24 August, 2007

goodbye woodfires




































Summer is back! I can't believe that two nights ago it was so chilly and damp that I was cooking:

Kristen's Pretentious Meatloaf
(serves six easily, with leftovers)

1/3 pound each: minced beef and minced lamb
1/3 pound pork sausage
4 slices wholemeal bread, without crusts, torn into shreds
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 medium onion, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
1 handful curly parsley leaves, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
six slices streaky bacon

It couldn't be any simpler: mix everything together, except for the bacon, which you drape over the loaf once it's shaped in a glass dish that you've sprayed with nonstick spray, or lined with aluminium (note the darling extra "i" there) foil. Bake at 400 degrees for one hour.

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Since then the sun has come back out, and today the humidity is RAMPANT. We spent a sweaty hour on the tennis courts this morning, and a savagely cold dip in the community pool, and came home starving and hot. So today's lunch was the ultimate summer cooldown feast. I call it "pink gazpacho", for which I must give you the recipe because it's sinfully simple and inexpensive, and aside from a cucumber and an avocado you can easily have everything on hand in your pantry. It was first made for me by my beloved friend Jeanne, and served in green porcelain bowls in the shape of lettuce heads:

Jeanne Grieger's Pink Summer Gazpacho

1 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
2 pieces white or wheat bread or 1 cup breadcrumbs
6 fresh plum tomatoes, cut in quarters
1/2 long hydroponic cucumber, or two small kirbys, sliced
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar (you can use balsamic but it will change the color and flavor of the soup to something more intense)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp chili pepper or cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup half and half
1 avocado, cut in small bite-size pieces

Pulverize the almonds or pine nuts in a Cuisinart, then whiz in the bread. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, oil and vinegar and spices and pulverize until smooth. Pour into a very large bowl and add the chicken broth and half and half and blend well. Taste it and add more of whatever spices or salt you think is needed. Chill thoroughly and serve with a little group of avocado pieces mounded in the center. Delicious, and so good for you! If you like a more elegant soup, you can peel the cucumber first, or you can strain the soup. But I find the green bits and the nutty bits are very nice.


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In any case, we took Avery to Mystic, to reunite with her beloved friend Cici, made plans to come get her on Sunday (which turned out to be today, the days FLEW by!). On the way home from dropping her off, we turned off the road to pop into a local institution (no, not the one you're thinking of, probably, with restraints and bars on the windows), but Abbott's Lobster in the Rough", a really, well, ROUGH place to have seafood. Cici's mother had warned us against it, saying it could be horribly crowded, and I can see that if we'd gone at a more normal time to eat it might have been, but we ended up there around 4, and it was nearly deserted. You place your order and then go stake out a picnic table right on the water, looking out over what might be something like Mystic Sound? Lovely, sailboats everywhere. Then your number is hollered over a loudspeaker and you go pick up your food. Here's my advice: look at the menu, for fun if you like. But skip everything else and go straight to the LOBSTER. We felt adventurous and ordered an enormous lobster feast, to share, so we could try some of everything. And try we did. But, I know this will sound harsh: everything but the lobster was completely forgettable. The clam chowder we used to get in Islesford, Maine, unfairly blows away any other, but even without that for comparison, Abbott's was watery and dull, distinguished only by its temperature which burned the roof of my mouth.

Then the shrimp was fine, but ordinary, a tad overcooked as the institutional nature of the process might produce. The clams and mussels were fresh, but unremarkable, steamed as they were in the austere New England recipe of... water. I like my mussels in a nice garlicky wine-laden broth, call me decadent.

But the LOBSTER! The freshest we've ever had outside Maine, and cooked to perfection, so it didn't take long for us to wash our hands with the insufficient little wet wipe and cozy up to the "Retail Deck," manned charmingly by a nice young man who thrust his arm in a tank and brought up two madly waving specimens which we happily brought home and steamed. DIVINE. Run, don't walk, to Abbott's.

Let's see, we spent the time Avery was away playing tennis (my new obsession, must find a place to play in London), and visiting... Olimpia. I will tell all tomorrow, but for now, can I just say that she sent us home with the most delectable meatballs and beef ribs swimming in tomato sauce, and guess what? She had already fed us lunch, a completely different menu. I will divulge as much of the magic as can be felt and experienced without Olimpia being here, which sad to say she is not. But I got to stand in her kitchen, and learn at the knee of the master, and I came away with... recipes. And leftovers! Quite the best hostess in the world, Olimpia is, with her loyal sidekick husband Tony there to roast the shoulder of pork and provide perfect conversation. But more on that later.

Suffice to say this evening, we're happy to have our little chick home again, grateful to Kathleen and John for hosting her and feeding us such a delicious dinner tonight, and we're missing our little niece Jane. Aren't the two girls adorable together? A week from now will find us tucked up in our flat in London, so this week must cram in as much Americana as possible. And lunch with Olimpia, a bagel brunch with Anne and her brilliant violinist sister Alice, and a visit to the impossibly charming Southbury Historical Society all fill the bill. I have a lot to tell you.

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