residence halls, food service, or physical plant, please do not present yourself on campus before Tuesday.  I can’t imagine the chaos that must be going down with thousands of students trying to move in to the zillions of colleges that populate this area, or what it means for the administrators.  I’m glad my job is just to show up and teach.  I hope that will happen on Tuesday.

Here comes the wind. I thought it would start small and then get big, but that isn’t what is happening.  It’s come on in a blast.  The power lines outside my window are thrumming like the strings of a guitar, and the tree out front is already loosing leaves.  We just had a gust that I could feel come up through the floor.  Not around the window, but the wind got into the framing of the house.

In the meantime, here is my recipe for Hurricane Chowder.  Keep some in the fridge and heat it on the gas stove when the power goes out. Freeze it in blocks and then eat it as it thaws.

Hurricane Chowder (with a red pepper cream)

For the red pepper cream:
2 large red bell peppers
2 T fresh oregano leaves
1 t ground chipotle or other hot pepper
1 T olive oil
½ t salt
4 T heavy cream

For the chowder:
2 bacon (or turkey bacon) slices, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 C chicken broth
1 lb red new potatoes, diced
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
½ t salt
½ t freshly ground pepper
2 C milk, warmed up
Kernels from 6 ears of corn

Broil or grill the peppers until they are blackened on every side, then put into a paper bag and fold the top over to seal it. Let sit 10 minutes, then cool under running water and rub to remove the skins.  Remove the stems and cores. Chop and puree in a blender or food processor. Add the oregano, ground chili, olive oil and salt and. Pulse the processor to puree while pouring in the cream. Puree the mixture, drizzling in the cream.

Put the bacon into a heavy soup pot and warm it over medium-low heat.  If you use turkey bacon, you will need to add a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil to the pot as well.  Cook until the bacon is getting crispy. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the celery and onion to the pot and sauté 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the heat up to high and add the broth. Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the milk and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the corn and simmer another 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Stir the red pepper cream into the pot of chowder, and serve hot, if you can.

Jacuzzi

For purposes of distraction, here is a picture from Sonoma.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring (and The Old Man Was Snoring all night long…)

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We are having what weather.com says is a “storm typically seen in the fall in New England”.  What this means, briefly, is that there is some cool front sliding across the area, and there is some low pressure zone off the coast, and these two things have combined to make days that are cool, damp, and very rainy.  It’s makes for a great atmosphere.  Get it?  A pun! Atmosphere!  hehehehehehe….

OK. Here are things I like about this kind of rain:

  • cooling things off.  That’s great because it had gotten bloody hot here for a good long while, and I say “bloody hot” as a Texan, not a local.  We were scoring highs above 100.  That’s nastier here than in Texas, because a lot of places don’t have air conditioning, and even more have, say, only one room of an entire house that is air conditioned.  It’s also nastier here because no one is acclimated – we didn’t get weeks of sticky 80s, followed by a month of ugly 90s, before hitting the triple digits.  Here it went right from a cool June, with highs in the 60s to blistering July, with heat indices well above 100.  The last nasty thing about high temps in this area is that no one knows what heat exhaustion looks like or how to deal with it.  Well, presumably the physicians do, but hardly anyone else does.  My riding teacher, for example, was well into her 3rd or 4th day of bad heat exhaustion, and thought she’d contracted a stomach bug or was having a hot flash.  People don’t recognize it.  They also, even if they understand that the heat can cause problems, figure that it is sufficient to drink lots of water.  I’m not going to argue with the idea that drinking lots of water is a good one, but at a certain point – and I know this from personal experience – it isn’t enough. Too much sweating and hydrating with nothing but water screws up your electrolytes or something.  I don’t know the exact physiology of this, but I do know that it is possible to get a very nasty case of heat exhaustion even while being heavily hydrated with H2O.  My personal rule after that very nasty experience was that if the heat exhaustion isn’t going away with water, or it’s going on for several days, you gotta switch to a sport drink.  Or salty coconut water, according to the New York Times, but only salty coconut water.  I think that educating people about heat exhaustion and heat stroke is why God kicks Texans out of Texas from time to time.
  • the things that have been cooled off are probably going to stay that way. I remember every summer in Texas people would fall victim, en masse, to the delusional hypothesis of The Rain That Cools Things Off.  It would be hotter than the pits of hell, and some cloud would make an effort to build up, and everyone would stare at it and start talking about how much they hoped for rain because it would Cool Things Off.  It was almost a hypnotic response.  And delusional, because I never met a summer rain in Texas that did anything other than make the pavement smell like iron and jack up the relative humidity by another 10%.  The only Rain That Cools Things Off in Texas of which I am aware is the stinging, pelting, hail-infested rain that comes from supercells that are boiling up as the advance unit of a Blue Norther.  Those things definitely Cool Things Off, probably a little too fast and a little too much…but Texas is SOL on that account for another 6 weeks, by  my reckoning.  And even then it won’t be a sure thing.  Here, on the other hand, I am reasonably confident that this spell of rainy weather means the end of the blistering heat, at least until next July.  It may get toasty warm again…for a day or two.  But not more than that.
  • the sound it makes on the roofline outside my window.  I didn’t get to experience that this time because it’s just a little too humid for me this time – it’s not hot, but there is a Limit to my willingness to have my feet stick to the hardwood floors as I walk…and to have to peel my exercise ball off the back of my legs when I stand up from working at the computer.  It does make a beautiful sound, and thanks to the bizarro Victorian rooflines of my house, I get to have that right outside the window instead of above my head.  It’s easier to hear when it’s right next to you.
  • it makes Buster spaz out.  He doesn’t do this with the Garden Variety Summer Cloudburst (unless it’s a real doozy, the kind the weather service issues alerts over).  But he reliably does it for big spring and autumn storm systems.  This weather causes him, for some reason, to shoot around the house at high speeds while making a noise like a fog horn.  The part I like the best is when he rockets full blast down the stairs from the third floor and tries to make a 90 degree turn into my study without slowing down.  There’s a throw rug on that landing, and he (I think) has developed enough of an understanding of physics to use the rug to slow his velocity and to assist in his change in trajectory.  This process leaves the rug wadded up in big ripples on the floor.  It is easy to identify his point of impact, and to reconstruct whether he tried to shoot down the stairs and turn, or whether he tried to rocket straight along the landing and whip the hairpin turn up the stairs.  Either way, it’s pretty funny.
  • the green color everything gets.  Except for the crabgrass, I don’t like it when the rain makes that turn green.
  • free carwash.  My wheels had become entirely filthy.  My very best efforts nothwithstanding, I am unable to keep the stable out of the car.  And I sure as heck am unable to keep the stable off of the car.

Here are the things that I do not like about the rain:

  • it’s not in Texas.  I hate it that my homeland is suffering in the grip of the worst drought this century.  I remember the horrible drought we had in 1998 when the farmers couldn’t make hay, and the pastures died, and the ranchers tried to feed bought hay, but it ran out, and then we all got to watch the cattle starve in the pastures.  I really, really hated that.  That affected absolutely everyone, too, even if you weren’t a rancher.  Forget trying to grow your own vegetables.  Forget having any flowers.  Forget cheap food.  It was awful.  And this year, I understand, it’s worse.  We flew to Denver for a conference last week and changed planes in Dallas.  It was a thoroughly depressing sight from the air – depressing enough that I hardly noticed getting smacked with temps over 106 on the jetbridge.  Everything was brown.  You could really see the lakes drying up.  Even the golf courses were brown – and when those get brown, you really know things are bad!  Getting rain here reminds me of the drought at home.
  • what it does to the tomatoes. We had a minor drought of short duration this summer, which is one reason I will only get 6 tomatoes from my Green Zebra plant this year.  The Sungolds have been going nuts (I almost shudder to think what those do when the weather is good for tomatoes…) even with the drought…which means that this sudden influx of rain (we had some last week while we were gone too) makes the tomatoes grow too fast and then they split open.  Which means they don’t last for long, and have a tendency to manufacture fruit flies if I bring them in.  I have dealt with this issue so far by simply eating them right off the plant as I find ripe ones.  I know, poor pitiful me…
  • it interrupts my Horse Time.  Horse Time is my favorite time (until winter, when it fights for ascendancy with Ski Time). Since I don’t have my own horse yet, Horse Time for me involves cleaning up someone else’s horse really well, then riding it with my teacher on the ground providing feedback, and then cleaning it up and putting it away.  I can’t do this when it’s too wet, because 1) it’s bad for the horse (slippery) and 2) it’s bad for the tack (leather).  So lots of steady rain puts a cramp in that.  If I had my own horse, I would probably go anyway and watch it eat.  There is a surprisingly gratifying charm in being in a barn that is full of horses that are chomping their breakfast, with rain on the roof.  Horses make an impressive amount of noise when they chew.  I would not be pleased if, say, my husband made that quantity of noise chewing – or even relatively that quantity – but as with so many things like dirt, muck, farts, and bad behavior, it’s different when it’s a horse doing it.  Fortunately for me, my teacher is a pretty flexible individual, so my Horse Time got moved to tomorrow afternoon, when this weather is supposed to be gone.
  • it makes me want to go back to bed, but I have to put in some work.  I’ve got a paper to review and some other administrivia to handle.  School is going to be starting soon, boo-hoo.  I like my students, I enjoy my job, but really, the main effect that taking time off has on me is to make me want more time off. I console myself with the knowledge that school starting means that I am only 3 1/2 months from getting to ski.  And the knowledge that Horse Time in the fall is probably going to be superb. Also, I have the corn mazes and the peak farm stand action of the year awaiting me after school starts.

Here’s another terrific soup recipe to celebrate the peak of the tomato season, happening right now (however “peaky” it may be). As usual, the provenance of this recipe is lost in the mists of time:

Tomato and Basil Soup
2 T olive oil
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
a bunch of fresh thyme leaves (be very generous with this)
2 T minced garlic
1 bay leaf
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes, peeled (I used heirloom tomatoes from the market, red ones, yellow ones, green zebras, orange ones, it make a beautiful effect!)
1¾ C chicken stock
1 C light cream
at least 4 T chopped fresh basil (I’m growing lemon basil this year, and the soup was insanely good with it!)

The way to peel tomatoes is to boil a pot of water – make it a small pot and work in batches, it saves time – and cut an X in the bottom of the skin of each tomato. When the water boils, drop one or two tomatoes in the pot. Stand by with a bowl of cool water. When you can see the skin split up to the top of the tomato, use a slotted spoon to pull it out and drop it into the cool water. Rub it, just a little, with your fingers and the skin will float right off. Don’t cook the tomatoes too long or they will, well, cook. This process is just to get the skins off.

Also, I find it saves a ton of time all the way around if I send those veg through my Cuisinart with the slicing blade, then drop in the chopping blade and pulverize everything into bits. Takes less time to cook, and WAY less time to puree later, and you get a WAY better consistency with the final product.

Heat olive oil in your soup pot over medium heat.  Add chopped vegetables; saute until beginning to soften (if you’ve pulverized things like I do, this is about 5 minutes worth of cooking). If you’ve chopped by hand and have bigger bits, it will take longer. Check the carrots to be sure.  Mix in the thyme, garlic, and bay leaf.  Add tomatoes, basil, and stock;  simmer 30 minutes or until all the tomatoes fall apart when you press them with your spoon.  Working in batches, puree soup thoroughly in blender.  Stir the cream into the pureed soup and season with salt and pepper (if you need any – a lot of time I don’t with this dish). Can serve this hot or cold.

Serves 8.

Jacuzzi

Sonoma